By Gabe Meline
In 1999, the Philadelphia hip-hop group the Roots did two things that massively affected both the world and our sleepy little suburbs, respectively: they released Things Fall Apart, still the greatest and most accomplished album in the band's 20-year history, and they subsequently came to Petaluma to play a show at the Phoenix Theater.
That the world's greatest live hip-hop band were coming to Petaluma gave us all enough of a shudder, but when it was announced that they'd be bringing Common, from Chicago's Southside, with them, it was like an earthquake. The show quickly sold out, and from the first song (which had the Roots beating cowbells through the crowd) to the last (which capped the band backing up Common for an entire set), the energy and temperature in the theater channeled another natural wonder--a meteorite, perhaps, striking Sonoma County with a backbeat to match.
Despite the band's wellspring of talent, the Roots have since been able only to replicate, and not re-create, the intensity of this era; their latest offering, Game Theory, paints a bleak look at the national landscape in an awkward, if noble, fashion. Common, meanwhile, have been dabbling in fashion of another kind by appearing in commercials for the Gap, making it hard, but not impossible, to swallow his latest album Be as the best hip-hop album of the last two years. Both artists are still among the most respected in their field, and both of them return to Sonoma County for the Harmony Festival on June 10.
Let the shuddering begin, although this time around, it's spiked with equal parts anxiety and frustration. Though the Roots and Common share the same record label, are booked by the same agency and have played shows together for years, fans of both acts who don't purchase an all-access "Magic" pass to the fest are required to pay two separate admission costs for two separate shows on the same day in order to piece together the magic. For the casual fan, opting for the Roots' early-evening appearance (which includes the amazing New Orleans Social Club) should suffice; for the diehard hip-hop lover, Common's nighttime show, with almost-guaranteed guest appearances by the Roots, is the one to hit up.
The Roots and Common appear this Sunday, June 10, at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds, 1350 Bennett Valley Road, Santa Rosa. The Roots perform outside at 7pm; Common, inside at 11:30pm. $32–$40. For a complete schedule, see www.harmonyfestival.com.