Music Midtown in Review: More Like Music Mudtown

Photo Credit: Gordon Lamb

The Black Lips

I’d never been to Music Midtown before. Even before its multi-year hiatus, the idea of trucking into Atlanta—by some accounts the nation’s number one traffic snarl—and then battling tens of thousands of half-drunk Georgians for mere elbow room and a chance see Joss Stone or Joe Cocker never really blew my skirt up. I must have missed out on some good times, because it turns out Music Midtown can be a hell of a lot of fun, even in the pouring (and I do mean pouring) rain.

I knew that spending a full two days in the city was gonna be unworkable, so I opted for just attending on Saturday, Sept. 21. But let’s back up for a minute. This year’s two-day event, in Atlanta’s Piedmont Park, was easy enough, after jumping through some minimal hoops, to gain media access to. But once that access was granted, there were major hurdles in the way of actually, you know, covering the event.

Media check-in was located at a far corner of the park, well away from any of the three entrances. There were a few artist Q&As scheduled in a tent just several yards from credential central, and I’d planned on attending at least one of them. But there was no media entrance to the event at all. Credentials did not permit easy access; reporters had to stand in line with ticket holders to actually get inside.

This isn’t all that rare and, believe me, I’m not arguing that the press should ever be given some sort of red carpet treatment over the people who spend hard bucks. The problem was that there is absolutely zero practicality or facility in standing in line for over a full hour (again, it was pouring rain; promoter Peter Conlon has already been quoted as saying the slow-moving lines were due to the satellite-tethered ticket scanners running slowly thanks to cloud coverage), catching a few minutes of whatever band was playing once inside, then exiting the park and walking all the way back around to where the interview tent was located—then standing in line for over another hour just to get back.

By the time I got inside, Weezer was up on the Electric Ballroom stage plowing solidly through all its best known tunes. At one point, the band gave a shout-out to Peachtree City and its golf carts, but I can’t remember why. I hustled over to the Great Southeast Music Hall stage (side note: I think it’s eminently cool that the stages are named after the historic Atlanta venues that former Music Midtown partner—and utterly legendary promoter—Alex Cooley was once involved with.)

A crew was sweeping water off the stage. The Black Lips, who are still hard to imagine as grown-ass men and not firecracker-shooting roustabouts, played a great set to a crowd that was thousands deep. Rubber-booted girls splashed water while my compatriot snapped photos. While the Black Lips’ final dirty chords rang out to the sky, I sent out my last Tweet of the day:

And then the rain killed my phone.

I’m looking at it right now and it’s just a poor, black lump of dead plastic. (R.I.P. Samsung r350. I only knew ye for, like, three years.)

Music Midtown was completely sold out. Just over 100,000 people crammed the park over the course of the festival’s two days. And, really, from my vantage point, everyone was pretty well behaved for what was functionally a temporary city. Maybe it was rain fatigue or the cooler temperatures, but I only saw one person get anywhere near what you might call losing his temper.

The weather didn’t subside until just around 5:30 p.m. Saturday, when Las Vegas’ newest shooting stars Imagine Dragons took their giant drums onstage to a cheering crowd. The band is somewhat akin to a new, mid-period U2—or at least, it’s the most rousingly authentic band in recent memory to take pages from U2‘s playbook. Its earnestness was matched by tinges of darkness; singer Dan Reynolds ran through the audience like a populist candidate, and because I was only introduced to the band a couple of months ago, everything felt very fresh for me. I could listen and watch without any real idea of what to expect.

Maybe it was the fact that the sun was finally poking through the clouds, and maybe it’s because I’m still a sucker for large, booming BIG ROCK choruses, but dammit if Imagine Dragons didn’t play the most surprisingly and satisfyingly life-affirming set of the whole day. They were honestly so good that the rest of the day was an afterthought. The Yeah Yeah Yeahs have finally seen the culture catch up to them, and Queens Of The Stone Age queened along the metalsphere just as competently as anyone would have expected them to.

(It’s confession time: I flat-out skipped the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Why? Why not? They’ve never done a single thing for me, and there’s not a rainball’s chance in Atlanta that they would have this night, either.)

While exiting the park and making our way back down 10th Street, we passed the fence surrounding the Roxy stage and realized, “Wait, that’s Kendrick Lamar up there!” Although he’d been announced weeks ago and all his fans seemed to know right where he was, his name had been left off the little laminated schedules handed to press at check-in. Honestly, I know this was an oversight made by people so exhausted they probably couldn’t see straight, but it was still a head-slapper of a moment.

Music Midtown1_by_Mary_Smith.jpg

Photo Credit: Mary Smith

If you were willing to just put your head down and hands up, and commit yourself to having a good time, there was a lot of fun to be had at Music Midtown. The technical staff ran everything completely on schedule (given the weather, delays would have been not only forgiveable but expected from an event of any size, but especially one that needed as much electricity as this one did), and with the sole exception of the inefficiency of the Q&A sessions, there wasn’t anything I’d have expected the organizers to do better.

The crowd was the usual mix of hardcore fans, kids hanging out with their friends and sneaking cigarettes (and, uh, else-wares), plain ‘ol citizens doing their civic best and, of course, people like me. That is, those who have a nasty habit, despite their best intentions, of seeing everything through a critic’s eye, instead of a fan’s

But, like the saying goes, when one eye closes another one opens, and I’m damn glad I kept the latter open for the majority of the day. Was it worth it? Absolutely, undeniably, yes. I’d bet all the new grass due to Piedmont Park after this weekend that there are literally tens of thousands of others who would agree.