Atlanta’s Music Festival began anew in the perfect pre-fall sunshine on the meadow at Piedmont Park. After several incarnations and an identity crisis that left one of America’s finest music cities without a signature event for years, Music Midtown has finally found a home. Piedmont Park provides a gorgeous blend of pastoral splendor on a backdrop of glimmering midtown skyscrapers that should sustain the current model for years to come. Music Midtown is back and here to stay!
The early arriving crowd, some sprinting to the front of the stage, gathered to hear a stripped down set by Los Angeles artist Van Hunt, accompanied only by drummer Ruthie Price – a la The White Stripes. Discovered in 2004 by Randy Jackson of American Idol fame, Hunt delivered smooth and sexy R and B with hints of Marvin Gaye in his vocals. Opening with a cover of Simon and Garfunkel’s “Mrs. Robinson,” joking with the crowd that “they better be good so he wouldn’t have to boo them,” and peaking with his flirtation of a radio hit, “Dust,” Hunt kicked off the festival with a sense of humor and style.
Joan Jett and the Blackhearts took to the Great Southeastern Music Hall Stage to a rousing welcome that showed the audience’s appreciation for one of rock n’ roll’s most pioneering women. Ever the Cherry Bomb, the plucky punk wore red sequined pants and sheer black tank top as she launched into “Bad Reputation,” a song she would later reprise in a cameo with headliners, the Foo Fighters. Jett featured hits from her Runaways days early and played new songs like “TMI” and “It’s Hard to Grow Up” in the middle. She finished the loud, crisp set with the hits “I Love Rock n’ Roll,” “Crimson and Clover” and “I Hate Myself for Loving You.”
Atlanta’s own smooth criminal, TI – sporting knee high tiger print socks – came next with a thunderous pulsing energy that enveloped the throng with knee quaking and window shaking beats. Thousands raised arms to the sky, hundreds of white guy overbites were bitten, and the masses bounced to TI and his funk band’s renditions of hits “100 Grand,” “Live Your Life” and “You Can Have Whatever You Like.”
The Avett Brothers, basking in the warmth of the sunset and the crowd’s overwhelming affection for them, played the penultimate, but easily the best, set of the night. The Brothers find themselves at the sweetest of spots, on the cusp of genre defining mega stardom while remaining accessible boys next door. In a line-up that included acts that peaked in the 80’s, 90’s or 2000’s, the Avett’s are yet to fulfill their enormous promise and are the exactly right band for the time. Mixing tracks from their just released The Carpenter with sing-a-long classics from 2009’s I and Love and You, brothers Seth and Scott wove the thread of a mountain air banjo pickin’, bass drum stompin’, blue grass jamboree with an urbane, heavy hearted and sophisticated rock show laden with organ and strings that expressed simple truths and bleeding heart earnest emotion through incredible musical complexity. At times whispering the words, “January Wedding” was the sweetest interaction between audience and artist in all the live music I’ve ever experienced. This hour or so with Avett’s will go down as one of those “I was there when” moments for what could one day be the best band in the world.
Dave Grohl of the Foo Fighters, jocular and surging, gum gnashing and head banging, shredded early and often and not so subtly reminded us that one of modern music’s greatest hit makers is one of its most energetic and engaging performers. With thrashing hair and throat wrenching “Yowls,” Grohl slyly hammed it up while grinding through the staggering number of hits the Fighters have had over the last two decades s. “How many people here are seeing their first Foo Fighters show?,” Grohl asked. A large number of the massive crowd affirmed that they were Foo virgins. “We’ve only been coming here for 18 f*&$ing years, what do I have to do, come to your house and drive you to a Foo Fighters show?” he joked incredulously. Grohl’s rock god antics through the blistering set were accented, as always, by the ever toothy grinned Taylor Hawkins, rock and roll’s finest drummer. Hawkins looked like Animal of the Muppet Show come to life as he banged away at his kit with a hilarious picture of what looks like his dad on the bass drum. The crowd, who sincerely pleased the band while singing along (Grohl said he’d waited 10 years to hear an American audience sing the way Atlanta did Friday) were treated to several classic rock covers. Van Halen’s “Everybody Wants Some,” Tom Petty’s “Breakdown,” Pink Floyd’s “In the Flesh” and the aforementioned “Bad Reputation” with Joan Jett were all soaring highlights. Foo Fighters proved once again that they are a major force in popular music and capped off an amazing day of music at this reinvigorated festival.
Photos © 2012 Emily Kelsey
Check out Day 2 here!