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Atlanta Shows Us the Way

9th Annual Music Midtown Festival
Atlanta, GA
May 3 - 5, 2002
Scott Weiland angles for love.

Review by Scott Stegenga
Photos by Barry Brecheisen

So, you tell your friends that you've just spent a weekend at a 3-day music festival with over 120 bands, that you withstood lots of annoying rain and mud and you had liquor flowing as freely as the rain. Normally, the astute music aficionado would assume you've been overseas at one of a number of UK music festivals like Glastonbury, Reading, or the V Festival. Well, guess again? This time you say you've been to the 9th Annual Music Midtown Festival in Atlanta, Georgia from May 3-5.
David Lee Roth Perhaps becoming America's largest 3-day festival, Music Midtown was a crowd pleaser for any type of music listener except country. You had stages for classic rock, pop, rap, R&B, hard rock, gospel/blues and even a little world music. Food vendors of every type, including a fully functional Krispy Kreme bakery on wheels, were there to please the hungry masses and alcohol tents were just as common as the lines at the porta-potties. Despite a dismal weather outlook which had Atlanta brave through some of its harshest thunderstorms that brought fierce downpours in the AM and resulted in muddy park fields and pavement puddles galore. The fans still came by the thousands each day to witness their music heroes and enjoy a day outside even if it meant being soaked to the bone.
Day one gave us a new sound from "the man also known as Hootie," Darius Rucker. Rucker opened the day on the R&B stage as he played his nu-soul inspired by the likes of Al Green and Otis Redding. The set was well-received by old and new fans alike, and don't worry, some Blowfish stuff still exists, they're releasing a new album later this year after Rucker's release on June 25. If you stayed at that particular stage, you would have witnessed the pop/rock/soul stylings of newcomer RES and swore you were watching Lauryn Hill with a rock band. RES's current MTV single "They Say Vision" was the biggest standout of their relatively OK set and also produced an interesting version of AC/DC's "Back in Black."Ja Rule Following RES was Atlanta native Cee-Lo with a rather disappointing rap set that had his people running around the stage as he exclaimed how he's a "Bad Mutha!" I guess I expected more after seeing his video for "Closet Freak" and hoped he'd be more flamboyant.
Away from the R&B stage you had the biggest surprise of the evening. Recently announcing a co-headlining tour with Sammy Hagar, David Lee Roth pumped out an exhaustive balls-out rock set of old Van Halen and solo favorites. Clad in a copper lame suit, Diamond Dave was now Copper Comeback Dave as he still has the power to arouse the ladies and still go wild like the old days. Many fans and former nay-sayers were well impressed. If the loudness didn't suit you, you could have heard the fine locomotive breath of Jethro Tull. Yes, Ian Anderson is still alive and freaky with that flute.
Don't forget that you could have also been on the other side of the festival grounds. Starting the day with a rock-star quality set, former Marvelous 3 front man Butch Walker impressively showed his stripes followed by Hoobastank and current tour mates, Incubus. Hoobastank delivered a standard derivative set of emo pop rock while Incubus, talented as they are, had a half-and-half received set. While recent mellower songs like "Warning" and "Wish You Were Here" played well to the crowd, the harder material from the earlier days seemed to break the trance and made the crowd go for more drinks. Such is life and still a fine end to day one.
Counting Crows Another day you say? Oh yes. After a large overnight downpour, the festival goers came in around 11am to withstand yet another full day of music and mayhem. You could have witnessed Grand Funk Railroad leader Mark Farner open the day with classic favorites from the old days only to be followed suprisingly by a Neil Diamond cover band, Hot August Knights. Other stages had emo rockers Sense Field play a quick set of dry songs only to be followed by surf-rocker Jack Johnson and a sick Pete Yorn. On the other hand, tour mates Flickerstick and Rubyhorse played their crowd favorites on another stage only to be followed by the bland jam-rock of O.A.R. I guess I never understood how so many jam bands get their followings. It was still better than catching the rather boring rap sets of Bubba Sparxxx who proved that rap music in the studio doesn't do well in live form for this listener as I got tired of the call and response bits every rap show has fallen victim to. So was this a bad day? Hell no, we're just gettin' started.
Saturday held the biggest highlight of the weekend. Ok, you could have seen some wonderful sets by the always-elegant Stone Temple Pilots or the American badass Kid Rock, and even if you don't like Bush or Skid Row, they also delivered great sets along with Joan Jett, The Ohio Players and John Waite. So, what could have been better. Turner South TV presented an intimate concert of songwriters sharing their songs to a live television audience.
June Carter Cash With the concert indoors and the space being shared with the likes of Tony Rich, Edwin Mccain, Cindy Wilson of the B52's, Angie Aparo, June Carter Cash, Mike Mills of R.E.M. and Don McClean made me wonder why the venue was only half full. Tony Rich exclaimed "I feel understood today" as he shared his fine soulful stylings along with June Carter Cash who was surprised to be "on the same stage with all these rock stars" and Angie Aparo (its a guy, he's brilliant) who was even surprised to be there in the first place since he realized that "I'm the only one without a damn hit up here." Others like McClean (who still can't remember which song beat "American Pie" for the Grammy many years ago), McCain, Mills, and Wilson delivered great stripped down versions of their classic tunes. As everyone got together and closed with a soul-stirring version of "Will the Circle Be Unbroken." the crowd gave another of many standing ovations and saluted their songwriting heroes with a chorus of sing-alongs during the amazing 2 hour set. With a great closer like that, everything else is gravy.
On the final day, the weather was sunny and cloudless, the food and liquor still overflowed and the music kept on coming and coming. Those who caught an impressive set by New Jersey R&B trio City High were given a taste of what the Fugees left behind. Later on, a great set by classic New Orleans alt-rockers Better Than Ezra, led by a still flamboyant Kevin Griffin, made you feel like it was 1995 all over again. Former Atlanta natives Remy Zero delivered a great set of material. They showed how their hard work produced great payoffs with lots of new fans coming on board every day. Eclectic music abounded with Karl Denson's Tiny Universe and Bela Fleck as they opened for the classic rocker Bonnie Raitt. A carbon copy set was laid down by No Doubt as they played the exact same set as on their recent tour with the same costumes and the same props. You also could have seen another lineup of rappers getting the audience all hyped up as Mystikal and Ja Rule spent more time getting the call and responses from the crowd than playing their hits.
So did the final night of the final day end with a bang? Oh yes. The next surprise was by stadium rockers Journey. Yes, Journey. They have that new lead singer, Steve Augeri, who looks and sounds so much like Steve Perry that glancing at the jumbotron or squinting from all the way in the back rows, you'd think it was 1986 all over again. All the hits you loved or loved to hate came out of the gates like they were really playing for their next meal.
So, the weekend surely had to please everyone. Just when you thought something would disappoint, you got a great surprise around the next corner. Music Midtown is a force to be reckoned with. Rain or shine.

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