Sharp Notes April 15 2004

Locals Lonely: A month ago, the 14 bands chosen to play Music Midtown's 99X Locals Only Stage, which faces the 99X Main Stage, probably thought their time had come. But, judging from the assigned performance slots, it turns out the timing is all wrong.

The diverse lineup of locals spans from the industrial synth pop of slowEarth to the hard knocks flow of Athens rapper Ishues. They complement a less eclectic array of main stage performers, which includes seemingly annual participants Foo Fighters and a shocking appearance by the Strokes, who still have enough hipster cred to play the competing two-day Coachella holy shit fest on the left coast (where performers include Radiohead, the Pixies and the Cure).

But from both the bands' and fans' perspectives, event organizers effectively screwed the pooch when assigning performance times to local acts. Instead of pairing the relatively unknown talent with mainstream counterparts in a sort of Big Brother program where acts can share likeminded audiences, organizers matched up totally dissimilar acts for a 180-degree turn in sound to accompany the concert-goers' 180-degree turn in direction. It's an attempt to corral attendees into the 99X section to create an unrealistic utopia where open-minded fans are exposed to a wide range of musical styles.

"People who attend Music Midtown do so to expose themselves to all sorts of music," says 99X DJ and music director Jay Harren, who helped select the local artists but did not participate in scheduling. "I think you'll find that the majority of 99X listeners hang out in front of both our stages for the majority of the day because they really want to hear all of the bands that are playing."

Harren may be idealistic about 99X listeners, but, regardless, the sheer volume of people at the 99X stage and its remoteness from other stages make leaving 99X land difficult and risky. Fans of a day's headliner are probably stuck in the 99X pit if they want a "good" spot for that band, which means that local bands will more than likely always have a solid crowd to play for. It just might not be the bands' crowd.

Low points in the 99X Main Stage — when relative unknowns like L.A.'s post-grunge quintet Lo-Pro and alt-contemporary Christians Switchfoot play — are bookended by big local draws like the folk-inflections of Bain Mattox and the indie-pop of the Whigs. Unusual 99X fare like the Strokes are boxed in by totally dissimilar acts: rap/rockers Heavy Mojo and Ishues. Another aberration against format, Irish singer/songwriter and critical darling Damien Rice, appears right after the neo-Zeppelin rock of local favorites the Tom Collins.

Mitlai Chakraborty, associate director of Music Midtown, believes that while most attendees go from stage to stage in search of different genres, the 99X area offers convenience.

"What is so great about the 99X lot is you don't have to just hop to another stage to get your fix of some other type of music, but you just have to turn around," says Chakraborty. "What we at Music Midtown hope is that the Fuel fan who might not think that music like the Whigs and Red Letter Agent is something that they would enjoy, might get a different impression at the festival."

Chakraborty's statement has two flaws: First, a captive audience isn't always an attentive one. Concert-goers often ignore bands that they don't want to hear unless they are closely associated with the sound they came for.

Second, most fans don't look for a type of music, they look for a specific performer. For instance, if after the Strokes' set, a fan wants to see Wyclef, they aren't going to settle for just seeing Ishues because they're both hip-hop. More than likely, they are going to bolt for the V-103 Stage, or they're going to pout about it.

That's not to say that the locals won't win some fans, but with their unfavorable positioning, the bands' appearances could go largely unnoticed. The festival could still have been holistically diverse while sectioning the 99X area lineups into genre blocks for the benefit of both fans and performers.

Yet, as Chakraborty and Harren both say, the bands' ultimate payoff will be radio and print promotion and the addition of a Music Midtown performance to their resumes. Not to mention, who doesn't want to have played the same event as Journey. Don't stop believin'.

Local Show of the Week: Fifteen years into its career — one speckled with frayed personal relationships, mental illness and various addictions — Athens-based trio Five Eight have finally released an album worthy of an eponymous title. They begin promotion of the record Sat., April 17, at the 10 High. They're a local institution, and this weekend, school's in session.??