2001 Music Midtown musings

CL writers ponder their experience at this year’s megafest

Vibes Livereview 4959
Photo credit: Ken Forsyth
Festival poles serve as beacons of enlightenment to the Music Midtown massive crowd

Sometimes I worry that I’m becoming a square. This I ponder under the shadow of a festival pole (those decorated mobile towers so integral to Music Midtown celebration) made of a mechanized Tweety taking Winnie the Pooh from behind. As I watch people pass, I pray some disturbingly young-looking kids won’t stagger into me, spilling their beer or deciding they can’t make it to the port-o-lets.

Some complain that corporate festivals are for squares. But, I mean, I can’t be that much of a square. I recognized Lindsay from MTV’s “Real World - Seattle” (now a local morning radio jock) when I gave her directions. I laughed at Dennis Rodman (who’d later join Live onstage) trying to cut in line at the VIP food tent and being denied. And within 10 minutes of settling at the V103 stage Friday night to watch Talib Kweli rock the mic, a kid of barely 16 offered me a hit off a joint. I shook my head no. “You straight?” he asked. I shook my head yes. I was pretty sure the kid wasn’t trying to pick me up, so I had to wonder: “straight” as in “all set” or “straight” as in square?

Of all the great acts at Music Midtown this year — from new soul to old school to alt-rock to rap-rock — the only one I truly felt was one that would generally be considered old (though hardly washed up): Patti Smith. Even given all the younger, vibrant artists, Smith was the one who most embodied all the qualities I identify as rock. And by “rock,” we’re not talking strictly about guitar-based acts — rock is just a feeling that overwhelms you. Smith still stalks the stage, jittery as a protest singer, even if what she’s railing against is the very festival that signs the check. Nobody said rock was pure anymore, but Smith and her band purely rocked me.

A few years ago I would’ve complained there were too many dinosaur acts at the festival, and I’m not completely convinced Steppenwolf followed by Night Ranger, Loverboy and Kansas isn’t a bit excessive. But I’ve come to appreciate that programming crowd pleasers such as Sugarhill Gang and cred acts such as Patti Smith is as important as the flavor of the week. It was artists like Smith, Cheap Trick, Run-DMC and the Cult that inspired me to go home and pull out some of my favorite worn albums and relax, flipping through gatefold covers and other things of the past.

Yeah, that’s right, vinyl LPs; shiny, warm black platters. Who the hell listens to those anymore? Well, maybe being a well-rounded square isn’t such a bad thing, and maybe smooth corporate events aren’t evil, either. So count me in when Midtown gets squared off for next year’s shows. Just one word of advice for the bookers: Journey.


Top five things heard and seen at Music Midtown 2001:
1. Jam-packed crowds streamed through the concert area at dusk Friday as drivin n cryin served as a perfect opener for Patti Smith on the 96 Rock Stage. For Smith, the irony of playing on a stage sponsored by a station that gives her little or no airplay did not go unnoticed. Surrounded by corporate-sponsor banners hung everywhere — even flying through the sky, pulled by airplanes — Smith began a mid-set tirade during “Don’t Say Nothing.” “Fuck this festival,” she railed. “Fuck the sponsors, fuck VH-1, fuck all of this. This show isn’t for them, this show is for you,” she shouted out to the cheering crowd. Though hers was mostly a greatest hits set, with “Gloria,” “Dancing Barefoot” and “Rock and Roll Nigger,” it was as punk as an event like this gets.

2. Bob Dylan, following Smith, closed the 96 Rock stage Friday night. The chattering crowd even tolerated Dylan’s quieter moments, even as the V103 stage thumped loudly nearby. As his recent Academy Award-winning song “Things Have Changed” provided a set highlight, an older member of the crowd leaned over to his youthful friend: “You know the Wallflowers? Well that’s Jakob Dylan’s dad.”

3. As the Saturday crowd became a solid mass between the Locals Only stage and the 99X main stage, Atlanta’s X-Impossibles benefitted from a packed and somewhat captive crowd. After a well-received but typically lackluster Wallflowers set, many in the crowd simply turned around and caught the X-Impossibles play. As a giant mosh pit formed in the front of the small stage — consisting largely of underage kids who can’t see the band in clubs — guitarist Shawn Christian pulled his shirt off, revealing the words “Support Local Rock” written across his chest. “This is the way it should be in the clubs all the time,” he yelled, while a hundred or so yards away, inside the Civic Center, a show featuring a rather bland line-up of national acts (most not even playing at the festival) began airing live on Turner South.

4. Sunday afternoon, Aerial had a huge crowd enthralled at the Locals Only stage. Suddenly, a bozo DJ rudely bellowed “Whatsupppp?” from the overpowering 99X stage, disturbing the set’s hypnotic mood to introduce Ben Harper. (A similar thing happened to Something 5 a day earlier.)

5. As the festival wound down Sunday night, a hippy-ish Galatic fan held a hand-lettered sign that read: “I need corndogs and doses.” As he sheepishly explained to passers-by, “My girlfriend’s purse was stolen and I’m hungry.” That explains the corndogs, but the doses? “Hey, we gotta have something for Galatic.”


No doubt, there was plenty of fun to be had on Music Midtown’s pavement and parched grass, as the sun blazed down on Atlanta’s urban heat-trap. But what did you do besides showing up to get involved in the activities? Crowd-surfing to Evan & Jaron? Keeping the beach ball aloft during Eric Johnson’s 18th guitar solo? Embarrassing your family with an offensively decorated festival pole?

For most of us, our part of the equation involved simply standing on our feet for 45 minutes watching some guy strum a guitar 400 feet away. That might be someone’s idea of fun, but by my estimation, the real action was to be found inside the air-conditioned SciTrek museum, where KidsTown delivered hands-on thrills unmatched by whatever interactive kicks were going on outside.

In addition to the regular SciTrek exhibits, KidsTown featured arts and crafts, jugglers on stilts, magic shows, Native American dance and tons of free stuff for the taking. There were performers, sure. In fact, it was impossible to hang around KidsTown for long without becoming a performer yourself. Miss Amy had the crowd doing the “Hokey Pokey” and grasping for their “head and shoulders, knees and toes, knees and toes” at impossible speeds, before breaking into storytime. The folks from Radio Disney invited pre-teens to engage in some Backstreet Boys karaoke, and a shocking number of youngsters could recreate the group’s dance steps with startling accuracy.

Best of all was Rick Hubbard, a talented singer and multi-instrumentalist who knew well how to stir up “kaos” (“kids appearing on stage,” that is). With tubs full of props to give away, including bubbles, percussion toys, inflatable guitars and special Music Midtown kazoos, Hubbard made everyone in the audience — kids and grown-ups alike — part of his band.

If you missed it, you missed out. Consider this: For all of the in-your-face advertising going on around the outside stages, did Budweiser or Ford offer you any free toys? And for all of Patti Smith’s spouting about “this show’s for you,” she didn’t invite you up on stage with her, now did she?