Most music festivals around the country have followed the example of Bonnaroo and Coachella and settled into a mix of legacy headliners, big-name indie acts, jam bands, electronica and loads of up-and-coming bands on smaller stages. Atlanta’s Music Midtown has taken a very different approach, anchoring the lineup with bands that actually get radio airplay. With a crowd packed into Piedmont Park tightly enough to make getting near any of the three stages exceedingly difficult (in fact, even getting into the park proved difficult on Friday evening—we waited 40 minutes in a mob that crushed its way towards the gate), even the smallest artists had huge audiences. There were never more than two acts playing at the same time.
The lineup catered to a younger audience, so I brought my 15-year-old daughter Jordan and let her steer us throughout the weekend. This would have taken us to Iggy Azalea first if we hadn’t got caught in human traffic jam at the gate. Fortunately, the gate was near Run-D.M.C., so I could at least hear “Walk This Way” while shuffling about a foot-a-minute towards the entrance. But we got through in time to catch most of Lorde, the New Zealand singer who seems wise beyond her 17 years. Dressed in a loose fitting clothes, she used the enormous stage for some completely un-self-conscious dancing in between her pitch-perfect vocals. It was an energetic and enjoyable show.
Afterwards, we made our way up the hill for Jack White, who continues to prove himself as one of the best live acts touring today. Drawing from his solo albums, old White Stripes tunes and that one Raconteurs hit, he led a phenomenal band in front of tens of thousands of listeners. We left early so Jordan could catch the other blues practitioner of the night, John Mayer. Both men showed off their guitar chops, but it was no contest, even for my daughter: advantage Mr. White.
We came back late in the day on Saturday, just in time to catch a bit of Fitz & The Tantrums, whose latest album was designed for big stages like this one. But the act Jordan was most excited to see was Lana Del Ray. The singer has come along way since her lackluster Saturday Night Live performance, engaging the audience and even climbing down into the crowd to hug fans and sign autographs. But the down-tempo songs don’t really lend themselves to dancing or doing anything other than watching Lana look fabulous, so it wasn’t hard to convince Jordan to go catch a bit of Greg Allman. We got there in time to hear “Midnight Rider,” so I was happy. After that, we knew that we knew a Bastille song, but neither of us could remember what it was. We left the festival before having to decide between headliners Eminem and Zac Brown, and as we did, we heard Bastille play “Pompei,” and realized, “There’s the hit.” On the way out, people were still trickling into the festival and we played, “Guess which headliner they’re going to see.”
The first Music Midtown was in 1994, moving several times before going on hiatus in 2006. In its heyday, the fest had six diverse stages. Music Midtown’s footprint in Piedmont Park is certainly as big as other fests around the country with more stages, so hopefully the scope and variety of acts will grow next year. But the organizer’s strategy to fill the stages with radio-ready acts seemed to pay off. The young festival-goers seemed undeterred by the huge crowds and limited choice, and will probably be back next year regardless.
Check out photos from the festival by Mary Caroline Russell in the gallery above.