Entering Atlanta’s premiere outdoor venue can be daunting. At the gates they herd the crowd through like cattle and scour the concert-goers’ bags for food, drinks, cameras (even disregarding the fact that practically everyone and their brother has a camera phone these days), and illegal substances. Once inside the venue, sub par food is sold for whopping prices, and the mile-long line for overpriced beer is directed by a security worker yelling into a megaphone. For those resilient enough to pass through all of the aforementioned barriers on this particular night, Damian Marley, son of reggae legend, Bob, awaited on the other side. He would perform a handful of his father’s songs, as well as tunes from his Grammy-winning current album, Welcome to Jamrock. Julian and Stephen Marley joined their brother on stage while the band infused every number with joyful, upbeat energy, powerful female backup singers and rhythmic percussion. In short – classic reggae fare, inspired renditions and refreshing originals.
Warmly embraced by some 5,000 fans, Ben Harper and the Innocent Criminals took the stage in the headlining spot, beginning with “Please Don’t Talk About Murder While I’m Eating,” an anthemic, rollicking number in the classic rock vein. Harper’s vocals have never seemed fitting for such a genre, and the song seemed overwrought, like trying to fit a square peg into a round hole.
When Harper classic “Burn One Down” – the lyrics of which are known by many a hippie chick, frat boy and Rastaman alike – began, an all-pervading smell of the drug in question infiltrated the venue, little puffs of smoke rising throughout the crowd. The concert-goers chanted in unison, turning Chastain into a veritable campfire sing-along:
If you don’t like my fire then don’t come around
‘Cause I’m gonna burn one down.
Unfortunately, the band soon resorted to resting on its haunches for easy and uninspired numbers (“Steal My Kisses,” “Waiting for You,” “Morning Yearning,” “Diamonds on the Inside,” “Crying Won’t Help You Now”) while eyes glazed, couples swayed and yawns spread through the crowd like a wave. For everyone’s sake, the band could’ve cut eight songs in a row from its repertoire.
Damian Marley and Co. flooded back on stage to join Harper's clan for “Get Up, Stand Up,” during which most every denizen of the amphitheater did just that, pumping fists and shouting along with the revolutionary ballad. The crowd’s enthusiasm for a rock concert in the midst of the current political climate made the whole thing feel more than a bit contrived, however.
Still, the blissful fans cheered Harper back on stage for two encores. For the first, he took the stage alone to play the shimmering, “There Will Be a Light,” from his collaboration with the Blind Boys of Alabama. For the second, the full band performed a trudging and listless cover of Neil Young’s “Heart of Gold” before ending with obvious closer, “I Believe in a Better Way.” Hardcore fans were singing along like there was no tomorrow. Others were hurrying for the nearest exit.