Despite the evacuation prompted by severe weather on the second day of Music Midtown, the music proved more than enough reason for fans to endure damp socks and enjoy live performances at the Cotton Club, Roxy, Electric Ballroom and Honda stages spread across Piedmont Park.
The New York Times dubbed Atlanta “hip-hop’s center of gravity,” so it made sense that the 2016 Music Midtown lineup reflected the city’s affection for hip-hop, as well as its growing indie rock music scene.
City and Colour daringly started off by showcasing some lesser-known songs, and although the words leaving singer-songwriter Dallas Green’s mouth seemed unfamiliar to most audience members, Green’s astonishingly beautiful voice (I would marry it!) was enough to get the crowd swaying. When City and Colour played more popular songs such as “Lover Come Back,” the initially hesitant audience members let loose. The crowd of both old and young erupted into cheers when Green introduced “Lover Come Back,” saying, “This song is about f***ing up,” — clearly a very relatable concept. However, it was disappointing that we didn’t get to hear “The Girl” and “Northern Wind” live like Clay and Quinn did in One Tree Hill.
Rappers Logic and G-Eazy both paid homage to their roots in between songs: Logic acknowledged that he has a little “rapper money” now but originally came from welfare, and G-Eazy asked the audience, “Is it alright if I show you my home, the Bay?” Both artists offered strong political statements, as well. “Everyone is created equal, but not everyone is treated equal. That’s why black lives matter,” Logic said. G-Eazy had audience members chanting “F*** Donald Trump.” But the similarity between the two rappers stopped there.
Whereas Logic avoided rapping about having sex and doing drugs and opted for inspirational, uplifting messages, G-Eazy repeatedly praised Atlanta for its beautiful women (eerily similar to Trump’s degradation of women) and hardcore partying. Logic’s performance was personal; he called out eight audience members with captivating shirts and signs, then had everyone sing “Happy Birthday to You” to a young boy. But the most important aspect of Logic’s performance was his unrestrained sincerity. While G-Eazy felt like a typical concert performance, Logic’s felt like an intimate jam session.
Lil Wayne and 2Chainz, who released a collaborative project album known as Collegrove this past year, took the stage later Saturday evening. They were disappointing — and that’s generous. 2Chainz stuck to occasionally spitting out meaningless phrases, including “put your hands up” or “yeah,” over some music, and Lil Wayne pelvic-thrusted awkwardly. And that’s all I have to say about their “performance,” because I’m trying to block that uncomfortable moment of my life from my mind.
To conclude Saturday, co-headliners Twenty One Pilots offered an entertaining, albeit slightly confusing, performance at the Electric Ballroom. The duo performed at Music Midtown last year, but since then they have gained traction quickly, resulting in what they called the largest concert they have ever headlined Saturday evening. The duo from Columbus, Ohio, composed of singer and keyboardist Tyler Joseph and drummer Josh Dun, put on a performance in every sense of the word — even featuring costume changes, Dun rolling over the crowd in a bright red human hamster ball and a bizarre black-and-white video featuring a disturbing creature telling Joseph not to go on stage. Starting off with “Heavydirtysoul,” Dun and Joseph donned ski masks, later changing into business suits and then hazmat suits between songs. The duo not only displayed their musical talent, but also exceptional physical prowess: Dun backflipped effortlessly off of a stage prop, while Joseph did a mid-air split. Twenty One Pilots went above and beyond to thrill concert-goers, but their crazy, fun touches did not detract from fans’ ability to appreciate their songs, including “Heathens,” radio favorite “Ride,” “Lane Boy” and “Tear in My Heart.” Although Joseph promised that “everything [would] make sense at the end,” there was no explanation to be found for the funny-in-a-weird-way video.
Sunday’s lineup was interrupted by the downpour, but no artists were cancelled and performances resumed after re-entry.
Corinne Bailey Rae is one of those artists who has one or two famous songs. Her other songs, like “Horse Print Dress,” were largely unimpressive, failing to captivate the audience. However, Rae’s infectious smile and adorable, bubbly personality kept audience members around until “Put Your Records On,” to which every single girl in the crowd knew the lyrics by heart. She then finished her set with “Like A Star,” a slower but equally lovely croon.
There was nothing specific to complain about, but Grouplove wasn’t extraordinary either; the indie rock band performed its fun, upbeat hits including “Welcome to Your Life,” “Tongue Tied” and “Ways to Go.” Performing immediately after everyone was let back into Piedmont Park, Grouplove re-energized festival attendees. Vocalists Hannah Hooper’s and Christian Zucconi’s voices definitely shone through in the band’s live performance, sounding much more raw and personalized than in their studio-recorded songs.
Pop star Kesha is currently mixed up in a lawsuit after alleging her producer of drugging and raping her, and her anguish, apparent in her music, resembled my wet socks: it was something that I tried to ignore, but simply couldn’t. Yes, she played the typical lively party songs like “Your Love Is My Drug” and “Tik Tok,” but she also covered Lesley Gore’s “You Don’t Own Me,” most likely alluding to producer Lukasz Sebastian Gottwald, known as Dr. Luke, and she slowed down her song “Blow,” so much that it became an unrecognizable ballad. Kesha’s pain was her fans’ pain, and that’s why fans cheered so loudly despite her uncharacteristically miserable undertones.
Festival co-headliners and rock band The Killers attracted a diverse crowd — old, young, drunk, sober — reflecting the band’s finesse in balancing its sets with songs of heartbreak and classic songs to dance to. The Killers emerged head-on with “Mr. Brightside,” giving fans exactly what they wanted to hear at the onset. Throughout the set, lead singer Brandon Flowers stole the show with his gorgeous voice, which proved extremely adaptable to songs other than their typical alternative rock sound when the band covered Elvis Presley’s “Can’t Help Falling In Love.” The band played “Human” twice, the first a slow, simple, stripped-down version of the chorus to tease the audience, and then the version that we all know — both were entrancing. During “All These Things That I’ve Done,” the audience chanted, “I got soul, but I’m not a soldier,” at least 10 times. Those who did not know the lyrics quickly picked them up. Standing amid the chanting was surreal. You could not tell whose voice was whose; everyone’s blended into one, and just like that, The Killers had succeeded in uniting an audience of strangers with their music. They could have closed the set with “All The Things That I’ve Done,” and it would have felt perfect, but instead they chose to end with “When You Were Young,” which is one of The Killers’ best songs, but it didn’t generate the same passion and energy as the prior one.
This year marked the first time that Music Midtown occurred on Saturday and Sunday instead of Friday and Saturday, making it much more convenient for college students and those working Monday through Friday jobs to attend the festival.
Framed by the Atlanta skyline, the annual music festival broke hearts when the performance schedule was released — of great criticism was the overlap between co-headliners Deadmau5’s and The Killers’ sets — but performances ranging from Corinne Bailey Rae’s romantic croons to Twenty One Pilots’ infectious energy managed to piece fans’ hearts back together. Tough decisions were made, but hopefully whichever performers you decided upon didn’t disappoint, and if they did, there’s always next year.
Correction (Sept. 21 at 8:43 p.m.): This article misnamed the Cotton Club stage the Cotton Ball stage. The article has been been corrected to reflect the correct name.