BY MELISSA RUGGIERI and HELENA OLIVIERO
The weather held and tens of thousands of music-loving fans — the majority in their late teens and 20s — descended upon Piedmont Park for the sixth annual installment of Music Midtown on Saturday.
The first of the two-day event welcomed a diverse lineup ranging from the Joe Jonas-fronted DNCE to Atlanta rapper Big Boi to buzzy young pop-punk band Twenty One Pilots.
“I think people are having fun,” said Peter Conlon, president of Live Nation Atlanta, which produces the event that typically generates about $50 million for the area. “I think people are responding well to the two full days of music.”
Since its return in 2011, Music Midtown has previously been held on Friday night and in 2012 expanded to all-day Saturday as well. This year it offers a complete weekend of music.
The Sunday slate includes Alabama Shakes, Kesha, The Lumineers and The Killers. Tickets are still available at the two-day price of $135 for general admission.
One snafu that irritated some attendees on Saturday was the congested “will call” lines. Conlon apologized for the long waits and said changes were quickly instituted to move the process along more quickly. Though ticket pickup was available on site since Wednesday, most people opted to wait until the day of the event to retrieve their access wristbands.
Once inside, however, fans shouted and sang along with the multitude of artists spread across four stages.
Kira Tharp, 22, and Kellie Allen, 22, both enjoy live music and attend several shows a year. Music Midtown was their ultimate musical indulgence. Standing fewer than 100 feet from Jonas and his band, they were giddy. They were also eager to see Twenty One Pilots and Big Boi.
“To be outside and see all of these great acts all at once is really great,” Tharp said.
Here is a recap of some of the Saturday performances.
DNCE: The performance started with chants of D-N-C-E, but let’s face it, the crowd was there to see Joe Jonas, who gave a fun, high-energy, crowd-pleasing performance. Wearing white pants and a pink T-shirt, Jonas thrilled the teenage girls and young women who gleefully rocked back and forth during the performance, which included many of hits including “Pay My Rent.”
“I’ve had a crush on Joe Jonas since the 6th grade,” said Kellie Allen, who added, “He is so beautiful and funny.”
Jonas showed sense of humor Saturday by asking the crowd, “Do you know Kanye West?”
“Perfect,” he said. “This is a Drake song.” He performed “Hotline Bling,” which was very good, but the crowd went into a predictable frenzy for DNCE’s breakthrough hit, “Cake by the Ocean,” their spirited set closer.
The Coathangers: The trio of Atlanta punk rockers – Meredith Franco on bass and vocals, Julia Kugel on guitar and vocals and Stephanie Luke on drums and vocals – ripped through a set of songs including “Nosebleed Weekend” in their matching white tank tops and black shorts. The band’s music would have made Joan Jett (who was playing at Chastain Saturday night) proud with their gritty-yet-melodic Runaways-styled songs. Luke handled lead vocals on “Make It Right” in her gravelly voice, her black hair flying in the welcome breeze, while The Coathangers’ melodies festered before roiling into a screaming punk assault.
Chvrches: Scottish synth-pop band Chvrches (pronounced “Churches”) may have more than 725,000 fans on Facebook, but the group only recently started playing in large arenas and appeared to be one of the lesser-known bands at Music Midtown. The music is digital and danceable and also heartfelt; you could see the crowd deepen their connection with the electronic-pop band as the songs continued. Lead vocalist Lauren Mayberry has a unique, piercing voice and the band delivered the kind of performance you want to see more of.
Logic: Preaching his message of “peace, love and positivity,” the Maryland rapper was a marvel during his Saturday afternoon set. After joking that the weather wasn’t as awful (as in heat) as he’s felt before in Atlanta, Logic (aka Robert Bryson Hall II) zipped around the stage at breakneck speed, never pausing for a breath as he rolled through “Slave” and “Young Jesus.” Donning a Prince “Purple Rain” T-shirt, the 26-year-old proved himself wise beyond his years when he “dared” those in the crowd to put down their phones for two songs “and live in the moment.” There is an easy swing to his rapid-fire delivery and his combination of interesting raps (“The Jam,” “Upgrade”) coupled with his respectful approach made him a festival highlight.
Leon Bridges: The young soul singer form Fort Worth, Texas, took fans on a trip to the past – and it was a blissful place to be for an hour in the setting sun. In his billowing lime green shirt and oxford shoes, Bridges glided through “Brown Skin Girl” while his taut band powered the song with perky saxophone bleats and a smooth groove. Bouncing and clapping around the stage, Bridges kept the tempo steady as he paid tribute to his mother (“Lisa Sawyer”) and turned seductive for the languid “Texas Sun.”
Band of Horses: The Seattle-based indie rock band fronted by Ben Bridwell satisfied those in the crowd seeking veritable rock music. And this one even comes with a Southern twang. Wearing a red UGA T-shirt, Bridwell started the show singing the dreamy thoughtful song, “Dull Times/The Moon,” slowly, but then picked up the pace, delighting fans including Jon Pierson, a UGA grad student, who rocked out to every Band of Horses song. Check out Pierson here:
Big Boi: Last week, the Atlanta rapper made headlines when he and the full Dungeon Family – including his elusive Outkast partner Andre 3000 – reunited at One Musicfest. Those who didn’t witness that bit of history were still treated to a few Outkast songs from Big Boi – “Ghetto Musick,” “B.o.B.” and the unshakable “Skew it on the Bar-B” among them. “Are you having a good tiiiiime?” Big Boi frequently asked from behind his shades in his patented inflection. He dotted his set with some material from 21 Grams, as well as his solo work, including the infectious boogie, “Apple of My Eye.”
Mayer Hawthorne: Hawthorne, a crooner from Detroit, Mich., delivered his own version of Motown-inspired music with groovy, upbeat songs and a retro sound. Hawthorne even had a throwback look, wearing black pants, jacket and felt hat. He presented a smooth, polished performance. A charmer on stage, Hawthorne attracted a growing swirl of people to dance to his songs -- not just jumping up and down dancing in pairs while Hawthorne performed his set which included “Breakfast in Bed” and well-received covers of Aerosmith’s “Walk This Way” and Tears for Fears’ “Everybody Wants to Rule the World.”
Beck: The spry alt-rock-folk-pop-hippie-grooving Beck launched his performance with the woozy funk of “Devil’s Haircut” and stayed in familiar territory with the song he’s still most associated with, the off-kilter “Loser” (now, unbelievably, more than 20 years old). Skipping around the stage and engaging in his loose-limbed Beck moves, the singer was in prime vocal form and sometimes resembled a younger Mick Jagger as he slithered around. His stew of songs included “I Think I’m in Love,” which was injected with a luscious snippet of Donna Summer’s “I Feel Love,” as well as “Mixed Bizness,” “Go it Alone” and the lovely ballad “Lost Cause,” from 2002’s “Sea Change” album. Beck’s new album is due next month.
ColleGrove (aka 2 Chainz and Lil Wayne): There was sort of a surprise when 2 Chainz performed on stage Saturday night. Or maybe it was not such a surprise when Lil Wayne bounced onto the stage, giving us another reason to believe (and for some, hope) that he is not really retiring, as he indicated recently.
And while College Park native 2 Chainz, who is legally known as Tauheed Epps, had no problem holding his own with a fast-paced, high-energy performance, the crowd of hip-hop fans erupted wildly when Lil Wayne made his entrance.
“In some ways it seems like it could be a good time to retire because there’s a lot of new talent coming up,” said 26-year-old Michelle Carem, who traveled from Savannah to attend the music festival. “But Lil Wayne is kind of legend, so it’s respectable. I have total respect for him performing.”
In the end, it was when the duo performed together that they sounded their best and drew the largest reaction from fans - many of whom were jumping up and down and waving blue glowsticks during the performance.
Twenty One Pilots: This headlining set for the young duo of Tyler Joseph (vocals) and Josh Dun (drums) was their biggest festival performance – and a reminder of how far they’ve come so fast. Last month, the hip-hop-pop-rockers played a lively, sold-out show at Infinite Energy Center . Live Nation’s Peter Conlon said he took a gamble by booking the band in a headlining slot more than six months ago – which paid off well after they broke into the mainstream with hits “Stressed Out” and “Tear in My Heart.”
Their closing set Saturday night was stocked with dynamic lighting, video (lots of illuminated skulls) and lasers.
Taking the stage to the ominous “HeavyDirtySoul,” Joseph and Dun donned their usual stage uniform of ski masks and skinny ties. The pair always appears to be jacked up on 5-Hour Energy drinks when onstage, and their liveliness was impressive.
From the sprightly piano powering “Migraine” to the slow-building “Heathens,” Twenty One Pilots always had the massive crowd of primarily younger fans in their thrall.
Dun offered some locomotive snare drum work, while Joseph furiously strummed a ukulele to “We Don’t Believe What’s On TV” (Dun added some trumpet to that one) before the duo – which makes a big sound for a couple of guys – segued into the interesting rhythms of “Lane Boy.”
While they love to cover artists such as Dr. Dre and House of Pain, right now, Twenty One Pilots are enjoying the spoils of current pop kings.