Atlanta Tunes Into Tradition

Drake, Elton John and Sam Smith wow huge crowds and live up to the hype

After purchasing my tickets as soon as they were released back in the summer, my anticipation gradually began to grow. Small reminders here and there such as stories in the newspaper and pictures from last year caused my excitement to grow over the months that followed.

As it got closer the the festival these reminders became more and more frequent. The week leading up it became unavoidable. All day tenth street was full of forklifts and truck lifts rushing up and down delivering the essentials for the weekend to come. My excitement and that of the 150,000 expected fans grew as we watched the four stages rose over the park.   

Friday got started when an Atlanta native rapper August Alsina took the stage before an electrified crowd that had been riled up even before he made his entrance.. He was able to shuffle through his set to even include a few slow ballads.The most memorable parts of his performance were the dancers. It seemed as though their outfits became skimpier and more scandalous after each song and their dances included twerking and at one point, a stripper pole.

Hosier followed and much of the crowd migrated like a herd over to the Honda stage. The crowd was seemed calm and laid back, especially compared to one I had just come from Hosier sounded great and introduced the crowd to many of his beautiful songs. He finished off his performance by taking the crowd to church. Other notable performers Friday afternoon included Tove Lo, Alice in Chains, and Jenny Lewis.

As the sun sank below the horizon people began to pack in and reserve their spots for the two main acts of the night hours before they were set to begin. Two hours before Drake was supposed to come on I was already pressed against thousands of people with no room to move. After waiting for forty-five minutes I, along with a few friends, gave up and decided to go watch Elton John from the back and then come back and see the second half.

This was the best decision I made the entire weekend. Elton John amazed the crowd with his nimble piano playing and with his band really added to the performance. John’s voice was refreshed and energetic, especially for a man pushing 70 years old. The most memorable song in his set was when a nearly five minute long piano interlude that transitioned seamlessly into his hit “Rocket Man.”

After getting our fill of the legend, we walked back down the hill to enjoy the rest of Drake’s performance. The crowd seemed to stretch on forever in front of me but I got a better view from here than being blocked by heads in the middle of the mosh-pit up front.

The performance itself was extremely hype. He moved seamlessly and led the entire crowd singing along to his hit “Motto.” There was also a huge buzz when announced to the crowd that his rumored mixtape with fellow rapper, Future, was in fact real. He capped off his performance and the night off perfectly with a huge fireworks display that lit up the skyline and would rival any on the Fourth of July.

Saturday picked up right where Friday left off when X-Ambassadors and their hit Renegade took the stage in the blistering afternoon heat. I found myself humming it as they day progressed and could not get it out of my head. Slightly later in the afternoon Swedish duo Icona pop took the stage for an upbeat and energizing set that brought the crowd to life. Rock icon Billy Idol also performed with an especially memorable performance of Rebel Yell which he seemed to almost howl at the crowd but still make it sound good. Panic! at the Disco also took the stage in front of one of the most excited crowds I experienced at the festival, performing among their own hits an extremely impressive cover of Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody that filled even a teenager like me with nostalgia.  

Rap duo Run the Jewels did not hesitate to show their Atlanta roots during their performance on the Honda Stage. They brought many guests onto the stage including their families and Atlanta rapper TI. Not afraid to bring politics and current issues into their performance the duo asked the crowd to put their hands up, a reference to the Black Lives Matter movement, and ended their performance by encouraging the crowd to join them in an anti-establishment chant that took was an extremely harsh criticism of the elite and maybe not really appropriate for an early afternoon concert. Their fans however, were more than happy to oblige.

Lenny Kravitz took the stage as scantily clad as ever, sporting tight pants and see-through, jersey like shirt that I am sure excited all the ladies in the crowd. He backed up his appearance with a concert that showcased the best of what 90’s rock has to offer.

The first of the two headliners for Saturday was Van Halen. Despite their best efforts the set was a little disappointing. The Van Halen brothers did what they could on their respective instruments but there was only so much they could do makeup for lead singer David Lee Roth’s voice that seems to have deteriorated as he has aged and sounded very spotty and raspy throughout. Despite this they were able to exude an energy that seemed to keep the crowd entertained throughout even if the music itself did not sound very good.  

Sam Smith closed out Music Midtown with an extremely emotional performance. The Grammy winning artist felt relatable to the crowd of thousands of ordinary people with his down to earth lyrics. Despite the fact that we have all been bombarded with it over the past year, his performance of “Stay with Me” was still exceptional and fresh and made a song that we have all heard too much sound good. He provided the perfect ending to a long weekend of exceptional music and memorable performances.