Music Midtown 2001: Atlanta Midtown

Erykah Badu, Bilal, The Black Crowes, Ludacris and more play Atlanta's three day festival...

Music Midtown blankets Atlanta once a year in marquee value and is the only weekend the city’s public transportation sees a work-out. But, uncharacteristically for Atlantans, nobody’s in a rush. Not the hippie on the train, happily trying to lead a silent crowd in a chant of, “If you’re happy and you know it, light the joint.” Not the guy in the sea of humanity proudly displaying overhead a festival pole shaped like a huge cock. This is the Dirty South. There’s plenty of flesh, plenty of flash.

The action takes place in two opposing corners, joined by congested, vendor-lined corridors. You can pick up greasy food after local Brit-Poppers Young Antiques or “GlamRock Yourself” with a little hair spray paint on the way to The Offspring. In the far corner Brooklyn’s Talib Kweli and DJ Chaps invite the crowd on the ‘Train Of Thought’, dropping songs from Kweli and Hi-Tek’s ‘Reflection Eternal’, as well as some from Kweli and Mos Def’s Black Star. Joints are passed in the crowd, more joints are played. Though, sadly, Music Midtown has yet to add a DJ stage, almost every act on the V103 Stage – from nu soul to old school – has a DJ. Almost everyone thanks Jesus and asks the crowd to put their hands in the air.

Friday night Erykah Badu headlines, while the Rev. Al Green does the honors Saturday. Both wear white, but while Badu, in her robes, headwrap and silver ankhs, is theatrical, Green is dramatic, forceful and soulful, spreading out the hits. Badu is more jazzy, scatting and freeform, saving hits like ‘Tyrone’ till last, but she isn’t loud enough to drown out other stages.

The days start with fresh faces who switch with old pros. Philadelphia’s Bilal, who paid dues in D’Angelo’s backing band, and learned a lot about showing abs and swivelling hips, plays songs from his forthcoming album, ‘1st Born Second’. With a funky, bass and Rhodes-heavy band Bilal goes into falsetto fits. Another new nu soul artist from Philadelphia, Musiq Soulchild, plays the same stage, but is much more subdued, stays more dressed and probably doesn’t worry as many guys that he’s out to steal their girl.

The old school is represented by Sugar Hill Gang, who look like beer-bellied dads still out for a disco call, and Run-DMC, who follow hometown boy Ludacris. Sugar Hill Gang do ‘Rapper’s Delight’, natch, but spend most their set doing other’s favorites, like Beastie Boys’ ‘Fight For Your Right’ and House Of Pain’s ‘Jump Around’. Ludacris, DJ JC and two of his crew do his material by the numbers, managing nothing special but to momentarily blow the woofers. Run-DMC stick to the classics, only doing one song from their new album, ‘Crown Royal’ (thankfully). As rumored, though, the King of Rock DMC’s voice is pretty rough.

Over on the rock stages, old school kings and queens reign supreme as well. The Cult won’t come out until they see some tits, and the audience is rewarded by hits and only a couple songs from their first album in seven years. However, on the other end of the festival locals done good The Black Crowes play primarily material from their new, more choppy, psychedelic album, ‘Lions’.

The real highlight is Patti Smith who, dressed like a bohemian wharf rat, brings a bluesy, passionate Lower East Side vibe. Along with guitarist Lenny Kaye and band Smith stalks the stage through ‘Gloria’, ‘Because The Night’, recent numbers, poems and showstopper ‘Rock & Roll Nigger,’ during which she tears into a guitar while lambasting George W., TV, and corporate culture, including the festival itself.

But the real surprises take place on the quite corporate 99X modern rock stage. Local media stand gobsmacked as The Wallflowers finish up their set with convincing versions of Blur’s ‘Song 2’ and The Who’s ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again’. The next night tattooed and pierced former basketball player Dennis Rodman joins Live for ‘I Alone’. Score a three-pointer for Atlanta’s yearly three-ring circus. Nothing but net.

Tony Ware