ATLANTA -- Everclear, Hole, OutKast, Wilco, Branford Marsalis,
Salt-n-Pepa, Widespread Panic, Willie Nelson and Iggy Pop are among the
more than 100 top artists and local acts scheduled for Atlanta's
sixth-annual Music Midtown Festival.
The three-day, seven-stage event, to be held Friday (April 30) through
Sunday, will feature a collage of performers, ranging from the
country sound of Nelson to the hard-core rap of OutKast. Though not as
widely known as the established New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival,
Music Midtown has grown from a regional event to one that draws bands
and fans from across the country.
"I enjoy that people sing along [with our songs]," Wilco leader Jeff Tweedy
said, speaking about his band's stage show. The group is currently on
tour supporting its latest album, Summer Teeth. The singer/songwriter
said he enjoys playing new songs, but thrills at involving the audience in
"I don't really look at it as my song. I wouldn't sit around and play it
for myself. But you put that song out and you gave it, you let people
hear it. And you're going to pretend it doesn't exist after that? No, it's
really enjoyable to play it and hear people sing it."
In both 1997 and 1998, close to 200,000 people attended the festival
held in downtown Atlanta. That was up from the 80,000 its first year,
according to Atlanta Concerts Inc., the company that puts on the festival.
Organizers expect an increase again this year as the event moves from
its original site to a new, significantly larger, venue near Centennial
"It's grown to the point where you're not just playing in front of
Atlanta people, you're playing for people from all over the country,"
Brian Malouf, lead singer of the Georgia rock band Trinket, said. "[At] the shows that we were playing up north, everybody was asking about Music Midtown. I know some people that are coming down from New Jersey."
Trinket is one of Music Midtown's success stories. They first played the festival in 1997 on a small stage for mostly unsigned, local bands. Since then, they've signed with RCA and released their self-titled major-label debut. The band returns this year to play one of the main stages.
"It's a great opportunity for young bands to get out in front of a lot of people," Malouf said. "We played on a Saturday afternoon [in 1997], and it was probably the biggest crowd of people I had been around in my concert-going days. From a performer's standpoint, it was amazing. You look out and all you can see are thousands and thousands of people."
Another effect of the event's growing stature is that each year it's
been easier to book bands. Peter Conlan, one of the co-founders of
Atlanta Concerts Inc., has noticed the difference.
"The first few years, [booking agents] were kind of concerned -- acts
being booked into situations that might not be positive or [might be]
problematic -- but the buzz on this thing developed so quickly that it came from being an easy sell to artists calling us," Conlan said. "It's not as hard to book now."
Conlan said the festival aims to book a wide range of acts, but there isn't a science to it.
"Mostly it's a pretty informal structure. A group of us get together in
the office, and we write up a wish list, and then we all sit around and brainstorm and start coming up with names. We try to keep a real eclectic mix."
This year's lineup seems to have achieved that goal. Bret Love, managing
editor of the Atlanta arts and entertainment magazine Insite,
has been covering the festival since its first year. He said he noticed a difference when the lineup was announced in February.
"It's nice to see that this year's lineup has a little more representation
from the worlds of hip-hop and world music. Bands like Toots and the
Maytals, Goodie Mob, OutKast and Digital Underground are definitely something that's been lacking in the past. This is the first year in a while that I'm actually excited to go," Love said.
The variety is not lost on fans such as Robert Broadfoot, a 26-year-old Atlanta firefighter, who has been to Music Midtown every year since 1995.
"I remember three years ago I saw the Squirrel Nut Zippers and Cornershop there," Broadfoot said. "This was before either were ever played on the radio so I had no idea who the hell they were. I basically just wandered over there to get a beer and ended up staying all day. It's stuff like that that's kept me going every year, more than just the big names."
Malouf agreed that the festival's diversity is what makes it stand out.
"You've got local bands playing, you've got huge national bands, then
you've also got Rick Springfield playing. That kind of thing is so rare.
A lot of the bigger radio festivals, they have what's playing on the
radio right now. What's great about Music Midtown ... it's almost like
a celebration of what's happened in the past, what's happening now and
what's going to be happening in the future," he said.
For a complete lineup, ticket prices and information, check out www.musicmidtown.com.