ATLANTA -- With his trademark Weissenborn guitar on his lap, Ben
Harper raised his arms as both encouragement and thanks to the sea of
people in front of him.
It was the second day of the Sixth Annual Music Midtown Festival -- a
three-day, seven-stage event that ran Friday night to Sunday night -- and
the packed crowd reached a quarter mile from the stage.
Harper, who had played a handful of soul-drenched rock tunes from his
last two albums, The Will to Live and Fight for Your Mind,
closed out his set with a tribute to one of his musical heroes, Jimi
Hendrix. Rapper Kid Rock, who was scheduled to go on next, stood beside
the stage, pumping his fist in appreciation while the crowd stood
entranced by Harper's scorching version of Hendrix's "Voodoo Child."
In all, more than 100 performers, including Harper, Kid Rock, Hole and
local heroes OutKast, Goodie Mob and the Black Crowes, played during the
"When 50,000 people are going off," Harper said, "by the nature of it
being so large and intense in that moment, that's heavy."
Unseasonably cold temperatures kept the crowds reasonable Friday night,
as organizers dealt with a few last-minute scheduling problems. Chief
among them was the cancellation of the Goo Goo Dolls' set; singer Johnny
Rzeznik was nursing a vocal-cord injury. Blues-rockers the Black Crowes
stepped in to fill their slot, and few fans seemed disappointed.
"It's funny. We walked over here to see the Goo Goo Dolls because my
girlfriend likes them," Benjie Diamond, an 18-year-old high school student
from Atlanta, said. "But when we found out the Crowes were playing, I
was stoked. They kick the Goo Goos' ass."
A few blocks away, Willie Nelson, who was celebrating his 66th birthday,
was welcomed onstage with a rousing rendition of "Happy Birthday." After
blowing out the candles on a large birthday cake, he kicked into a set
peppered with such oldies as "Good Hearted Woman" and "Whiskey River,"
as well as a few tunes from his 1998 album Teatro. Fans showed
their appreciation by raising their beers and frequently yelling,
"Unbelievable," said Derek Islington, a 29-year old lawyer from Vinings.
"I was right down front, not 10 feet from Willie. I could see every
line on his damn face. When he started playing that Janis Joplin song,
'Me and Bobby McGee,' I swear to God, I started to cry."
One of the night's other highlights was a performance by Atlanta hip-hoppers
OutKast. Backed by a full band, OutKast worked through a short but
powerful set that finished with the crowd-pleasing "Rosa Parks"
Warmer temperatures and huge crowds prevailed Saturday, which featured
12 hours of music from rapper Kid Rock (born Bob Ritchie), modern-rock
hit machine Everclear, Atlanta rappers Goodie Mob, pop-rockers Wilco,
jazz saxophonist Branford Marsalis and punk legend Iggy Pop (James
Osterberg). Children slurped on ice cream and older folks knocked back
beers at an alarming rate on a day that seemed to offer something for
"Me and my husband came here to see Peter Frampton," Judy Gordon, a
41-year old teacher from nearby Alpharetta, said. "We saw him back in the '70s
a few times. Our kids wanted to see Kid Rock, so we made them a deal:
We'd sit through that, but they had to come hear Frampton. I think they
actually liked him."
Sunday brought more beautiful weather and another slew of bands, including
ska-poppers Reel Big Fish, swing revivalists Big Bad Voodoo Daddy,
boy-pop sensation 98 Degrees and New Orleans piano man Dr. John. Again
though, it was a band making a homecoming -- Athens rockers Widespread
Panic -- who seemed to make the biggest splash.
"Performing so close to home, alongside many artists that have inspired
our musical being, it's an honor," Widespread lead singer John Bell said.
During the first of the band's two sets, which included a cover of Curtis
Mayfield's "Pusherman" and a country-tinged track called "The Waker,"
from the upcoming album Til the Medicine Takes, Widespread Panic
showed their appreciation for one of their inspirations by inviting Dr.
John (Mac Rebennack) onstage for an extended version of "Travelin' Light."
Not to be outdone, and seemingly determined to finish the festival with
a bang, Hole frontwoman Courtney Love closed out her band's set by
challenging a man in the audience to a fight. Having already been combative
with the audience -- asking the close to 60,000 people such questions as
"Would you rather hear us play No Doubt songs?" and "Would you rather
we were Korn?" -- Love wanted a piece of one audience member after she
was pelted with a beer, following the band's final song, "Celebrity Skin"
"Come up here, you little p---y," she said. "I'll kick your ass. No
lawsuits, no nothing. Just you and me, right up onstage." Despite several
minutes of badgering from Love, the offender never took her up on the
challenge and Love left the stage.
The incident came at the end of an encore set during which Hole also
played "Northern Star," from Celebrity Skin (1998), and a version
of Guns n' Roses' "Paradise City."
"Well, that was definitely an interesting encore," Katie Harrelson,
a 24-year-old nursing student from Atlanta said. She added, "I kind of wish
that guy would've just got up there and laid her out."