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FRIDAY JAM: Musical memories flourish at Music Midtown | PHOTO GALLERY

Atlanta music festival has drawn some amazing artists over the years

Chris Robinson brought the rock to a hometown crowd at the Black Crowes’ 2001 performance at Music Midtown in Atlanta. (Staff photo: Carlton Fletcher)

Chris Robinson brought the rock to a hometown crowd at the Black Crowes’ 2001 performance at Music Midtown in Atlanta. (Staff photo: Carlton Fletcher)

ATLANTA — We all have our Music Midtown stories.

Mine didn’t start until 1999, the sixth year of the festival. I remember hearing about the Midtown lineup, not quite believing that all those artists were actually going to be at the same place, and requesting credentials to cover the festival. I parked on a downtown Atlanta street, walked to the festival site, and immediately saw Robin Trower play an early afternoon set.

As Rene Zellweger said in “Jerry Maguire,” they had me at hello.

Kid Rock’s iconic album “Devil Without a Cause” was just taking off when he performed at Midtown that first year, and Train was even earlier in their rise to prominence. Both played memorable sets, Kid Rock impressing everyone with a Detroit medley in which he played bits of songs by fellow Michigan rockers Bob Seger, Grand Funk Railroad, the MC5, Eminem and others. The multi-talented artist played each of his band members’ instruments during the medley.


Neo-soul queen Joss Stone’s huge voice thrilled an Atlanta crowd at Music Midtown 2004. (Staff photo: Carlton Fletcher)

I also remember “discovering” Ben Harper at my first Midtown, being introduced to an artist who would become one of my favorites.

Probably my greatest Midtown memory came in 2005, when the White Stripes headlined the by-now iconic festival. I was one month removed from cancer surgery, still had drains and tubes and such attached to my body, and was just getting to a point where I could walk more than a few hundred yards without stopping to rest. My wife told me later, “I knew you shouldn’t have been out in that crowd, but I didn’t know if this might be your last opportunity to do something like this. I decided the risk was worth it.”


Brett Scallions and Fuel are now seen as something of a one-hit wonder, but they were huge at Music Midtown. (Staff photo: Carlton Fletcher)

I remember walking slowly from our hotel toward the festival grounds and apologizing to the folks behind us for walking so slowly. One guy asked, “Is there anything wrong?” When I told him my surgery story, he surprised me by whipping up his shirt and saying, “Does your scar look like this?” Amazingly, it did, complete with the left turn around the belly button.

I have dozens of other such stories from years of covering Music Midtown, but for me the festival has always been about the music. Peter Conlon and Alex Cooley created one of the most amazing musical gatherings ever — Where else can you honestly say you watched most of Al Green’s set and then ran a short ways over to see Bob Dylan? — and Conlon has continued that tradition.

In fact, while these are the Top 40 musical memories of my Midtown experience, I’m looking forward to a number of 2014 performances moving onto the list.


Indigo Girl Emily Saliers and her bandmate Amy Ray gave a standout performance at the 2001 Music Midtown gathering. (Staff photo: Carlton Fletcher)

  1. The White Stripes: Jack White is the most amazing musician/auteur working today. He’s in about a dozen odd bands, just released the best album of the year and has recorded works by legends such as Neil Young. On this night, he and ex-wife Meg — just before breaking up the band for good — played an amazing set, White all over the stage, playing guitar, keyboards, marimbas and just about everything else available. Meg, meanwhile kept up her trademark backbeat. For me personally, it was a (health) risk worth taking. For the Stripes, it was a fitting farewell.
  2. Foo Fighters: Dave Grohl and the boys announced they, too, were splitting up immediately after this show, but thankfully they reconsidered. This was a greatest hits package in the extreme and even included a cameo by Joan Jett.
  3. Pearl Jam: For those of us who’ve seen the greatest active American rock band perform — or have purchased soundboard-mixed discs of their performances — this show was far from their greatest. Still, it was so much better than 99.9 percent of the musical acts touring today.
  4. Steve Earle: Country-rock’s greatest songwriter chases the sun down with a set that includes an amazing performance of classic “Copperhead Road” with Earle playing accordion.
  5. Lou Reed: I thought this was an odd setting for one of rock’s most avant-garde performers, but the New York icon took to the Southern crowd with relish.
  6. Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers: There may be no more fun band to watch live. Petty and his crew become the world’s best party band when they play, and this show was one of their best.
  7. Bob Dylan: If you’ve ever been to a Dylan show — and, if you haven’t, shame on you — you know that what you get on any given night depends on how Bob is feeling that night. On this one, Dylan was on fire, and his smoking band offered excellent accompaniment.
  8. Kid Rock: “Bawitdaba” was just hitting the airwaves, and Kid Rock was on his way to becoming king of the world. Standing in front of the stage taking photos of the high-energy show, I remember thinking how cool it had to be for Rock to look out over a sea of adoring fans and see a prominently displayed downtown Atlanta billboard advertising his album “Devil Without a Cause.”
  9. Al Green: Anyone who listened to pop/R&B/soul music in the ’70s got the thrill of a lifetime with the Rev. Al’s sweat-soaked performance.
  10. Train: “Meet Virginia” was out, but Train were new on the national rock scene in ‘99. A year later, they were everywhere.
  11. Ben Harper: Sitting on a stool, playing a lap steel guitar, this introspective singer/songwriter won over a legion of fans with a dazzling performance.
  12. Crosby, Stills & Nash: The timeless trio’s otherworldly harmonies were as good on this night as they were at Woodstock when CSN were playing their “second gig.”
  13. The Wallflowers: Bob Dylan’s son, Jakob, proved that he’d made his bones as his own man with a set that featured his and his band’s debut album.
  14. Indigo Girls: Amy Ray and Emily Saliers are best known for their deep, insightful lyrics, but on this afternoon they proved themselves rousing performers as well.
  15. Everclear: “So Much for the Afterglow” indeed. Art Alexikas showed a large crowd he is a master guitarist as well as a compelling singer.
  16. Wyclef Jean: After a brief meeting (with photos!) backstage, the congenial Jean wowed a stoked crowd with a high-energy performance.
  17. The Allman Brothers Band: Dickey Betts had just been kicked out of the band — too wild for the Allman Brothers?! — and Derek Trucks was earning his place as Betts’ replacement, which proved to be a highlight of this late-afternoon set.
  18. Black Eyed Peas: It was a rainy night in Georgia when the Peas performed, but two things remain most memorable: The quartet is as good live as advertised, and Fergie is even more beautiful in person than her media persona.
  19. Beth Hart: Hello, world. I’d like you to meet one of the most soaring female rock voices ever playing one of the most amazing songs (“L.A. Song”) ever. And on this night, a legion of fans was born.
  20. The Black Crowes: The dueling Robinson brothers were on their best behavior playing in front of their hometown crowd, and their music was as good as ever.
  21. John Fogerty: Proof forever that not only was JF the heart and soul of Creedence, he was the creative force behind the iconic ’70s rockers.
  22. Oasis: Like the Robinsons, the Gallagher brothers fought as often as they produced new songs. On this night, they avoided altercation and wowed an adoring crowd.
  23. Sheryl Crow: The darling of country and rock fans alike, the sweet-voiced Grammy queen on this night was ready to rock.
  24. Robin Trower: As the guitar god closed his eyes and leaned his head back on “Bridge of Sighs,” his instrument spitting out torrents of magical notes, it was 1974 all over again.
  25. Counting Crows: These folky-rock darlings had long since burst onto the scene with “Mr. Jones” and had grown into consummate performers.
  26. Southern Culture on the Skids: You can’t help but laugh at this Carolina crew’s semi-novelty songs (“Soul City,” “Camel Walk,” “Dirt Track Date”) but that didn’t distract from their musical chops.
  27. Jack Johnson: The mellowest dude in music won over a large crowd with his simple acoustic guitar and laid-back voice.
  28. Incubus: The rockers were just coming into their own as one of the best rock bands of their time, and this set showed why.
  29. The Killers: Another band that introduced itself to many Atlanta fans, showing just why “Mr. Brightside” was causing such a stir.
  30. Creed: A grunge-y Florida collective that, before its members’ egos led to a devastating implosion, was one of the biggest and best bands in rock music. On this night, Mark Tremonti’s guitar was front and center, and Scott Stapp prowled the stage like a caged animal. And the crowd loved it.
  31. Five Eight: The best band that’s never been a huge hit because its members refuse to conform to some record company’s image, the Athens-by-way-of-New York collective tore through a frenetic set, one of its best performances ever.
  32. Joss Stone: This neo-soul queen wowed an afternoon crowd with a voice that seemed to fill midtown Atlanta, echoing off the skyscrapers in the distance.
  33. Florence + the Machine: One of the most powerful voices in modern rock music, Florence Welch’s Machine proved equally adept in their accompaniment.
  34. Steve Winwood: The best blue-eyed soul voice ever did justice to material that spanned five decades.
  35. Def Leppard: To stick these rockers into the “hair metal” category is unfair. They wrote classic songs in their ’80s heyday and were still performing them flawlessly two decades later.
  36. Sevendust: These Atlanta rockers were at the height of their power, and they satisfied an adoring and raucous hometown crowd.
  37. Fuel: Now they’re seen as something of a one-hit (the Elton John-like “Hemorrhage (In My Hand)”) wonder, but touring in support of that hit in 2001, these art rockers put on a classic show.
  38. REO Speedwagon: More than a nostalgia act, these ’70s-’80s rock giants reminded everyone at the 96 Rock stage why they were so big back in the day.
  39. Bush: These British imports proved to a large, enthusiastic crowd that they were more than Gavin Rossdale’s pretty-boy looks.
  40. Erykah Badu: Surrounded by incense, candles and an air of mysticism, this modern-day queen of soul kept a large crowd spellbound through a memorable show.