Southern Sounds

A voice, a microphone, hands on a musical instrument and a live audience are the requirements for creating the best music. Live performances are the truest indication of musical excellence. There can be no hiding behind thousand-dollar-studio equipment when you take the stage, with your fans at your feet.

Even the vagabonds playing guitar or saxophone on the street corner will capture the crowded street’s attention more effectively than someone on a soapbox with a megaphone. Soulful delivery of musical ideas can cut through the fog of our own realities. It is this connection with music that draws thousands out to festivals like Bonnaroo, Woodstock and Music in Midtown. The latter is Atlanta’s recently returned, scaled-down music festival that originated in 1994. During its heyday, the festival spanned three days, six stages and drew more than 300,000 people.

Music Midtown 2011 in Piedmont Park
Music Midtown 2011 in Piedmont Park. Photo:

After taking a hiatus in 2006, the festival returned this year as a one-day, two-stage event. Despite the smaller venue, headliner Coldplay drew enough people to completely cover the green space in the 189-acre Piedmont Park.

As Vanessa Williams would sing, “Save the Best for Last,” so did the organizers of Music in Midtown. I overheard someone explaining Coldplay’s awesomeness as a direct relation to how many bands opened for them – nine. That’s right, count it:

  • Walk the Moon
  • The Postelles
  •  The Joy formidable
  • Band of Skulls
  • The Constellations
  • Manchester Orchestra
  • Young the Giant
  • The Black Keys
  • Cage the Elephant

I came for half the day and saw Young the Giant, The Black Keys, Cage the Elephant and Coldplay. While I can’t speak for the first six bands that performed, the last half of the day was probably the most rewarding and popular half to attend.

Young the Giant, an American band that started in 2004, surprised me with their smooth sound. Lead singer Sameer Gadhia has definitely made me a fan of the band’s indie-rock sound. Their “My Body” is now one of my favorite songs.

The Black Keys, also an American alternative rock band, is known for only having two members. Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney joined musical forces in 2001 in Akron, Ohio winning fans with their raw, industrial sound. “Howlin’ for You,” which hit airwaves in 2010, is one of their more recognizable songs.

Landing a little closer to Georgia is Cage the Elephant, which originated in Bowling Green, Kentucky. As a relatively new band – they banded together in the middle of 2006 – they’ve gained fame quickly both in the U.S. and the U.K. They’re most known for “Ain’t No Rest for the Wicked” and “In One Ear”.

The last band of the night needs little background context. Coldplay formed in 1996 in the U.K. and quickly exported itself worldwide. While you may or may not be a fan, when the music quality of a live performance goes above and beyond the CD/Radio version the only thing you can feel is respect. The laser show and fireworks only added to the crowd’s excitement, but the star of the night remained the music. Lead singer Chris Martin’s acoustic tribute to R.E.M., a Georgia group that recently disbanded, and his encore song “Georgia on My Mind” wowed the crowd.

Do you remember the high school person who was charismatic and popular? He or she had everything and everyone eating out of his or her hands. Coldplay is the music world’s version.

Even the economic recession can’t keep the revelers coming out to support music that in turn supports their souls. The organizers of Music in Midtown could not have chosen a better year to come back to Atlanta. I hope it is here to stay.