Music Midtown has been a hallmark festival of Atlanta’s musical culture since 1994. Recently CisternYard Radio had the opportunity to attend Music Midtown’s seventeenth installment, a two-day music festival held from September 16th-17th. The venue was Piedmont Park, a beautiful and massive park in the heart of Atlanta with the city’s iconic skyline just peaking over the treetops. Over the course of the two days, 36 artists — ranging from alt-rock to electropop to rap — would play on the park’s four stages.
Co-written by: Austin Darby and Katie Beals (all instances of “I” refer to Katie)
We got to the Cotton Club stage just a tad early and, after our long trek through the park, found ourselves sitting on the bare grass just a mere two or three people back from the front row. It was a modest gathering of gleeful viewers to experience the christening of the festival’s smallest stage by Sunflower Bean, a post-punk New York-based rock trio led by a bad-ass chick, Julia Cummings. Unlike most of the performers we had come to see, we had only listened to a few of their songs, so their entire concert was a learning experience — and what a great class it was. Their outstanding, lively performance contradicted their chill recordings and glittery flower-adorned fans that surrounded us. Moral of the story: if you get a chance to see Sunflower Bean, do it. Rocking out with them was unforgettable. It’s safe to say they have at least two new fans — and from the looks of the incredibly massive crowd we turned around to see — likely hundreds more.
Seeing Oh Wonder live fulfilled a personal dream of mine. Since I’d been introduced to their music a few years ago, they instantly became my inspiration as they opened up to me — a notorious critic of modern pop — the beautiful world of alt-pop. Their sound is best described as creatively simplistic and electronically ethereal. They are creatively simplistic in their ability to do so much with so few components. Perhaps the most iconic element of their music is their melodies, all of which Josephine Vander Gucht and Anthony West sing in harmonies so astounding it makes them sound unreal. Now, about their live performance, I will admit it was when we learned an unfortunate lesson — you can’t get a good spot if you don’t camp out at the big stages, like the Honda stage where we were. If anything, though, that speaks well for the band, because it was still a fantastic performance. While the entire band is of course talented, Josephine stood out as the one who made seeing a live performance worthwhile. Positive energy radiated from her infectious, beaming smile, making us feel both invigorated and comforted. Her constant and (frankly) adorable dancing hyped the crowd and us, even from our far-back spots. As a super-fan, the show left me craving more.
Rushing over straight from Oh Wonder, we were delighted to get a spot so close to the stage. It was then we knew for sure that the smallest stage, the Cotton Club stage, the one you have the cross the park and trek up two giant hills to reach, was indeed our favorite. It was the perfect stage to get a more personal experience with the band. When the music started, we immediately felt a tickling in our noses. That’s right, the bass was so loud that the vibrations literally tickled us! Broods was another example of a musician’s recordings not preparing us for the intensity of their performance. It was clear that the band, which consists of siblings Georgia and Caleb Nott, was giving it all it had, a gesture always appreciated by listeners. Georgia in particular owned the stage, exploring every inch of it with her dancing, an ambiguous but cool fusion of smooth belly dance-like flows and heavy hip-hop based motions. She even sang her heart out so intensely I was nervous she would lose her voice before the end of the set. Needless to say, she was panting between songs, but she never let it keep her down. She doesn’t seem like a girl who lets anything keep her down. That empowerment radiated from her and her music and straight into our hearts.
How many Weezer songs do you know? No matter your answer — even zero — I guarantee you know more Weezer songs than you think. Responsible for several rock anthems of the 90s and early 2000s, it was no surprise that they drew a crowd that packed the natural amphitheater surrounding the Roxy stage. Despite wanting to sit and rest after a long first day at the festival, it was simply irresistible to stand and bask in the familiar sound of “Beverly Hills,” “Say it Ain’t So,” “Island in the Sun,” “Undone (The Sweater Song),” “Buddy Holly,” and many others. Being the same teenage angst-ridden music performed by the same group of four nerdy grown men, the rush of nostalgia satiated all types of festival-goers as the park descended into dusk.
Two Door Cinema Club
Unreal is the best possible way to describe my personal experience watching Two Door Cinema Club. They have been one of my top five bands since middle school. They were also one of my biggest inspirations when I was a lead guitarist, along with the Kooks and Bombay Bicycle Club. Their complex yet catchy staccato tabs define their distinct, high-energy sound. To reiterate, I had been waiting eight whole years — ever since they released their first EP — to see these guys live. I’m happy to report that even from our far-away spots, they blew me away. Despite the blazing Atlanta sun, I could not stop dancing and jumping to the music. It sounds exhausting, I know, but therein lies the magic of their music. While I was expending tons of energy, they were simultaneously fueling me right back up. I did not miss a beat or a single lyric as they took me back with their older classics like “Cigarettes in the Theatre,” “Undercover Martyn,” “Something Good Can Work,” and so many others. Chanting the opening to “Sun” with them was a particularly spiritual experience for me. They were perfect for a festival setting, but I also cannot wait until I get to see them closer up.
Young the Giant
We fought our way through the crowded lawn around the Roxy stage just to get a halfway decent view of Young the Giant. Lead vocalist Sameer Gadhia went above and beyond with his performance, from his movements on the stage to his orange denim jumpsuit. The peak of his performance was when he ascended the platform at the center of the stage, where a stage hand was on standby waiting to adorn Sameer with a dark purple, sequined jacket. Their consideration towards the audience also stood out. They were so wary of the extreme Atlanta heat that they felt the need to provide the crowd with bottled water in between songs. At one point they even halted the entire performance upon spotting an audience member in distress from the heat and were quick to ensure that they received medical attention. Nearing the end of their set, Sameer reflected on the group’s first performance at Music Midtown in 2011 and their success over the years and demonstrated that, ultimately, it is the fans that are most important. They accompanied the reference with an old crowd — and personal — favorite. Getting to unforgivingly belt the chorus to “My Body” with Gadhia and hundreds of other fans was a nearly religious experience.
Mumford & Sons
Taking on the role of the festival closer comes with a lot of high expectations. That fact, along with being as popular as they have become in the past ten years, it was no surprise that the folk alt-rock quartet from London drew as large of a crowd as they did. Even standing on a hilltop several hundred feet away, Mumford & Sons resonated clearly throughout Piedmont Park. Unfortunately, their performance felt very much the same way we did by this point in the festival: tired. Perhaps the band was just coming to the end of an exhausting leg of the tour, but it appeared that the light show, pyrotechnics, and confetti cannons were doing most of the work. Despite this, they managed to push through the whole set and then some, gracing the audience with not one, not two, but three encores. Additionally, they managed to keep the crowd on the edge of their seats with surprises such as inviting L.A. pop rock group HAIM (who had played that stage earlier that day) onto the stage as accompanying vocals for “Awake My Soul” and having Marcus Mumford embrace his fans in the front row.
Music Midtown is a festival beloved by listeners of all genres, delivering as many different types of artists in as little time as possible. While many festivals are more immersive and recreational, Music Midtown is more simplistic in that it focuses more on the music itself. Being a less intense, non-camping festival makes Music Midtown much more accessible for first-time festival goers like ourselves. So if you can stand the Atlanta sun and nearly 100% humidity, we highly recommend everyone give this festival a try. It’s no wonder how Music Midtown came to be one of the most popular festivals in the Southeast.