The forecast for Music Midtown 2014 was somewhere between sunny and crowded Friday afternoon.
The two-day music festival, back for its fourth installment at Piedmont Park is expected to attract more than 100,000 music lovers between Friday and Saturday.
“Maybe we should cancel because of good weather,” joked Peter Conlon, president of Live Nation Atlanta, which organizes the festival. Last year’s event was marred by drizzly skies that turned the park into a mud pit.
But the outlook is bright for this weekend with the weather expected to hold and a lineup that included John Mayer, Jack White, Iggy Azalea and Run-D.M.C. Friday night, with Eminem, Zac Brown Band, Gregg Allman and Atlanta rapper B.o.B. on deck for Saturday.
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Three stages are staggered around Piedmont Park, including one near Oak Hill, along with an artisan area for concertgoers to buy artwork, jewelry and to have a psychic reading.
Shortly after gates opened at 4 p.m., music fans dispersed to find an optimal viewing spot in front of the trio of stages.
Mallory Wilkerson and her three friends stood in the sun near the Electric Ballroom Stage, where soul-pop band Mayer Hawthorne was readying to play.
But the quartet of girls – all 17-year-old students at The Lovett School — chimed in unison that they were to see John Mayer and wanted to stake out a prime spot near the stage.
“There’s so much variety,” Wilkerson said of the age-spanning lineup of acts. “I love the people and the vibe (of Music Midtown).”
The group of friends was also anticipating sets from Lana Del Rey, Third Eye Blind and Run-D.M.C.
The girls agreed that the $135 ticket price ($125 for those who bought early) was a solid value for two dozen acts, but Wilkerson had another reason for attending.
“(This) is why I love living in Atlanta,” she said, gesturing in the wide space around her.
Some of the musical highlights Friday included:
Iggy Azalea: The “Fancy” star is one of the most sizzling acts on radio right now, and her appearance on the slightly smaller AT&T Live stage at Oak Hill was a bit like Kendrick Lamar’s last year – her popularity has already eclipsed the size of the stage.
“Well, hello, Atlanta,” she purred at the massive crowd that literally raced across the grass to get to her set on time.
Azalea also reminded fans of her one-time life in Atlanta, punctuated by an appearance from her early mentor, T.I.
There was much hip-twisting and booty-shaking during her energetic, well-choreographed set (she was joined by a foursome of dancers), which included “Bounce” and “Drop That.”
Azalea’s current ubiquity is catnip to haters, but the fact is, whether it’s the pop-laden hook of Ariana Grande’s “Problem,” the creeping “Black Widow” or any of her other finger-snapping raps, she’s a delivers a rhyme with interesting inflection and performs as if she’s actually enjoying herself.
There’s no denying it – Joseph “Rev. Run” Simmons and Darryl “D.M.C.” McDaniels look – well, old. But close your eyes and listen to them perform and you’d swear you were back in 1984. The pair, who reunited in 2012 and played a post-Braves game show in 2013, didn’t show any other signs of wear as they ran through a number of hits, including “It’s Like That” and “It’s Tricky” and “Walk This Way,” all the while encouraging the obliging crowd to throw their hands in the air.
They seemed to enjoy feeding off the energy of the audience, with Run breaking out some beatboxing and joking about how Run DMC were going to tour with the Beastie Boys – “It would really be unfair to the rest of the industry,” he said.
But the nostalgia high was a little bittersweet with the obvious absence of Jam Master J, the group’s DJ who was shot and killed in 2002. J’s sons now serve as DJs for the group, and Run shouted them out during the performance. Their presence – along with the youthfulness of the crowd – was a sweet reminder that Run DMC’s music might be old, but their legacy is still being appreciated by the next generation.
Lorde: How is it that this supremely confident young woman isn’t even 18-years-old yet?
Lorde, who officially becomes an adult in November, captivated with a set that frequently found her punching or kicking the air as she got lost in moodily throbbing songs such as “Glory and Gore” and “Tennis Court.”
Though she found insta-fame with the quirky “Royals,” Lorde’s music is more ethereal than her smash song indicates.
She frequently harmonized with the synthesizer behind her on stage and, for “Bravado,” changed from her uniform of stylish black pants and a white crop top to a white robe ensemble.
Lorde also displayed a welcoming ease on stage as she chatted with the crowd and expressed her appreciation of fans’ fervent reaction to her performance.
Somebody must have put happy juice in Jack White’s coffee yesterday, because the sometimes curmudgeonly rocker seemed downright giddy during his set. With a new haircut and an incomparable backing band, this was a far cry from his buttoned-up 2012 show at the Fox Theatre, which was technically great but lacked the freewheeling this-could-fly-off-the-rails-at-any-second feel of his headlining spot.
He kicked things off with “Icky Thump” and “Lazaretto,” delivering face-melting guitar playing and an able assist on synth from his band, asked the audience to do a call and response on “Steady As She Goes,” and performed a sweet, countrified version of “We’re Going To Be Friends,” complete with fiddle from Lillie Mae Rische.
White rarely turns in a bad performance, but what set this one apart was how much he truly seemed to be enjoying himself – if you looked closely, you could even see him smiling a few times. Which made it all the sadder that he ended his set about 20 minutes earlier than was scheduled, which meant that he was outplayed by co-headliner John Mayer. There was a lot of grumbling as people streamed out of Piedmont Park, not about White’s performance, but that there wasn’t more of it.
-- Yvonne Zusel
John Mayer: Mayer walked onto the massive Electric Ballroom stage looking professorial in glasses and began to wail on his guitar.
After about 45 seconds of his fluid guitar wizardry, the band kicked in for the soulful “Belief” and Mayer was soon making his trademark Silly Putty faces as he made his guitar chatter.
“Nice to see you again,” he said to the crowd, which had split between his headlining set and Jack White’s across the lawn.
After bobbing his head and adding guitar squiggles to the swinging ditty “Wildfire” and displaying his harmonic technique coupled with his softly sandpapery voice on “I Don’t Trust Myself (With Loving You),” Mayer chatted a bit about his former life in Atlanta (he lived here for five years, on Lindbergh Drive, he said).
Both personable and technically adroit, Mayer engaged the crowd with his combination of rootsy-bluesy solos and acoustic offerings, such as “Waiting on the Day.”
Music Midtown continues Saturday with Eminem, Zac Brown Band, Gregg Allman, Fitz and the Tantrums, Lana Del Rey, B.o.B. and more.