Yes, it was hot. Very hot. And humid.
But, what are you going to do when Music Midtown has commandeered Piedmont Park for a couple of days with an opening lineup that included Panic! At the Disco, Cardi B, Lizzo, Charlie Puth, Lil Yachty and dozens of more artists? Pretend it’s not September because it feels like July?
Peter Conlon, president of Live Nation Atlanta, which produces the annual event, said about 50,000 people per day are expected, so heat isn’t much of a deterrent.
Given the young-leaning lineup, the fans who filled the park matched the demographic; even more are expected on Sunday, when Billie Eilish, Vampire Weekend and Travis Scott top a bill that also offers Walk the Moon, Jaden Smith, Leon Bridges and Cold War Kids.
RELATED>> VIDEO: Day 2 guide to Music Midtown
But first, a look at some of Saturday’s performances:
Yola (aka Yolanda Quartey) opened the Great Southeast Music Hall Stage with her signature country soul. The British singer-songwriter nodded to her home country with a robust cover of fellow Brit Elton John’s “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road,” eliciting delighted applause from the crowd. Yola showed off her considerable vocal chops with her song “It Ain’t Easier,” riffing and belting through the end. The mostly laid back set accompanied a bright and breezy Saturday afternoon, the cloudy mid-‘80s weather a welcome relief from recent days in the high-‘90s.
Kansas City’s Hembree made their Atlanta debut on the main Salesforce stage. Dressed in matching jumpsuits, the band blended classic punk guitar with electronic backing beats and sultry riffs. Hembree’s set included “Holy Water,” the jaunty track that put them on the map after it was featured in a Super Bowl ad. Lead singer Isaac Flynn and guitarist Alex Ward engaged with the audience throughout their mid-afternoon set, cracking jokes at their own expense and saying they intended to mark their first show in Atlanta by closing out their night at the Clermont Lounge.
The Canadian trio of Jordan Cook (guitar/vocals), Stacey-James Kardash (bass) and Joseph Braley (drums) attacked the stage with feral energy during their opening, “I Want You” and within minutes, Cook and Kardash hopped onto the monitors to yowl and thrash their instruments. While it was difficult to decipher lyrics through Cook’s fuzz-microphone, there was no denying their blues-rock chops. Not every band of that genre sounds like Led Zeppelin, but they’ve all soaked in the influence, whether it’s the howling vocals or ferocious guitar. “It’s hot as hell here,” Cook aptly noted (of course, he was also wearing layers of clothes and a knit cap), but that didn’t diminish the band’s energy as they rolled through “Keeper,” “Electric Love” (the first song they ever played at Music Midtown during their 2013 appearance) and “Hear Me Out,” the title track of their current album. Reignwolf will be back in Atlanta on Wednesday to open for The Who at State Farm Arena.
The crowd at the Salesforce Stage began to swell when Lord Huron played early Saturday evening. The Los Angeles quartet ushered the crowd into the evening hours with a set of folk-infused rock, playing songs including recent single “Wait by the River” and crowd favorite “Fool for Love.” The band’s upbeat acoustic guitar and tight vocal harmonies drew comparison to Fleet Foxes, an indie folk band that headlined Shaky Knees in 2018. In their set, Lord Huron briefly slowed the tempo with the light, airy song “The Night We Met,” which lead singer Ben Schneider described as “great to make out to.”
Halfway through their Saturday evening set, Tash Sultana asked if anyone was “confused” about their music.
“I’m not a f—ing DJ,” they said with a smile. (Tash Sultana is non-binary and used the pronouns they/them.) Sultana, an Australian singer and multi-instrumentalist, is essentially a one-person band on-stage, playing drums, keyboard, trumpet and guitar, layering pieces of music over each other to create their psychedelic songs. Sultana doesn’t sing on every track, but when they do, their voice can go from light, airy and delicate to sharp, guttural and raspy. Sultana is a frenetic and expressive performer on stage, clearly feeling every chord with their body as they play. This is Sultana’s second performance in Atlanta in just a few months, having played Shaky Knees in May. The crowd at the Great Southeast Music Hall Stage was all in on Sultana’s unique sound, jumping, dancing and cheering for most of the hourlong set. Toward the end of the set, Sultana performed a truly insane pan flute solo, essentially beat boxing into the instrument at rapid speed before dancing around the stage with it.
Norwegian singer Sigrid visited Atlanta for a set at Music Midtown as a part of her current North American tour. Wearing a white T-shirt, black shorts with her hair pulled back into a ponytail, the singer had one of the most unassuming sets of the day. Sigrid kept the crowd entertained with a mixture of well-known songs such as “Don’t Kill My Vibe” and “Strangers,” as well as album cuts from her debut album (“Sucker Punch”) including the dance-worthy song “Basic,” and “Dynamite.” The latter, which Sigrid described as a “sad song,” found the singer, who spent much of her set dancing at the front of the stage, playing the keyboard.
The sun was still shining when Banks took the stage, but her set was predictably dark. Known for creating breakup songs, the singer performed her moody cuts alongside two backup dancers and a live band while dressed in a black dress and black thigh high boots. Many of the songs in the set (“Till Now,” “Stroke”) were from “III,” the singer’s album that was released earlier this year, but fans still got to hear older favorites such “Drowning,” “Waiting Game,” “Gemini Feed” and “Begging For Thread.”
The Detroit rapper born Mikael Temrowsk (his stage name is Quinn 92), released his second album “From Michigan with Love” earlier this year and opened his energetic set with the lilting “Sad Still” from the release. With a sound that incorporates pop and reggae into his rap delivery, Quinn XCII has cultivated an impassioned, young following for his music. Fans eagerly bounced along to “Candle” and “Iron & Steel” while Quinn stalked the stage and a drummer and keyboardist augmented his live sound.
The 27-year-old musician-singer-songwriter is the thinking girl’s heartthrob. With his summer-shorn hair, white tank top and red bandanna around his neck, Puth looked jauntily stylish as the throng gathered at the main stage screamed as if he were a Backstreet Boy circa 1998. And he’s not afraid to break out a keytar, so double kudos for that. After opening with “How Long,” Puth continued his string of glistening soul-pop with “LA Girls” and the new tune, the gently knocking “I Warned Myself.” His stage show included the full band and lights treatment and he barely had to encourage any singalongs, particularly as he came in for a landing with the song he said changed his life, his 2015 mega-ballad with Wiz Khalifa, “See You Again.”
Melissa Viviane Jefferson is certainly having a moment, and she demonstrated why everyone is on the Lizzo train these days in the first seconds when she skipped onto the stage in her multicolored leotard and belted “Cuz I Love You.” Her “Worship” is a combination of James Brown and Aretha Franklin (with some (“Respect” tossed in) and “Exactly How I Feel” showcased her penchant for refreshing frankness. But it’s the whole Lizzo package that is so appealing, from her preaching about body positivity to her hilariously crude comments (“I’m sweatin’ my face off, my (expletive) is melting,” she yelled – with a smile. “There are a lot more of you mother******* here than I was expecting to see,” she added, later joking that she was just going to say there were 5 million people in the crowd. Her DJ Sophia handled the backing tracks and Lizzo shook her moneymaker with her pack of female dancers to “Scuse Me” before turning her formidable voice to “Water Me.” She sat on a stool to address the crowd, which turned into a sea of lights at Lizzo’s command for “Jerome,” and returned to spunky Lizzo for “Tempo” and “Soulmate.” How long until we see Lizzo commanding the main headlining stage at Music Midtown?
Lil Yachty’s set was probably the closest thing to a rager on day one of the festival. The Georgia native screamed (literally!) his way through an hour-long set that featured his hits from his discography, as well as some of his most popular feature versus. No matter what the rapper said, the crowd screamed along. This was perhaps most evident when he rapped the first verse and hook to the City Girls’ “Act Up,” a summer hit for the Miami duo and women’s anthem written by Yachty himself. Performances of “Get Dripped,” “iSpy” “Peek A Boo” and “Who Want the Smoke?” were punctuated by numerous shoutouts to “QC” (Quality Control), the Atlanta-based management firm and label that Yachty is signed to. (The company also manages headliner Cardi B.)
Performing on the neighboring stage as the headlining act, Kali Uchis served as the de facto opening act for Cardi B as fans waited to see the rapper take the stage. Uchis was captivating during her hour-long set, performing fan favorites (“Ridin’ Round”) Spanish singles (“Nuestro Planeta”) a soulful Radiohead cover (“Creep”) and more while prancing across the stage wearing a black feather boa draped across her shoulders.
Panic! At the Disco
Flamboyant frontman Brendon Urie is the only consistent member of the band formed in Las Vegas 15 years ago, but with his vocal chops and effortless theatricality, what more is needed? Of course, Urie was joined by a slew of musicians, including string and horn sections, and the Panic! At the Disco headlining set was stocked with all of the required trappings – fireworks, pyro, spectacular lighting. But it was Urie who captivated with the opening trio of “Victorious,” “(Expletive a) Silver Lining” and “Don’t Threaten Me With a Good Time.” Urie exhausted himself with his limber moves and mega-vocal moments, joking that everyone should do at least 30 minutes of exercise a day to stay in shape. His theatrical background (he starred in “Kinky Boots” on Broadway in 2017) was apparent as he slithered around the stage and scrunched his eyes while hitting impressive notes on songs including “LA Devotee,” “Hallelujah” (with crowd clap-along), “Crazy=Genius” (with tribal drumming and horn bleats) and the lush pop of “Nine in the Afternoon,” “I Write Sins Not Tragedies” and “Death of a Bachelor.”
Cardi B’s set wasn’t full of many surprises but it was still entertaining. The headlining set kicked off with an “okurrr” and featured an hour of the rapper twerking in a pink bodysuit that matched the dye on the ends of her hair. During the high-energy show, Cardi performed the bilingual hit “Taki Taki,” laid on the ground and threw her legs over her head during “She Bad,” doused herself in water during “Drip” and encouraged the crowd to participate in “Karaoke” to the tune of Maroon 5’s “Girls Like You.” Cardi’s Atlanta-bred husband Offset (nor his Migos group mates) joined her onstage during the show, but she didn’t need any surprise guests. She was fully capable of commanding the stage all on her own.
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