Atlanta's Music Midtown festival brought the party back after a five-year hiatus on Friday, packing the rolling green hills of Piedmont Park with tens of thousands of revelers to catch the lineup of Van Hunt, Joan Jett & The Blackhearts, T.I., The Avett Brothers and Foo Fighters. All this before Saturday's main event, which features Pearl Jam, Garbage, Florence & The Machine, Ludacris and more.
Blue skies and beautiful weather greeted festivalgoers at Piedmont Park's meadow, with an impressive – albeit corrosively unhealthy – array of food vendors (good luck finding any vegetables at all in this town – these ATL folks love their BBW), and fascinating artisan merchants providing sustenance and peripheral entertainment as the fest kicked off.
An electrifying two hour set from headliners the Foo Fighters was the highlight of the evening, after a back-and-forth volley between stages reliably built a steady head of enthusiasm from truly inspiring performances by all acts on the bill.
The day before her 54th birthday, veteran rocker Joan Jett looked and acted every bit as energized as she did in her Runaways days, with red glitter pants and a black tank top to match her shock of black hair. Rolling through championed classics including “Bad Reputation,” "I Hate Myself For Loving You" and “Cherry Bomb,” Jett and her Blackhearts commanded the attention of the thousands of early-arrival attendees – particularly on a singalong of “Do You Wanna Touch Me?”
New hits included the slightly campy but fully rockin' “TMI” as well as a driving but somberly-worded “Hard to Grow Up,” which she said was about, “experiences in life that test who you are as a person.”
T.I. then played to an ecstatic hometown crowd, who celebrated the rapper's every move, most notably on the smash Rihanna collaboration "Live Your Life".
Backed by a funk-driven live band, T.I. rolled through hits from his impressive five albums including “100 Grand,” “Whatever You Like” and sampled tease-covers of Kanye West and Jay-Z during his scant 45 minute set.
North Carolina folk-rockers The Avett Brothers were met with an astoundingly large audience, pulling heavily from their latest album, The Carpenter. Opening with a gorgeous rendition of "The Fall,” the band ebulliently tore through their 90-minute post-sunset performance with the emotional captivity of Mumford and Sons and the joy of men truly in love with what they do.
“January Wedding” was perhaps the most well-received of the bunch, followed closely by the rollicking banjo-flared “Head Full of Doubt/Road Full of Promise,” as revelers danced around the lawn and lovers took advantage of the romantic air the brothers Avett orchestrate through much of their songs.
What followed was a purely fantastic, goosebump-inducing spectacle of the highest rock regard, as Dave Grohl led his Foo Fighters through a two hour headlining set that showcased the staggering number of hits the band has amassed in their 18 years as a band. Opening with the blistering inferno of "White Limo," the band wasted no time in leaping into fifth gear, making the very most of the time in their set – as the band is generally known for their marathon performances that last a full 90 minutes longer than the allotted time.
A roaring beast of jubilation and electric energy, Grohl bantered heavily with fans in between powerful classics including “All My Life,” "Rope," "Walk," "This Is a Call," "My Hero" and beyond as the capacity crowd – stretching clear to the very back of the venue in packed proximity – screamed along with every word to every song.
If you haven't seen the Foos before, perhaps it's easy to dismiss the modern-day classic-rock heroes as campy radio favorites, but in the moment, alongside 20,000 or so other fans, it's hard to imagine a more electrifying, engaging and downright hilarious headliner performance. At one point Grohl asked for a show of hands of who had never seen the band before, and at least half the crowd chimed in.
“Jesus! We’ve only been a band for 18 f-ing years! So we have to come to your fucking house and pick you up to take you to the show?” he asked, with playful anger.
After a fantastic version of “These Days,” which Grohl said was his favorite of all he’s written "because it took me five minutes to write," the band flirted with their impressive musical flexibility, teasing cover snippets. "Oh, you don't want us going on a covers tangent, we'll be here all night," he mused. "Don't get us started!" he'd say, before egging the crowd on an saying it once more. This led to a rather shockingly solid run through the first verse and chorus of Van Halen’s “Everybody Wants Some” – with drummer Taylor Hawkins expertly handling vocals.
In addition to backup vocal duties, Hawkins also took lead vocals on fan-favorite "Cold Day In The Sun" and album-guest Bob Mould's part on "Dear Rosemary".
“We know the first minute of every rock song,” Dave half-boasted before the introductions of guitarists Pat Smear and Chris Shiflett, bassist Nate Mendel and touring keyboardist Rami Jaffee.
Clearly pulled by the crowd enthusiasm for the Van Halen tease, Grohl ended standout Wasting Light track "Dear Rosemary" by leaping directly into "Breakdown" by Tom Petty, a treat for any fan over the age of 30 in the crowd.
Dave then introduced “The rock ‘n’ roll love of my life,” Joan Jett, who came out for a hug before a breack-neck “Monkey Wrench” performance. Jett returned just a bit later, however, for a loose and snotty version of “Bad Reputation.”
With just a few minutes left, there was only one song remaining to tie a bow on a tremendously rockin' evening: the band's smash hit "Everlong," which elicited the most powerful singalong of the night. The most heart-soaring moment of the entire experience arrived as the lights came up after the song, wherein I noticed a boy no older than 10 wiping tears from his eyes after having sung along to the set closer, giving every ounce of his young and unjaded heart to the moment. As he regained his composure, his older sister wrapped her arms around him and gave the boy a loving and celebratory hug.
Imagine having that kind of experience as a child, untainted by the social standards and hypercritical masses. Giving your all to a moment in which you were being given 100% by a band who knows better than any other how to throw one hell of a rock n' roll party. We should all be so lucky.
Photos: Johnny Firecloud