Wednesday, September 21, 2016

2016 | Music Midtown

City and Colour

twenty one pilots

St. Lucia
Corinne Bailey Rae
Alabama Shakes

The Killers
September 17-18, 2016

I'm going to apologise upfront for the length and rambly nature of this post; I returned from ATL three days ago and am still processing everything that happened.

Ever since first attending the Atlanta-based Music Midtown two years ago, the festival has been on my radar. The 2014 trip holds a fond place in my memory as it was my first real festival experience and I was able to see many of my favourite artists much closer than I would have at a traditional show. When the 2016 lineup was announced I knew I had to go, and by late August my ticket had been bought and a group to go with had been selected.

The festival switched its format from Friday-Saturday to Saturday-Sunday, which meant we could take a leisurely drive down to ATL on Friday, sleep in and grab coffee at a cute indie shop on Saturday morning, then take the MARTA down to midtown in the afternoon when the first performers began their sets.

Johnnyswim opened the festival, with a heartfelt set of songs sung by a husband and wife duo. Their performance was so absurdly adorable that I honestly could've left after them and been happy with my weekend, but it got even better from there. We saw a few other bands in quick succession - slightly older groups with established fan bases that gave good but faintly impersonal performances. I fulfilled my middle school self's dream of seeing the Jonas Brothers by watching half of DNCE's set, catching glimpses of Joe Jonas - my favourite back in the day - from across the field.

Chvrches and Beck were the two highlights from the first day. I'd seen Chvrches perform on talk shows before but was never impressed by the quality of Lauren's voice nor the energy of their performances, but after seeing them live I realised they're meant for venues rather than television, as they were phenomenal. The band had amusing banter between their songs and the crowd did not stop dancing the entire time. Beck, one of the festival's headliners, completely blew me away. Throughout his set we worked our way through the upper right corner until we were two rows from the front, and we danced the rest of his show away. I would 100% see him again; he puts on a high energy show full of skilled instrumental breakdowns and humourous dance movies.

Twenty one pilots was the final headliner of Saturday night, and it was a truly surreal experience. Last time I went to Music Midtown, they were one of the middle of the afternoon bands and the crowd only had a couple hundred people in it. This time they were the main event with a crowd of 50,000+ people - they said it was their biggest festival crowd ever - and everyone was so into the set, so into the songs, that I couldn't believe the huge change between two years ago and now.

The weather on Saturday was perfect, but Sunday was a mess. By the end of St. Lucia's set - the first performer we caught of the second day - the rain was pouring by the bucketload, and we only had time to catch half of Corinne Bailey Rae's set before event staff forced everyone to evacuate out of the park until a oncoming storm passed. All 70,000+ attendees streamed out of the park into Atlanta's downtown, taking shelter in nearby bars, neighbourhoods, and in some cases under parked semi-trucks until an hour and a half later the storm passed and the gates reopened. None of the sets were canceled, only pushed by an hour, but the fields had turned into huge swamps with mud coming up to our ankles. But we were all in it together, and the later sets included many muddy dance floors with no cares to how dirty everyone was.

Everyone was Sunday was good in their own right, but the best two were the last of the night: Alabama Shakes and The Killers. I'd heard for years how good Alabama Shakes are, but I was still blown away. Brittany Howard, the band's lead, puts so much feeling into her singing that it's impossible not to be deeply moved by everything she says. When she sings "Joe," you can't help but feel every emotion flowing from her lyrics and her sharp gestures of punctuation.

The best moment of the entire weekend were the first five minutes of The Killers' show. The James Bond theme began to play, and I laughed, thinking it was a funny little intro for the band to walk out to. When they came out though, there was an extra person on-stage, and I was so oblivious to what was happening that all I could think was, "Wait... that's not a member of The Killers?" before realising it was DANIEL CRAIG. Daniel Craig was on the stage, right in front of my eyes, introducing the band. By the time I fully realised what was happening, it was over, and he was exiting the stage.

My excitement didn't have a chance to die down though, as they opened with "Mr. Brightside" and the crowd went wild. Everyone put their heart and soul into that song, and it was only the beginning of their show. The rest of the night they cycled through old favourites and relatively unknown songs. The penultimate of the night was "All These Things That I Have Done," a hugely emotional song for the crowd as 40,000+ joined in to sing in repeat, "I got soul but I'm not a soldier," and met with an explosion of confetti from the stage. They ended the night with "When You Were Young," an old one for nostalgia's sake.

The night ended on an absolute high, the weekend completed with seeing everyone we came to see, and it was beautiful. And then the drive home. We began our drive around midnight and finally made it back home at 7am, rotating drivers midway and after several panicked stops at empty pumps, finding two gas stations still full of regular. We fueled ourselves with bottled coffee and mid-size bags of chips, switching radio stations as we passed through state borders, getting annoyed at hearing the same Adele song seven times but cheering deliriously every time a Kelly Clarkson single came on. When we finally reached home, I showered away all the mud and grime of the day before and collapsed into bed, euphoria  lingering from the weekend to carry me along the rest of the day.

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