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A hard rain's a-gonna fall 

Tenth Music Midtown a deluge of sound

FRIDAY. At 8:15 p.m. on the 96 Rock stage, Sheryl Crow was a couple of songs into her set when the skies darkened. Then, a drum- roll of thunder and a torrential downpour quickly followed. Word filtered around that the entire evening was cancelled, but some refused to leave and sought refuge huddled under every possible shelter -- banner edges, merchandise tents, food-trailer canopies. Trash bag chic prevailed as bags from garbage cans became ponchos.

Then, after an hour delay, some of the stage lights begin to flicker on again. Sheryl Crow re-emerged: "We're not gonna let a little rain stop us," she said. Post-storm, Music Midtown brought back memories of the festival's less-crowded early years -- easy to navigate and peopled with diehard fans.

An hour delayed, Bob Dylan followed Crow with an unusual set, in which he played mostly keyboards. And on the Z-93 stage, the B-52's cut their set to 45 minutes. "Do y'all want to hear 'Love Shack' or 'Rock Lobster'?" Cindy Wilson asked. "Lobster" it was. (Smith)

SATURDAY. The V103/WB36! stage was the place to find a racially mixed crowd. LL Cool J and 3LW drew young, white fans over to the 'hood, though the combined powers of Godsmack, Crosby, Stills & Nash and Tony Bennett kept the audience for the Isley Brothers' climax overwhelmingly black. It was like a great karaoke night sing-along as the Isleys led the crowd through "Between the Sheets," "Footsteps in the Dark" and all the way to "Twist and Shout." (Penrice)

In a festival rampant with f-word spewing angst-clowns, the appearance of snazzily-dressed Tony Bennett snapping his fingers and crooning timeless standards was a welcome oasis of class. "Ah, this is the MTV crowd," Bennett said with a sly smile as he surveyed the crowd. Backstage, the stylin' Bennett captivated staff, musicians, roadies and even tattooed security guards. Members of Saliva and the Mavericks asked for autographs and posed for pictures with the 76-year-old legend. (Smith)

The new Sanyo/Sprint Access Atlanta 95.5 the Beat DJ Stage -- hereafter referred to as the CBGE ("corporate branding in gross excess") Stage -- didn't seem to steal away too many Crosby, Stills & Nash or Tony Bennett fans on Saturday's apex. But the CBGE carved a small oasis of dislocation between port-o-potties and fast-food vendors. The beats went from navel-gazing to fist-pumping -- deep house to anthemic prog-house -- while Joe Cocker (on the nearby Z93 Stage) and Tonic (96 Rock) battled for dominance over the thumping beats. Unless you were really close, Joe Cocker/Tonic was winning, but the DJs did their best to provide a little something different. A few festival-goers responded, dragging their cuffs front and center to show how, in the light of a glowstick and a few MGD tall boys, the "mimes playing pattycake" dance is truly the white man's great contribution to rhythm. (Ware)

SUNDAY. As usual, the most fun place to be at Music Midtown was also the least expensive, least sweaty and least crowded. Of course, it helps if you're either under 10 or the parent of someone who is. For those of us who are, Kidstown -- inside SciTrek and free to the public -- was once again the unsung hit of the festival. Sunday afternoon, Nashville troupe Funikijam was part live band, part puppet show and part stage revue. Kids danced, marched, beat drums and got wild to Funikijam's world-spanning musical adventure. (Sarig)

Armed with an acoustic guitar, India.Arie had to fight the sounds of both Gov't Mule and Def Leppard. In the end, she put down the guitar as her band soared through her set. Nearby, the unbilled Jimi Hendrix Traveling Museum was one of the weekend's best-kept secrets. Vintage photos, letters written by Hendrix and other memorabilia drew fans and the curious inside. (Penrice)

Three cheers for the little guys. Ethereal local act Envie played a wonderfully subdued set on the Artist Market's small Cultural Stage, though the rumble of the 99X Stage threatened to drown it out. Later, as thousands filed out of the site, Atlanta pop quartet Shamgod closed down the Cultural Stage with an energetic and surprisingly well-attended set. Without the roar of competing stages, the band's breezy pop/rock bested anything on this year's groaning Local's Only stage. (Smith)

Contributors: Lee Valentine Smith, Ronda Racha Penrice, Tony Ware, Roni Sarig.

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