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Great days in Mudtown 

A diary of Music Midtown 2002

MUSIC MIDTOWN, MAY 3-5 --

FRIDAY, 6 P.M. -- An impressive bolt of lightning flashed across the Atlanta skyline heralding the beginning of Music Midtown 2002. As rain slacked, lines of adventurous music fans streamed in the gates on Piedmont. Minutes later, at the nearby Fox 5 stage, a security guard grumbled to no one in particular, "I just smelled my first joint, and was asked my first stupid question. Yep, it's Music Midtown time again!"

FRIDAY, 8 P.M. -- Barnes and Leslie from 99X's morning show introduced the former-Marvelous-3-gone-solo Butch Walker, saying it was a "historic moment." Undaunted by a sound system that silenced the band several times during the set, Walker plowed through his performance. Introducing "Sugar Buzz," Walker said, "This is a song about not conforming," and added, "You aren't fuckin' cool if you don't get your fuckin' hands up in the air." The horde of "non-conformists" all swayed together, hands aloft.

-- LEE SMITH

SATURDAY, 6 P.M. -- When the rain finally ended late Saturday afternoon, a restless and soggy crowd huddled around the 99X stage, ankle-deep in crushed plastic cups. Bent beer cans floundered like abandoned canoes in puddles of brackish rainwater, the air was fiercely chilly, the sky bleached gray and the rooftops of downtown's skyscrapers were invisible amid the swirling, cloudy mists above. When Pete Yorn's set began, 20 minutes late, the murky sound system reduced his show to sonic mush. Sufficiently discouraged, many festival-goers retreated to the Turner South Stage inside the Civic Center, which offered seats -- dry seats.

SATURDAY, 8 P.M. -- After a warm-up song by local troubadour Doria Roberts, who strolled through the crowd unplugged, the production crew scrambled to set the stage for the "Turner South Live!" telecast. June Carter Cash settled into a chair with her massive wooden zither, while a makeup artist powdered the top of singer Angie Aparo's bald head to diminish its camera-unfriendly glare. R&B songwriter Tony Rich and elder statesman Don McLean took up spots on the far left and far right of the group. B-52's vocalist Cindy Wilson muttered that she felt hot, prompting impish R.E.M. bassist Mike Mills to quip salaciously, "We know you're hot, Cindy!"

Edwin McCain kicked off the show, leading the ensemble through a gentle rendition of Bob Dylan's "I Shall Be Released." Mills joined McLean on a cover of Roy Orbison's "Crying," which brought tears to the eyes of Cash, who explained that she's godmother to Orbison's sons. Rich performed several songs on a grand piano while Aparo stared intently, hunched atop his silver guitar like a gargoyle on a rampart of Notre Dame.

Wilson delivered a heartfelt solo song about her deceased brother (and B-52's bandmate) Ricky Wilson. "He followed a trail to the sun," she sang. "He was outrageous fun." But for sheer crowd-pleasing momentum, nothing -- not even Carter's show-closing "Will the Circle Be Unbroken" -- could match the anthemic force of McLean's "American Pie." The assembled musicians were almost drowned out by the audience, which sang along to every verse. Afterward, Carter gasped, "That should have been the end of the show!" McLean, however, summed up the virtues of the Turner event. "This is best night I've ever had," he declared. "No, really ... we've got cutting edge, we've got history ... and we're inside!"

SATURDAY, 10 P.M. -- At the Z-93 area -- built atop a baseball field that now resembled a quicksand pit -- Joan Jett and the Blackhearts blasted through Iggy Pop's "I Wanna Be Your Dog." Jett's attempts at starting an audience bark-a-long failed dismally (where were all the dawg-lovin' UGA kids?!). But she got a tremendous rise from the assembled multitude by following it with her own signature hit. Fists clenched high in the air, audience members howled out the words to each chorus of "I Love Rock 'n' Roll." After the long, wet, chilly day they'd endured, this declaration was the only explanation necessary for why they were all still there, and still smiling.

-- GREG NICOLL

SUNDAY, 6 P.M. -- With so much of Music Midtown consumed by big -- big crowds, big lineups, big stages -- it was surprising to find the littlest attraction inspiring the most action. In the shadow of the Jumbotron screen, dozens of young men and women bounced, bumped and gyrated together around the DJ tent, where DJ Dust (shoulda been Mud) spun disco and house music -- each one guaranteed having more fun than the crowds enduring Better Than Ezra on the other side of the hill. The absence of any official stage or of corporate sponsors or, hell, of even any live music seemed to make a mockery out of everything for which Music Midtown has been known. But as in the world at large, the secret to finding satisfaction in the temporary society formed each year came in discovering your own niche. Credit goes to the promoters for providing enough choices.

-- RONI SARIG

SUNDAY, 7 P.M. -- Ah, the irony. Puddle of Mudd played on the only day of sunshine, on a stage where the crowd stood on a paved surface. As the up-and-coming rockers played their hit "Control," a barrage of soda bottles thrown toward the stage represented fans' appreciation. Afterward, eager No Doubt fans pushed their way forward to gain a better view of sassy frontwoman Gwen Stefani. Fans turned fences and stinking trash dumpsters into seats, in order to see over all the young women perched on guys' shoulders and the obnoxious inflatable objects on poles (note to self: next year, bring a slingshot). No Doubt kicked off with tracks from its latest album and, despite long pauses between songs, the energy level of the crowd stayed high. Stefani shimmied around the stage shaking her groove thing, while older hits drove the crowd to waves of over-the-head clapping and singing along.

-- HEATHER KULDELL

SUNDAY, 10 P.M. Part of the fun of Music Midtown is how it brings every type of person out of the woodwork for three days of corporate orgy. It's like our version of a state fair. As usual, the strongest rock acts were the oldies -- David Lee Roth, Joan Jett and Journey (well, Journey and a Kenny G-looking motherfucker doing a damn good Steve Perry impression) blew 99X's best out of the water. Then again, over in the Publix parking lot Friday night, Scoop, a band of juniors and seniors from Harrison High School, knocked out Jimi Hendrix and Matchbox 20 covers with more conviction than most of the acts on the inside playing originals. Learn from past transgressions as well as transcriptions, and we'll see you at Midtown Music 2005.

-- TONY WARE

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