Centennial Olympic Park, June 7 -- Youthful rockers Cloud 10 began their 6 p.m. set to a small but appreciative handful of fans and friends, kicking off this week's installment of On the Bricks.
It was the third week for Star 94's free showcase series, but the first where On The Bricks had to share downtown with a rival free show, 99X's Downtown Rocks. As such, it was the premiere test of whether two concert series could coexist across the street from one another without causing huge crowd control issues and sound bleeding.
As Cloud 10's brief set echoed against the CNN Center, a gaggle of conservatively dressed men with giant Promise Keepers laminates made their way toward nearby Philips Arena. The Christian organization was in town Friday and Saturday with the timely theme "Storming the Gates."
Yet, concertgoers weren't exactly storming the gates to the free music events. As Cloud 10 wrapped up its set, three boys in the parking lot gathered around a 12-pack of beer on the trunk of their car and shot-gunned cans of Budweiser. "Dude, it's a party," said one of them, who indicated his intention to go to both On the Bricks and Downtown Rocks. "It's not about the music."
Indeed, the squabbling between the radio rivals is more about ratings, sponsors and bragging rights. To that end, a group of young people, presumably working for Downtown Rocks, stood near the gates of On The Bricks directing crowds down the street to 99X's so-called Baker Street Park, site of Downtown Rocks. The attempt was to neutralize On The Bricks' advantage of being closer to the MARTA stations, thereby making it the default choice of anyone who didn't have a preference between the two shows. But Downtown Rocks needed no help to draw the larger crowds, with a lineup far more recognizable than its rival's.
As On the Bricks continued, doubleDrive singer Donnie Hamby tried to enliven the passive crowd, who were biding their time, lounging on blankets and talking amongst themselves. "Do you feel what's going on here?" he said. "You came here for something. We came here for something. Let the exchange begin."
While the band offered a handful of unremarkable tunes, the exchange was mostly in commerce, as attendees lined up to buy $5 beers. DoubleDrive's cover of Metallica's "Search and Destroy" couldn't keep some from wandering over to the Downtown Rocks area to check out opener Course of Nature.
Baker Street Park, meanwhile, was the direct opposite of On the Bricks' leisurely comfort. Instead of grass and fountains, a hard asphalt lot greeted the mostly teen-and-early-20s crowd. By 8 p.m., the area was nearly full. The utilitarian site was the perfect setting for Jerry Cantrell's growl-fest. All evening, the massive stage featured a thick, muddy sound with most vocals buried in the murky mix. After a crowd-pleasing rendition of "Man in the Box," many made a noticeable exodus back up the street to On the Bricks as new batches of music fans packed the area for headliners Nickelback.
Back at On the Bricks, radio and TV personalities thanked a litany of sponsors and finally introduced Athens' Drive-By Truckers. While they're a band with little chance of ever getting played on Star 94, the Truckers offered more character, personality and real rock than either of their predecessors.
At 9:30 p.m., the two headliners squared off against each other: the serpentine blues/funk grooves of G. Love and Special Sauce going head-to-head with over-hyped grunge-lite radio darlings Nickelback. As Love urged the crowd to "Unify," Nickelback offered still more growling and posing to a far larger audience. While Nickelback shut down a little past 10:30 p.m., Love jammed on until 11 p.m., leaving time for news crews to report from the park that, despite fears, the two simultaneous events caused no public safety problems. What's more, sound bleeding between the two concerts was not an issue while both stages were in use.
For this first round of "competition," On The Bricks gets the nod for best sound, most comfortable location and most diverse lineup. Downtown Rocks, however, wins the numbers game and, in truth, its rock-in-a-hard-place approach worked just fine for the grungy, modern rock sounds.
Perhaps a better test of the viability of dueling concerts will come next week, when Bricks feature top draw Alanis Morissette and Downtown Rocks presents local favorites Cake. But so far, so good.
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