Fifth Annual Music Midtown
with Indigo Girls, Koko Taylor, and drivin’ n’ cryin’
Midtown Atlanta • 5.1.98-5.3.98
Opening night at Music Midtown looked promising: the crowd as we walked in was negotiable, and within five minutes we had run into three sets of friends. It felt like a comfortable, local Atlanta atmosphere as my friend and I wandered around the park, soaking in the general vibe, before making our way to the 99X Stage to take in the Indigo Girls.
Managing to weave our way surprisingly close to the stage in a crowd that had to consist of the most college-aged men ever to attend an Indigo Girls concert, we engaged in the usual struggle to maintain space, physically persuading drunken leaners to fall in the opposite direction.
The Girls opened on time with “It’s All Right,” from their latest CD, Shaming of the Sun, and were greeted enthusiastically by their hometown fans. Right from the start, sound problems, seemingly with the system, plagued their performance, though one fan yelled “Tune the fuckin’ guitar!” The crowd liked the harder-rocking new songs like “Shame on You” and “Scooter Boys,” but on this last, I found Saliers’ extended playing of distorted guitar unimpressive.
Still, it was the old favorites that most satisfied the fans, especially “Three Hits,” “Galileo,” and “Least Complicated.” I was relieved that the duo chose two great early songs, “Kid Fears” and “Closer to Fine,” for the encore, as were the fervent Indigo Girls fans. Everywhere I turned my head during these two performances, I saw undergraduate-aged women, faces etched with angst-ridden devotion, clinging to and singing every lyric, especially when Amy and Emily stopped their always beautiful harmonizing and invited the crowd to take over.
Saturday was beautiful, and by the time I arrived for Koko Taylor and the Blues Machine, bodies were mostly bare and mostly burned. In a good mood and just chillin’, the crowd erupted when 76-year-old Koko emerged in a red sequined hat and top, black pants and huge dangly earrings, grooving and bobbing like only someone with more than 66 years worth of experience can.
For an hour of up-tempo blues and supreme fun, Koko treated us to a voice that, though quavering at times, was that of a woman who has seen it all, and plenty of it bad, but finds the joy of the blues anyway. Koko definitely knows how to work a crowd. She had everyone laughing with her song introductions, such as “The title of this next song is ‘When You Run Out All Over Town with Sue, Sally, and Jane, but we Want You to Come Home to MAMA!’,” at which point she set her hip-grinding groove in motion.
The Blues Machine band was great, too, both in tightly played blues tunes and occasional funk. Vino’s guitar especially stood out, as did Koko’s introduction of her band, in which she seemed to ad-lib lyrics about each band member without missing a beat. Dubbing her cute bass player “Youngblood,” she sang out her question, “Is there anything wrong for an old woman like me to like young blood?” Other highlights included “Hound Dog” (“a tribute to Big Mama Thorton and Elvis”), and “I’m a Woman,” with the chorus “You ain’t makin’ love to no crocodile.”
After Koko waltzed off stage and the crowd quickly dispersed, we started contentedly walking toward the 99X Stage to catch drivin’ n’ cryin’, my friend remarking that the crowds weren’t that bad. I did not, at the time, realize how understated was my reply that the 99X Stage tends to be more crowded.
Drivin’ n’ cryin’ was good, more hard-rocking then I’ve ever heard them perform before. Lead singer Kevn Kinney’s face was completely obscured by hair, but his twangy, crooning voice was as effective as ever, especially on the slower numbers. At their worst, they evoked the typical alternative 99X sound, rather than the distinctive southern folk rock/punk rock/hard rock meld that’s so uniquely appealing. Highlights were their namesake, “Drivin’ n’ Cryin’,” “Play that Funky Music,” and their latest hit, “Everything’s Going to Be Alright.” But the band saved the best for last: their signature tune, “Straight To Hell,” a place to which, if glazed-over eyes, limp, drunken bobbing, cans of beer thrust above head roughly to the beat, spilling everywhere, and standard conversational fare of “I had to pee so bad I went in my beer can, dude” are any indication, drivin’ n’ cryin’ are not headed alone! The fans had it right, though, because the only possible way thoroughly to enjoy the concert experience in that insanely over-packed crowd was to be drunk out of your mind.
For the last couple months in Atlanta, obviously as a ruse to sell more tickets, DJs were making dire warnings that this year at Music Midtown, ticket sales would be cut off at about half of what they sold last year in order to avoid the unmanageable crowds of Midtown ’97. Not! However, most disappointing of all was Etta James’ cancellation due to illness. Hope she makes it next year because, despite its flaws, Midtown’s reasonable cost and ever changing variety of great musicians make it a worthwhile experience every May.