Friday

Music Midtown 2001 — Friday

featuring Patti Smith, Blue Oyster Cult, Drivin’ N’ Cryin’, and Pete Yorn

Atlanta, GA • May 4,2001

“Wow! This is so exciting!”

As usual, Patti Smith said it best. Bouncing onstage grinning like a maniac, Patti provided the perfect statement to sum up opening night at Music Midtown. Boasting one of the better opening night lineups in the festival’s history, Friday night was a mixture of old Atlanta favorites (Drivin’ N’ Cryin’) and newcomers, such as Pete Yorn. But the night belonged to Patti Smith, unquestionably.

Pete Yorn opened the day with a rousing set at six PM, looking a bit spooked at the wide open spaces and daylight, but overcame sound problems to deliver a great set that varied little from his Atlanta debut at Smith’s a few months ago, with the addition of Springsteen’s “Dancing in the Dark” to open his song, “Murray.”

Next it was on to Atlanta’s favorite sons, Drivin’ N’ Cryin’. After 16 years in the Atlanta scene, there probably isn’t anyone who hasn’t seen them, and as usual, they performed a well-received set that included all the favorites — “Build A Fire,” “Fly Me Courageous,” and the anthem of rebellious losers everywhere, “Straight To Hell,” dedicated to the Ramones. A nice touch. Kevn Kinney has changed much over the 16 years — he now appears less a rocker than a hair-thinning Buddha — but his trademark screech and passionate delivery has never wavered.

One problem with shows of this sort is the temptation to check out bands that you once liked, have grown out of, and frankly forgotten about over the years. I suppose it was that feeling that made me trudge up the hill to check out Blue Oyster Cult. When I was in high school, I saw them perform a number of times, including a legendary show at The Fox Theater that was included on their live album, and in their day, they were, in the word of the time, awesome, dude.

Well, those days have entirely past. The BOC of today are pudgy middle-aged men with snappy guitars playing retro rock. We only stayed for a few moments, but hearing the ten-minute “Buck’s Boogie” was enough to convince me that you can’t go home again. Not even a 30-minute “Cities On Flame”/”Don’t Fear the Reaper” medley would have salvaged that, so we went off to find shade.

The crowd thinned out considerably before Patti Smith — I imagine that only one in ten festival goers even know the legendary priestess of punk poetry — but those who left missed an event that was galvanizing in its intensity, and awe-inspiring in its beauty. With long time bandmates Lenny Kaye and Jay Dee Daughtry in tow, Smith showed that for her, rock and roll is still as important, vital, and dangerous as it was all those years ago at CBGB’s. I hadn’t seen her since she opened for the Stones in the late ’70s, so I had somewhat forgotten what a passionate performer she is. Railing against the “VH-1 Web site motherfuckers,” reading from William Blake, or on moments such as an epic “Southern Cross” or a stirring “Dancing Barefoot,” Patti Smith defined what rock and roll really is — an extremely effective mode of communication and release. She looked as if in a trance, arms clenched spinning like a dervish, or taking the side-stage video camera away from the operator for a goof.

By the time she ended the night with an incredible “Rock N’ Roll Nigger,” shredding the strings of Kaye’s extra Strat, she took us all to punk rock heaven. After telling us to cherish and protect our children, Smith left the stage the same way she took it — smiling and waving. I pity those who had left, for this was one of the most incredible shows I’ve ever witnessed — not simply for the performance, which was brilliant, but for the fact that Smith, a woman no longer the gawky young girl of yesteryear, proved that growing older doesn’t mean going soft and losing your anger. Or your love for the power of a very loud guitar propelling “Gloria.” With furious grace, Patti Smith showed the crowd just how compelling and intense rock and roll can be, and provided a moment that this festival will have to go long to top.

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