Atlanta's Music Midtown is the baby of the spring music fests in the South, but its toddler steps are shaking the house.
In only its fourth year, the festival is attracting major acts such as Santana, the Steve Miller Band, Z.Z. Top, and Los Lobos; blasts from the past Cheap Trick and Modern English; New Orleans Jazz Fest staples George Clinton & the P-Funk Allstars, Beau Jocque & The Zydeco Hi-Rollers, funky Meters, and alterna-teen hit bands including Silverchair and Cake.
The event shares much of its lineup with the Beale Street Music Festival in Memphis, which falls on the same weekend, but founder Alex Cooley says Music Midtown has a distinct personality.
"We've gotten somewhat into the star system. ... But our emphasis is on exposing new music," he says. "Although all of [the festivals] do it to some degree, we have a locals-only stage that has proven to be very popular. It's struggling talent, and we have a duty to expose it."
The festival is showcasing a number of impressive local female vocalists this year, including Michelle Malone, Kelly Hogan, and Soul Miner's Daughter. Popular locals Shock Lobo and Wild West Picture Show will be letting loose their brand of Southern rock. And Chapel Hill, North Carolina's very hep Squirrel Nut Zippers will be swinging a version of 20s, 30s and 40s jazz that the group calls "hot music."
The festival packs most of its more than 80 acts, thousands of fans and dozens of crafts and food booths into a vacant lot in Midtown, amid sporadic, shiny skyscrapers and off-beat-chic restaurants and bars. The venue is across the street from the Margaret Mitchell House, where "Gone with the Wind" was written, and a short walk from dogwood-dotted Piedmont Park.
"The thing I stress all along is that [the festival] has to be user-friendly," says Cooley. "We allow passes out of the festival area -- you can leave and come back in."
"And we have a children's area," he continues. "We put a lot of emphasis on having PG-rated, family entertainment."
As part of those efforts, Cooley had to juggle the original festival schedule a bit.
"It used to be the second weekend in May, but that's Mother's Day," he explains. "And, I found out, competing with Mother doesn't work."