Major music festivals may have become a wash of major label uniformity and corporate branded tents, but that doesn’t necessarily suck all the enjoyment out of them. Atlanta’s Music Midtown—which began in 1994 and has been held in Piedmont Park since 2011—was predictable to say the least, but it delivered some knockout performances from some of music’s biggest superstars (and some underwhelming sets from artists who’ve passed their sell-by dates). Any big festival would be out of their minds to not try and book Billie Eilish—undeniably the artist that ruled 2019—and the 17-year-old proved to be an energetic performer, drawing the biggest crowd of the two-day event. Other highlights included Lizzo’s motivational pop-rap transcendence, Kali Uchis’ sultry, late-night R&B and Travis Scott’s moshpit-starting Astroworld cuts.
The festival grounds were littered with overpriced hard seltzer, vape pens, fanny packs and teens straight out of an Urban Outfitters catalog, and thanks to Eilish’s glaring merchandise, Sunday’s crowd was decked out in far more neon than the previous day. Music Midtown doesn’t offer anything different in the crowded North American music festival space, going along with the mounting desire to cater to the lucrative 16-18-year-old demographic. However, each of Music Midtown’s four stages had a performance worth talking about on both days. Paste attended the 2019 festival and picked our eight favorite performances, listed in alphabetical order below.
1. Billie Eilish
Before seeing Billie Eilish in person, I didn’t quite understand how she rose to fame so quickly, but it didn’t take very long to figure it out. The 17-year-old is absolutely hypnotic. She makes a point not to rely on what others in her realm do. No flashy or skimpy costumes, no backup dancers, no distraction from anything but the beats, her spellbinding vocals, and some simple, albeit unsettling, on-screen visuals. She apparently injured her ankle earlier this month, causing her to perform in a boot, but somehow she managed to jump around as enthusiastically as anyone in the crowd, if not more so. As famous and powerful as Billie Eilish is now, she’s really just getting started. —Annie Black
2. The Coathangers
The Coathangers are the only band at Music Midtown you can imagine not getting blank stares from punks at local dives 529 and The Earl. Julia Kugel-Montoya, vocalist and guitarist in the Atlanta garage punk group, followed each rambunctious tune with the quip “That song is about getting mad,” only to later clarify “Every song is about getting mad.” “Gettin’ Mad and Pumpin’ Iron” from 2009’s Scramble certainly delivered an abrasive, reckless abandon that the rest of the lineup was lacking, delivering screamed lines like “I’m gonna break your fucking face.” “Fuck The NRA” from their latest album The Devil You Know was another moment of steamy feistiness and audience amusement. All three band members wore matching Coathangers ringer tees, which might’ve been lame if they weren’t far and away the coolest band on the bill. The squeaky toy refrain of “Squeeki Tiki” was a blatant reminder that they don’t take themselves too seriously, and whether or not the kids sitting down, already parked for Billie Eilish’s set happening six hours later, were wooed by their fun-as-hell punk minimalism is beside the point. —Lizzie Manno
3. Leon Bridges
Clad in a 1950s-style bowling shirt and leopard print pants, Leon Bridges looked the part for his Sunday afternoon set at Music Midtown. Bridges is a natural performer. He grooved his way through a soulful set and proclaimed his love for all women while not missing a beat of music. He doesn’t stick to one genre, making him a joy to watch because you never really know what to expect next. Each song had a story, and he treated the audience like a group of dear friends rather than a sea of unknown faces. The man emanates pure, unadulterated talent. —Annie Black
Lizzo doesn’t take any moment for granted. Every second of her Saturday night performance had something to latch onto—whether it was an invigorating lyric, a jaw-dropping vocal that stuck the landing, a flute interlude or a tantalizing flex from her backup dancers. The title track from her 2019 debut album Cuz I Love You is one of the best set-openers you could ask for with vocals that require a delivery that’s nothing short of stunning to bring justice to the dramatic heights of the studio version. Luckily, Lizzo has no problem in that department—her execution was awe-inspiring. Beyond her empowering allure via self-love bible that would almost qualify as a therapy session, she also has a larger-than-life personality that keeps the gathered thousands constantly engaged. “This is a lot more motherfuckers than I was expecting to see,” she said of the crowd size. “Hi, motherfuckers!” “Jerome” was the height of spiritual connection at Music Midtown with an incalculable audience (Lizzo says, “Let’s call it five million”) turning on their phone lights and swaying in unison. —Lizzie Manno
While MØ drew a crowd bigger than I had anticipated, I felt confident there were more people at Music Midtown waiting for Billie Eilish’s set to begin on the nearby stage than actively listening to the Danish singer/producer. That was disappointing because MØ really puts on a great show. She was off the stage and nearly in the crowd for much of what I saw, effortlessly cool with dance moves most probably dream of possessing. MØ took a brief moment to say how thankful she was for the next song, and launched right into the top 40 hit “Lean On” by Major Lazer & DJ Snake, which she sings on. I’d never seen so many people sprint to the stage all at once to bounce around to the song’s hypnotic beat. MØ certainly did not disappoint. —Annie Black
Norweigian pop breakthrough Sigrid can safely take home the award for the most smile-filled performance of Music Midtown 2019. The 23-year-old artist, who released her debut album Sucker Punch earlier this year and is currently on her first North American tour, was positively radiant, bouncing around the stage with a free-wheeling joy that overflowed into the crowd. She made quite the entrance—running on stage and screaming upon arrival. This isn’t an artist going through the motions of festival commitments—she’s a fresh-faced artist who willingly soaks up every moment as fully as possible. Songs like “Sucker Punch” and “Never Mine” have melodies that soared much higher than the vast majority of pop offerings from this weekend. Moments like the “Sucker Punch” refrain and her “sad girl summer” album closer “Dynamite” made everything feel lighter and more pure. If you were willing to place your emotional well-being in Sigrid for an hour, you would’ve left feeling looser, more spirited and fully cradled. —Lizzie Manno
7. Vampire Weekend
17-year-old newcomer Billie Eilish who played an hour earlier might have drawn a crowd three times the size of Vampire Weekend, but the veteran New York City band played like they were on top of the world—and not the fake one spinning behind them on stage or the giant inflatable globes unleashed into the crowd, both to match the artwork of their newest album Father of the Bride. Vampire Weekend have more than enough hits to satisfy a festival crowd for 90 minutes and avid fans hoping to hear selections from their latest LP. Though “Harmony Hall” has emerged as the fan favorite of their new album, it was “Sunflower” that brought out their most funky, fun-loving side. Lead vocalist Ezra Koenig was calm, cool and playful, at one point trying to lead a singalong and assessing the crowd’s attempt with a grin, “Okay, moderately enthusiastic.” The crowd was especially engaged during hits like “Unbelievers,” “Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa” and “Diane Young,” but the most obvious pandemonium erupted during their indie classic “A-Punk.” Though they’ve been known to occasionally play the song three times in a row, only one was necessary to produce a wave of bunny-hopping euphoria. —Lizzie Manno
Yola has emerged as one of the most exciting new faces in country music, releasing her Dan Auerbach-produced debut album, Walk Through Fire, earlier this year to critical acclaim. The British singer/songwriter’s affinity for American roots music is clear, and her natural talent is even more evident. Decked out in cheetah print and feeling admittedly ill, Yola still dug deep into the crevasses of her throat to put on an extremely formidable performance. She claimed to be saving her voice for “moments,” but you didn’t get the feeling that she was ever shortchanging the audience as her imposing vocal fire power came through each song. Alongside warm, vintage organ noodling, “It Ain’t Easier” dropped like a ton of bricks, weighed down by an emotional intensity and grit that drew yelps from the crowd. “Is it easy?” she sung a capella, to which the crowd vigorously replied, “No!” Her album opener “Faraway Look” and cover of Elton John’s “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” had the crowd hollering with adoration, both at clear song breaks and totally random moments. —Lizzie Manno