11 things learned at Music Midtown 2k16

Hello from the other side! No, this isn’t an Adele reference. This is me greeting you from the afterlife because Atlanta’s own Music Midtown rocked my world. Although I’ve been to a fair share of concerts, Music Midtown was my first true festival experience; I hit up Hopscotch Music Festival last weekend, but I spent a total of five hours in Raleigh before heading out. Let me just say that the expectations you set for your first festival are pointless because no amount of preparation, stories, research, or water will prepare you for a genuine festival experience.

I’m going to attempt to describe the things I saw, and smelled, from these last two days while offering some tips I wish I’d known before heading into the belly of the beast (more on this reference later).

Tip #1: Order your tickets as far in advance as you can to avoid the awful line at will-call.

My best friend (a.k.a. Alli, the person I drag to every concert I go to) and I took on the fest together but spent a solid two hours trying to get her wristband.

We heard some rumors that the entrance on the other side of the grounds was easier and thought it’d be a good idea to switch lines. Hello, mistake number one. 45 minutes later, we found ourselves lost among the various concrete paths established at Piedmont Park. The trek back to the line was another 20 minutes before we decided to give it another go and find the other entrance. What’s up, mistake number two. I’ll fast forward the remaining hour and half and just tell you that we should have stayed in line from the beginning. This leads me to tip #2: Don’t trust rumors about short-cuts! Go with your gut and trust the system because we could have avoided a lot of walking, sweating, and blisters.

Speaking of blisters, pay close attention to tip #3: Don’t buy a new pair of Vans the day before a festival, wear them ALL day, and expect to not feel the agony of new-shoe pains. Do you know how many times both Alli and I seriously considered going barefoot? At a festival? Where trash, excrement, and soggy grass/mud covered every inch of the grounds? It was that bad. For the record, we danced through the pain and loved/hated every second of it. There was no way we weren’t going to dance to our favorite bands, blistered toes or not. What a perfect segway to my next piece of advice!

Tip #4: Feel free to dance to anyone’s song anywhere in the festival or beyond. Though the wording of that sentence is confusing, it’s an important idea to remember. I saw too many people standing rigidly next to their friends, both in the pit and further out. Enjoy the festival however you can, and if that means just standing there and looking miserable, cool, but don’t be afraid to dance it out! Alli and I went hard during CHVRCHES and it was one of my fondest memories of the weekend. We started out next to a circle of guys who were smoking weed in their American flag-patterned overalls and when our lungs couldn’t handle any more of their stench (from the weed and their B.O.), we danced our way to the left. We found a middle-aged woman going just as hard as we were and decided we wanted to be just like her when we grew up. Later on, we danced to songs we heard from across the field. We couldn’t even see the stage but dance-walked anyway.

The best part about seeing CHVRCHES for the sixth time this year was that I knew all of Lauren Mayberry’s choreography; if you don’t think I executed every move along with her, we’ve got a lot to talk about, my friend. When Mayberry spun in a circle, made the Every Open Eye shape with her fingers, or stomped her foot, Alli would scream out “Classic Lauren!” as I pretended to be on stage with the Scottish trio.

After CHVRCHES killed it at the Roxy stage, we booked it over the hills, through the dozens of food trucks, and past those who were walking around the festival like normal people all the way across the grounds to the Electric Ballroom stage. Tip #5: Find a friend like Alli to bring to shows. Get yourself someone who will swiftly weave through thousands of people to get you as close to your favorite band as possible, all while you tightly grip her fanny-pack and apologize to the people you inadvertently run into.

(Real quick, tip #6: GET A FANNY PACK. More on this later.)

Our game plan was to see CHVRCHES and then head over the the stage twenty one pilots was playing later that night, but we knew getting a close spot was going to be a task in itself. As soon as CHVRCHES finished their set with “The Mother We Share,” I grabbed Alli’s fanny-pack and took on the belly of “the beast.” I’m not going to pretend that we called the festival grounds “the beast” all weekend because I definitely just came up with that about five minutes ago, but we totally should have. The steep, grassy hills inside of Piedmont Park made the grounds look beautiful but also created some sort of obstacle course that you had to weave through before going to the next stage; it felt like we had to earn our next show. Saturday’s weather was nice enough and kept said hills dry but the struggle was real as we scaled down the side of the hill, hoping we wouldn’t tumble down by accident. Sunday’s weather was a different story as a steady rainfall soaked the crowd all morning, but we’ll get to that in a second.

After Alli and I conquered “the beast,” we made it to the edge of the hill that led to to the Electric Ballroom. I wish I could describe how large this field was, but Alli and I agreed that it was about the size of three football fields. Leon Bridges was owning the stage in his soaked-through bright green dress shirt by the time we got there and, through most of his set, we politely fought our way through thousands of people, water bottles in hand and Red Bulls in our fanny packs.

Tip #7: Stay hydrated, people. That’s got to be the most popular tip for any concert/festival/event/life in general, but for some reason all of us suck at it. Drink tons of water during the week leading up to the event and throughout the day! Hit up the bathroom before you tackle the pit and you’ll be set. Over the course of the six hours we were in the pit, we saw 5+ people pass out from dehydration. Nothing is worth that, especially when your friends are unable to get you out of the pit! Okay, I’m done being your mother now, I swear.

Back to weaving through the crowd.

By the time Leon Bridges finished his soul-infused set, covering Notorious B.I.G. and Ginuwine, we made it to the middle of the field. That doesn’t sound like much of an accomplishment but trust me, there were thousands upon thousands of people in the area and we were pretty damn proud of ourselves. The day had only begun and I was already exhausted. I may or not now have sat down on people’s feet in between sets.

On each stage, there was about an hour between acts, so after Bridges, we waited for G-Eazy to take the stage, watching more people pass out left and right. In addition to that terrifying scene, we dealt with some rude people. Maybe rude isn’t the right word… We dealt with some nasty people. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m all for enjoying concerts however you have to (remember the smelly statues we were next to at CHVRCHES?), but I’m not 100% into the idea of people more or less having sex right next to us for an entire set.

My concert-loving friends, here is tip #8:  Please be kind and go have safe sex in the belly of the beast like the rest of the crowd. There’s no need to get it on in the sweaty pit of the masses. Also, maybe consider not having sex in a field. But to each their own.

We attempted to dance away from these people but it’s like we had a magnetic pull on them! No matter where we moved to, they always showed up next to Alli, grinding on her leg and getting their sweat all over her arm. Lovely. We also encountered a lost, sobbing 13 year old girl and tried to shield her from the nonsense happening to our left. Throughout G-Eazy’s set (which was actually super fun, despite all the roadblocks) we dealt with horny adults, underage kids boasting about their smuggled alcoholic drinks, and lost kids trying to find their parents. Your typical festival crowd, am I right?

Tip #9 is for all of the guardians out there: Don’t let your youngin’ go off by themselves in any crowd, especially at a festival where every other word is a curse and/or derogatory statements about women and 80% of the crowd is high as hell. I’m 23 and I was terrified of half the people I encountered.

But we’re havin’ fun.

G-Eazy spent most of his set thanking the crowd for getting him to the main stage and sending his love across the states to his hometown of San Francisco Bay Area. This was my first experience with G-Eazy and to be honest, I don’t think I’ll be finding him on Spotify anytime soon, but I know a good performer when I see them. His set got me HYPED for twenty one pilots, who closed out night one of Music Midtown.

We spent the hour after G-Eazy’s set guessing which songs they’d play, being hosed down by security (which I was not happy about), and sharing stories of past twenty one pilots shows’ with the people around us. G-Eazy’s fans made their way out of the crowd and most likely went to the stage right next to the Electric Ballroom to catch 2chainz and Lil Wayne’s set, meaning the crowd was 95% comprised of fellow twenty one pilots fans.

Do you know that means? That means I was surround by my people again. Before the show even started, I felt more at home than I have since I saw them perform in Charlotte a few months ago. My people and I hyped each other up and prayed to the music Gods above that some of our favorite songs were added to the setlist; for the record, Alli and I got one of our wishes and it was LIT (is that how you use that word? I heard it a lot at the festival and I’m trying to fit in).

When the music began to play in earnest and the infamous curtain dropped, my people and I lost our damn minds. The Ohio-duo stepped on stage, all dolled up in their red suit jackets and black masks, as the intro to “Fairly Local” began to play. They stood in their respective spots, Tyler Joseph on his box center stage and Josh Dun at his drum set, still as can be while Blurryface, the character centered around their latest album, rapped his part of “Fairly Local.” I’ll never get over screaming “the few, the proud, and the emotional” with thousands of my family members. From that point on, Alli, my family, and I shouted every single lyric as loud as we could back to the stage, song after song. The set was filled with backflips, high jumps off the piano, a drum island (you know, when the drummer puts his set on top of you while he plays), a human-sized hamster ball fiasco, and a dangerous climb to the top of the scaffolding. Don’t know that hell I’m talking about? Check out my review of when they came to Charlotte and you’ll be caught up.

The duo was all goofy smiles that night; not that they’re ever unhappy on stage, but the vibe felt different than the last time we saw them.

Tyler dedicated “Tear In My Heart,” a song originally written for his wife, to 2chainz, and asked us to “please let him know” as he changed all of the “she” pronouns to “he.” Amazing.

Their industry-critical, super-jam “Lane Boy” demonstrated why fanny-packs are a genius invention. During a show, the least of your worries should be your belongings (cell phones, money, band-aids for when you’re a dummy who wore new shoes to a festival, etc.). Back to tip #6: Invest in a quality fanny-pack that can withstand “Lane Boy” and drunk people. Check out the music video below to see what the expectation for that fanny-pack should be.

The end of a twenty one pilots show has always been initiated by “Trees,” a song that has been performed in front of anywhere between two and 100,000 people at a time. Joseph is known for delivering emotional and encouraging speeches before the song begins while playing the base chords of the song on his MIDI keyboard. The speeches are always different and always enlivening, leaving the audience in awe of the spectacle they created.

The core of the speech was centered around two topics this time around. The first was a tale of the last time they performed at Music Midtown, where they played an early, day-time slot on the festival’s smallest stage. Joseph recalled a conversation with Dun after they watched Eminem close out the festival on the Electric Ballroom stage; they made it a goal to be on that same stage one day. Two years later, they duo was able to scratch that goal off their list.

After a deafening cheer, Joseph moved on to the next part of his speech. He told the crowd to “remember what we created here. Remember what you overcame. Leave it all here.” The song has always and will always be an emotional three minutes for the band and for the crowd, and to hear such a large crowd sing it back to them was something I’ll never be able to get over.

Joseph mentioned that Music Midtown was the largest festival they’ve ever headlined; later that night, I heard that some 50,000 people were in attendance of their show. The next morning I learned that that number was incorrect. In fact, twenty one pilots played in front of around 100,000 people Saturday night. Music Midtown claims the title for the largest show they have ever played, and it wasn’t until I heard that information that I realized why the band couldn’t stop smiling. I could go on for hours about their set, but I’ll spare you the mushy details.

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After “Trees” ended and confetti consumed pit, Alli and I grabbed handfuls of soggy grass and red confetti, shoved them into our fanny packs, and headed out. We were dehydrated, exhausted, sunburned, and stupidly happy. We were too spent to swiftly weave through the crowd to get to our car, so we trudged along the street with thousands of other people who were just as sluggish as we were. I complained about being dehydrated a lot (sorry, Alli) until an absolute angel of a person in front of us turned around and handed us mostly-filled, ice-cold, heaven-sent water bottle. I proposed to that girl and her boyfriend right then and there because I couldn’t believe someone was so kind. I was also delirious and not in control of my actions, so no judgement please.

The next morning felt like an awful hangover and the weather thought so too; we peeked outside, only to find it was pouring. We wanted to head back to Charlotte around around 3 p.m. that day, with plans of experiencing the festival like normal people and not camping out in a pit for six+ hours, but the rain was making it hard to stay. But, like the troopers we are, we braved the rain, coffee in hand and sunglasses on. Daya and Joseph opened the festival and a surprising number of people were out and about for an early, rainy show. We took the time to check out the booths full of free stuff and to explore the parts of the park we avoided the day before. We also went back to the Electric Ballroom stage and cried for a bit, but that’s neither here nor there.

Over the course of the weekend, we saw artists like City & Colour, NF, Band of Horses, The Shadowboxers, The Coathangers, Melanie Martinez, DNCE, and Zella Day. There were so many big names we wanted to see but time wouldn’t allow it. One thing we did right was print out a map and kept track of the schedule. Tip #10: come up with a game plan before you get there so you don’t waste time trying to find a stage! Alli and I did some serious work before the festival started and it paid off.

The general flow of the festival and the people we encountered made the two-day festival an experience that will be hard to top. I’m struggling with the idea of going back to work after such an unreal weekend, so wish me luck.

Tip #11: Document every single moment of the festival, even when you decide to sit down while waiting to use a port-o-potty because the line is too long.

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