Music Midtown Preview: Drake, Sam Smith, Van Halen and Elton John to Headline Eclectic Roster

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Sam Smith headlines the festival Saturday night.

Overheard in Atlanta: “It’s so cool Van Halen is playing Music Midtown — because now my dad will take me to see Metric!”

A surprisingly diverse roster is definitely the defining factor for this year’s Music Midtown, which returns to Piedmont Park September 18-19. The legendary rockers and the new wave darlings will join a mixed bag of 30 bands including mainstream headliners (Sam Smith, Drake), indie favorites (Elle King, Vance Joy) and a heavy dose of classic rockers (Hall and Oates, Elton John, Billy Idol).

And while it’s hard to imagine a teen willingly hanging with dear old dad — or for that matter, a Drake fan getting down to Elton John — Music Midtown founder and head-honcho Peter Conlon says he aims for just that sort of intergenerational, genre-bending appeal.

“That’s kind of how we want it to work, you know?” says Conlon. “That if a father’s coming, his daughter might want to see an act, but also she may want to see a band she’s never seen before, an older band, and become a fan of that. And her dad may become a fan of Metric.”

Conlon’s new incarnation of Music Midtown, which returned to Piedmont Park in 2011 after a five-year hiatus, is an unapologetic appeal to a wide swath of music lovers. Unlike niche festivals like Shaky Knees and CounterPoint, Music Midtown is packed with the most mainstream headliners on an Atlanta festival ticket, along with a healthy smattering of indie up-and-comers and urban acts. And unlike earlier Music Midtowns, stages aren’t segmented by genre, which means you can hear 23-year-old R&B trailblazer August Alsina and then stick around to catch hard rockers Alice in Chains on the same stage.

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Classic rockers, like Alice in Chains, will perform alongside contemporary indie groups.

To Conlon, that’s sort of the idea. “We’re not segmented in our love of music; that’s just how commercial radio handles things,” he says. “Peoples’ record collections aren’t like that. We just want it to be more generalized, where you may end up seeing a band that you didn’t even know about.”

The new formula seems to be working.

The festival returns to Piedmont Park for the third year, with the addition of a fourth stage on the park’s Active Oval (though Conlon says he’ll stop there). The expansion will allow the festival to spread out and include a few more acts — but it will also make for some seriously tough choices, especially when it comes to headliners.

with the addition of a fourth stage (though Conlon says he’ll stop there). The expansion is meant to help traffic flow more smoothly, but it will also make for some seriously tough choices, especially when it comes to headliners.

Friday night brings both Canadian rapper Drake and Atlanta piano man Sir Elton John in competing time slots. On Saturday night, British crooner Sam Smith’s heart-wrenching balladry and Eddie Van Halen’s epic guitar solos compete head-to-head.

The same conundrum will apply to smaller acts: On Friday, you’ll have to choose between the dreamy singer-songwriter Elliot Moss and the equally haunting Irish singer Hozier, whose “Take Me to Church” was a runaway radio hit last year.

Despite the inevitable heartbreak of having to pick and choose, Conlon says with such an eclectic line-up, the new Music Midtown is one of the best values for the ticket price — $125 for two days.

“A lot of these acts you couldn’t see for $125. So even if you want to see one act, it’s worth the value because it’s a great location,” he says. “Hell, just the people watching is worth it. I think it’s the best festival value in the country.”

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Alessia Cara

Our picks for the weekend:

FRIDAY:

Kodaline, 4:45-5:45 p.m.
If you like Snow Patrol and Coldplay, this Irish four-piece is an absolute must-see. Lead singer Steve Garrigan’s falsetto will give you chills and the band’s emotive choruses make for some epic sing-a-longs.

Hozier6:45-8 p.m.
Irish singer-songwriter Andrew Hozier-Byrne was the surprise radio darling of last summer with “Take Me to Church,” a song that got such a big buzz it landed him a gig at the Grammys with Annie Lennox. But he’s definitely no one-hit wonder.

Elton John, Friday, 9-11 p.m.
Our hometown piano man will grace the Music Midtown stage for the first time this year. Ticket prices to see the multiplatinum-selling and Grammy-winning singer-songwriter solo are usually in the hundreds, so his appearance at MM is a real treat.

SATURDAY:

Alessia Cara, 2:45-3:15 p.m.
The bubbly 19-year-old Canadian singer-songwriter got her start the way a lot of teen artists do: with a viral hit on YouTube. Her smooth R&B jam, “Here,” attracted the attention of Jimmy Fallon, which forced camera-shy Cara to get over stage fright really quick.

Hall and Oates4:30-5:45 p.m.
Duo Daryl Hall and John Oates have been together for more than four decades and are the definition of “blue-eyed” Philly soul. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame members piled up 30 top-40 singles between 1976 and 1990.

Run the Jewels, 6:45-8 p.m.
Hearing veteran rappers Killer Mike (from Atlanta) and New York’s El-P collaborate feels like catching two best buds enjoying what they do best — because it is. The duo’s style is hardheaded, aggressive and explosive, and occasionally, political.

Sam Smith9:30-11 p.m.
Smith catapulted to fame last year at just 22 with his soulful tenor ballad “Stay With Me.” He’s gone on to win four Grammys and land the cover of Rolling Stone. Next up on Smith’s plate? Penning the new James Bond theme song. Catch him before he’s selling out Phillips.

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