Concert Review: Dave Matthews, Sting, Grace Potter at Centennial Park in Atlanta

The Final Four was officially in the books, but the music had just begun to play Sunday afternoon at the Big Dance Concert Series in Atlanta’s Centennial Park. The Capital One JamFest was a free concert for anyone who could pack their way into the park featuring heavyweight performances by acts like Dave Matthews Band, Sting and Grace Potter and the Nocturnals. It was a beautiful spring day in Atlanta. Temperatures hovered in the 70s as the first dusts of pollen began swirling about. The crowd started to stack up on the muddy lawn to get a prime spot for what promised to be a long day of music.

Blind Pilot took the stage first. The Oregon indie folk group were an eleventh hour addition to the line-up and weren’t even listed on the NCAA’s site a couple days ago. Needless to say, we came in on their last handful of tracks. The first artist of our day was the beautiful Grace Potter. She and her band of Nocturals hit the stage around 4 and kicked their set off with “Hot Summer Night” from their self-titled album. They were last in town a few month’s back at Star 94s Jingle Jam and were the highlight of the evening. They’ve been on the road constantly since, recently wrapping a European tour. The band has a busy summer planned. They have nine festival dates on the calendar as well as supporting fellow JamFest players, The Dave Matthews Band, on select dates.

Potter spent her day trading turns behind the piano and manning the electric guitar. Its rare to see a musician so comfortable at both. The setlist spanned the spectrum of the band’s four albums, not showing any favoritism. Potter’s soulful voice added body and umph to great tracks like “Paris (Ooh La La)” and “Never Go Back.” The band even got a little nostalgic, pulling out Tom Petty’s “American Girl” to charge up the crowd. Grace Potter was having a blast onstage, dancing around and was barefoot by the end. The hour long set was pure emotion and the perfect introduction to Sting.

It is baffling that Sting wasn’t the headliner of this event. That comment is certainly no knock on the Dave Matthews Band, but just shows how stacked this mini-line-up was. Sting hit the stage at 6pm. He may be 61, but he certainly doesn’t look it. All that healthy living he’s become known for (yoga, running, Macrobiotic diet) seems to suit him. The Brit rock star wasted no time with introductions, biting right into “If I Ever Lose My Faith in You.” The man just personifies rock star, walking out on the stage in tight jeans and a ratty t-shirt that he could have just finished painting the house in. He was also remarkably tan.

The set moved on into some lesser known Police and solo tracks before he started reeling off the hits. He played “Fields Of Gold” which he says was inspired by his castle. The crowd really got charged up when he teased out the first few notes of “Message in a Bottle.” At once, the Police had come to Atlanta even though Andy Summers and Stewart Copeland were no where to be found. Once he riled up the crowd, he never really let them settle back down. He played the Police’s Greatest Hits from “Roxanne” and “Walking on the Moon” to “King of Pain” and “Every Breath You Take.” While it was great to hear all of these 80s masterpieces, they weren’t quite as sharp as when he toured Atlanta with the group on their reunion tour a few years back.

The park was comfortably packed by the end of Grace Potter, but it was beyond overflowing by the time Sting finished digging into his guitar. Someone really needed to shut off the tap of people as even the walking lanes were hopelessly bogged down with bodies. The announcer said there was 60,000 people filling the park, but that had to be grossly underestimated. At some point, the fire marshal did intervene, shutting down the park. You could see the crowds start stacking up outside the gates, filing up the sidewalks and taking over the streets just to get a taste of the sweet nectar of Dave Matthew’s sound. DMB sold out Piedmont Park by himself a few years back. A free show with Sting in a much smaller expanse was a recipe for disaster.

After much anticipation, Dave Matthews and company took the stage at 8pm. Dave entered the stage flailing about making crazy faces. He owns one of the most expressive faces in music almost like his facial contortions are the only way the notes will get out. The band’s set started with “Don’t Drink the Water.” The seven-man ensemble sounded fluid and tight as they found their way into the groove.

The band seemed to be using the Centennial Park show as a warm-up for the massive 47-date summer trek that kicks off at the end of the month. They are set to tour on their 2012 release Away From the World which got its fair share of love in the setlist. They confirmed their reputation as one of the premiere jam bands by stretching songs to their limits as Dave spent time dueling with violinist Boyd Tinsley and sharing the beat with drummer Carter Beauford.

DMB sampled tracks across their extensive album catalog for the Centennial Park set ensuring their was a little something for everyone. Matthews even started playing “Message in a Bottle” as a tribute to Sting before he broke off and set sail into “Crush.” The crowd was loving every minute of their set framed against the lights of the beautiful Atlanta skyline.

I don’t know that you could have asked for anything more from the Capital One JamFest. Huge kudos go out to the NCAA and Capital One for putting on this free event. I know this concert series has become mandatory event for host cities of the Final Four, but they pulled out the big guns to really give this weekend concert series national significance. The only gripe I had was just having something of this magnitude at Centennial Park. I understand that the series had to be within walking distance of the Dome, and I do miss concerts in the park. Its just the footprint of the park couldn’t possibly accommodate the masses that descended upon it. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen that many people on the streets of downtown Atlanta before. It was like a Falcons game times two maybe three.

Space concerns aside, this was a great event for Atlanta natives, visiting Final Four fans and even those streaming it from the comfort of their home. Maybe its time to start booking flights for Dallas in 2014.

More Photos : Sting | Dave Matthews Band | Grace Potter
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Grace Potter Centennial Park Setlist
Atlanta, GA : April 7, 2013

Hot Summer Night
Never Go Back
Goodbye Kiss
Low Road
Stop the Bus
Nothing but the Water (I)
The Lion The Beast The Beat
American Girl
Paris (Ooh La La)

Sting Centennial Park Setlist
Atlanta, GA : April 7, 2013

If I Ever Lose My Faith in You
Demolition Man
I Hung My Head
Driven to Tears
Fields of Gold
Message in a Bottle
De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da
The Hounds of Winter
Desert Rose
Walking on the Moon
King of Pain
Every Breathe You Take

Dave Matthews Band Centennial Park Setlist
Atlanta, GA : April 7, 2013

Don’t Drink the Water
Funny the Way It Is
Eh Hee
Belly Belly Nice
Jimi Thing
Shake Me Like a Monkey
Why I Am
What Would You Say
Pantala Naga Pampa
Two Step

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