Technically, most of us, the original fans of Outkast, have been waiting on this weekend for three months.
Back in June, the duo of Andre Benjamin and Antwan Patton announced in a simple newspaper ad, after appearances at several other music festivals in other parts of the country, that they were finally performing here, in their hometown.
In reality, we’ve been waiting more than 10 years. Last night, we finally got what we wanted, in the first of three shows in Centennial Park.
I could tell you about the night’s earlier performances, but one does not read a restaurant review to hear about the appetizers. As I mentioned earlier, many of the people in attendance weren’t there for a concert. They were there to see Outkast.
And so we politely endured the opening acts, who were fine and generally entertaining. But really, they were just one more thing standing between us and our deserved, long-awaited destiny.
The main event began shortly after 9 p.m. As the trademark black and white American flag flashed on the screen and the spotlights flickered, the excitement that was largely absent earlier in the evening built quickly. What would they do first, I wondered?
And then I heard the twinkling notes signaling the start of “Bombs Over Baghdad” and smiled. The message: We were going to work our way back to 1994. It was to be a celebration of Outkast’s entire career, not just Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik, the album that put them and our city on the map. Everyone was on board for the journey.
The first few songs were, frankly, surreal.
I stood there watching Big Boi pace back and forth across the stage wearing Braves gear and a red Atlanta hat and Andre 3000 in his trademark blond wig and black jumpsuit, across the front of which was the slogan “the hardest time of our lives,” a good or a bad thing, depending on your perspective.
I looked around at the crowd, cheering and euphoric to see their heroes standing in the middle of Centennial Olympic Park, towering on big screens alongside other Atlanta icons: the Georgia Aquarium, Coca-Cola, AT&T, Georgia-Pacific, the Equitable building. I looked up and noticed the clouds blocking the night sky, as if out of respect for the only two stars allowed to shine in Atlanta on this night.
I thought to myself, “Is this really, actually happening? Am I really seeing this?”
Because we’ve dreamt about this night and this moment so many times. Longed for the day when we could sing along to “Skew It on the Bar-B,” or “Aquemini,”or “The Art of Storytelling.”
As the streets shook, there were times that I couldn’t tell the difference between the bass and my heartbeat. Every few songs, Big or Dre would check in the crowd, asking, “Are you still having a good time?” It was the best.
We were all having so much fun that an hour passed before the first notes of “Hootie Hoo.” Suddenly it was 1994, and the time-space continuum was completely suspended. (After all, Centennial Olympic Park wasn’t even open then, and yet, here we were.) Indeed, it was as if no time had passed as they sang the song: “Big Boi on my left, Andre on the right/ Tight like hallways, smoked out always…”
And so they still were. As if the nostalgia weren’t thick enough, as the duo performed “Player’s Ball,” a slideshow played featuring photographs of a younger Outkast. It was a beautiful and touching look back and not the first time of the night that I was too choked up with emotion to keep singing along.
A lot of the songs we heard have been performed in other cities this year, but this was special. This was new. They hadn’t been performed with our Ferris wheel in the background, or Stone Mountain in the distance.
And then there were the songs that were just for the home crowd. We would’ve been satisfied with “Black Ice,” the Goodie Mob collaboration that featured a cameo from Big Gipp, celebrated member of the Dungeon Family.
None of us was prepared for the encore, which could not have happened anywhere else. They gave us what we’d been asking for all these years: one more song. And then the beat dropped.
If you’re of a certain age and from Atlanta, I don’t have to explain what this song means to us. If you aren’t, I’ll tell you that this song transcends class and gender and is as likely to be playing in an office cubicle as it is on one of the city’s seedier street corners.
It was a special experience, to share the group we love with the people we love. Singing “Elevators” with your lifelong friends. Swaying to “Prototype” or “She Lives in My Lap” with your significant other.
Over and over, Dre and Big would say to the crowd, “It feels good to be home.” It could not have felt any better.
Errin Haines Whack is an award-winning journalist who covered Georgia politics and urban affairs in Atlanta for more than a decade. She is a native of Fairburn, Georgia, and tweets at emarvelous.