Atlanta’s canceled Music Midtown festival scrutinizes lax gun laws

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As gun laws stall at the federal level, developments in the music festival circuit have underscored the impact of state laws: Atlanta’s Music Midtown festival, originally scheduled for next month, was canceled Monday due to a Georgia court ruling that prevented organizers from using guns on festival grounds.

“Due to circumstances beyond our control, Music Midtown is canceled this year,” the festival said in a statement on its website and social media accounts. “We were looking forward to getting back together in September and hope we can all enjoy the festival together again soon.”

Founded in 1994 and last held in September last year, Music Midtown was scheduled for September 17-18 this year with Fall Out Boy, Future, Jack White and My Chemical Romance headliners. For the past ten years, festivals have taken place in Piedmont Park, about 200 acres of land that is partially managed by the city.

According to Billboard and Rolling Stone, both citing industry sources, the legal obligations arising from Georgia’s extensive pro-gun laws were responsible for the cancellation. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution quoted officials who also attributed the decision to “ongoing legal ramifications.” In 2014, Gov. Nathan Deal (R) expanded a sizable package of bills where people could carry concealed firearms to include areas such as bars, parks, areas of airports and some churches. The Safe Carry Protection Act, also known as the “Guns Everywhere” Act, gave the state more power to prevent local gun restrictions.

That same year, pro-gun activist Phillip Evans sued the Atlanta Botanical Gardens after being escorted from the grounds for possession of a gun. The Georgia Supreme Court reviewed the case in 2019 and ruled that companies with long-term leases could ban firearms on public property; a subsequent appeals court decision this year confirmed that short-term events had little power to limit weapons.

While Music Midtown took place last year, gun rights advocates challenged the gun ban this time around. Evans argued in May that his legal loss against the garden, which has a 50-year lease from the city, set a clearer path to victory against short-term public land dwellers like the festival. He told the Journal-Constitution on Monday that he had warned organizers of his “legal concerns.”

Neither Music Midtown nor its owner, promoter Live Nation, responded to a request from The Washington Post for additional comment on the decision to cancel the festival. A member of Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens’ communications team reached out in an email Monday, saying, “We’ll be looking into this.”

Michael Julian Bond, a city council member, told The Post on Tuesday that while Live Nation had not confirmed to him the reason behind the cancellation, he could see why organizers would hesitate to hold the event without gun restrictions: The grassy area at Piedmont Park is “practical.” exposed on all sides,” he said.

Bond compared the openness of Piedmont Park to the Live Nation-produced Route 91 Harvest festival in Las Vegas, where in 2017 a gunman opened fire and killed dozens of people. He said that the proliferation of weapons, reduced by the easing of restrictions by the state, comes with economic and social costs.

“As a society, we trade one set of rights for another,” he continued. “You can carry any crazy weapon you want, but you can’t come together peacefully.”

As gun ownership increases, Georgia looks to be easing restrictions: It’s the ‘wild, wild west’

Festival security measures have been closely monitored since a massive influx of visitors to rapper Travis Scott’s Astroworld Festival in November killed 10 concertgoers and injured hundreds; A Post investigation found that most of the victims of the Houston event were in one densely packed area. Morgan Milardo, director of the Berklee Popular Music Institute, said she has witnessed an increase in safety procedures implemented on the festival circuit this summer. Some instruct performers and their crew members on what to do in an emergency, such as if they see an incident happening from the stage.

Festival security is often “pretty black and white”, according to Milardo. She said that including specific safety precautions in a rider — or a contractual set of requirements for an artist to perform at a venue — local journalist George Chidi be on friday as a possible reason for the impending cancellation of Music Midtown – is standard practice. What changed here were the laws surrounding the location.

“It’s an open conversation in the music industry right now: how do we keep everyone safe?” said Milardo. “Unfortunately, things like this happen, and it’s something we have to take into account. The promoters who go above and beyond to keep their events safe, and the artists who go above and beyond…it goes a long way.”

The cancellation of Music Midtown isn’t the first time entertainment industry figures have drawn attention to controversial laws in Georgia. In 2019, after Governor Brian Kemp (R) signed a “heartbeat bill” effectively banning most abortions, Hollywood filmmakers announced their intention to boycott Georgia. Studios did not respond to the threats, likely because of the state’s generous tax credit. Most studios shut their mouths again last year after Kemp signed into law restricting voting rights that, as CNBC noted at the time, were criticized by major companies such as Coca-Cola and Delta. As the backlash continued to mount, Major League Baseball moved its All-Star Game in protest from Atlanta.

Stacey Abrams, the Democratic nominee against Kemp for the Georgia governor’s seat, tweeted a long statement Monday evening he condemned his “dangerous and extreme weapons agenda”. The nixed festival “is proof that its reckless policies also endanger Georgia’s economy,” the statement read, later noting that the incident “would cost Georgia’s economy a proven $50 million.” Phoebe Bridgers, a Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter who would perform at Music Midtown, retweeted Abrams’ post.

Kemp’s office has not responded to The Post’s request for comment.

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