Atlanta’s canceled Music Midtown festival puts lax gun laws to the test


As gun control legislation stagnates at the federal level, the evolution of the music festival circuit has 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 banning firearms from the festival grounds.

“Due to circumstances beyond our control, Music Midtown will no longer take place this year,” the festival said in a statement posted on its website and social media accounts. “We were looking forward to reuniting in September and hope that we can all enjoy the festival together again soon.”

Music Midtown, which was founded in 1994 and most recently held last September, was slated for September 17-18 this year with Fall Out Boy, Future, Jack White and My Chemical Romance headlining. The past decade of festivals have taken place in Piedmont Park, about 200 acres of land managed in part by the city.

According to Billboard and Rolling Stone, both citing industry sources, legal liabilities stemming from Georgia’s extensive pro-gun laws were to blame for the cancellation. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution cited officials who also attributed the decision to “ongoing legal fallout.” In 2014 Governor Nathan Deal (right) signed a sweeping package of bills expanding where people could carry concealed firearms to include spaces such as bars, parks, parts of airports and some churches. The Safe Carry Protection Act, also known as the “Guns Everywhere” bill, gave the state more power to anticipate local gun restrictions.

That same year, pro-gun activist Phillip Evans sued the Atlanta Botanical Gardens after he was escorted off the premises for possessing a weapon. Georgia’s Supreme Court reviewed the case in 2019 and ruled that companies with long-term leases could ban firearms on public land; a later appeals court ruling that year reinforced that short-term events had little power to restrict firearms.

While Music Midtown took place last year, gun rights advocates took issue with the gun ban this time around. Evans argued in May that his legal loss to the garden, which holds a 50-year lease from the city, opened a clearer path to victory against short-term occupants of public lands such as the festival. He told the Journal-Constitution on Monday that he had alerted the organizers to his “legal concerns”.

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

City council member Michael Julian Bond told The Post on Tuesday that while Live Nation hasn’t confirmed to him the reason for the cancellation, he can see why organizers would be reluctant to hold the event without firearms restrictions. fire: Piedmont Park’s lawn is “exposed on all sides, practically,” he said.

Bond compared the opening of Piedmont Park to the Route 91 Harvest festival produced by Live Nation in Las Vegas where, in 2017, a gunman opened fire and killed dozens of people. He said the proliferation of firearms, facilitated by the loosening of state restrictions, has an economic and social cost.

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

As Gun Ownership Rises, Georgia Seeks to Ease Restrictions: It’s the ‘Wild Wild West’

Festival security measures have come under scrutiny since a wave of crowds at rapper Travis Scott’s Astroworld festival in November killed 10 spectators and injured hundreds; a Post investigation found that most of the victims of the Houston event were in a heavily populated area. Morgan Milardo, chief executive of the Berklee Popular Music Institute, said she has seen an increase in security procedures implemented throughout the festival circuit this summer. Some tell performers and their team members what to do in an emergency, such as if they spot an incident taking place from the stage.

Festival security tends to be “pretty black and white”, according to Milardo. She said including specific safety measures in a runner – or a contractual set of requirements for a performer to perform in a venue, which local journalist George Chidi clocked in friday as a potential reason for Music Midtown’s impending cancellation – is common practice. What has changed here are the laws surrounding the place.

“It’s an open conversation in the music industry right now: how do we keep everyone safe?” said Milardo. “This stuff happens unfortunately, and it’s something we need to be aware of. Promoters are going out of their way to keep their events safe, and artists are going out of their way… it goes a long way.

Music Midtown’s cancellation is not the first time entertainment industry figures have drawn attention to controversial Georgia laws. In 2019, after Governor Brian Kemp (right) signed a ‘heartbeat bill’ that effectively banned most abortions, Hollywood filmmakers announced plans to boycott Georgia. The studios did not follow up on the threats, likely because of the state’s generous tax credit. Most studios remained silent again last year after Kemp enacted voting restrictions which, as CNBC noted at the time, drew criticism from major companies such as Coca-Cola and Delta. As the backlash continued to build, Major League Baseball moved its All-Star Game from Atlanta in protest.

Stacey Abrams, the Democratic candidate facing Kemp for the governorship of Georgia, tweeted a long statement Monday night, condemning his “dangerous and extreme gun program.” The canceled festival “is proof that his reckless policies are also endangering the Georgian economy,” the statement said, later noting that the incident would “cost the Georgian economy a proven $50 million.” Phoebe Bridgers, a Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter who was scheduled to perform at Music Midtown, retweeted Abrams’ post.

Kemp’s office did not respond to the Post’s request for comment.

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