The two sources said that festival owners were concerned about a threat of a lawsuit from gun owners if they decided to hold the festival with firearms restrictions in place. There was also a worry that some of the artists would refuse to perform if weapons were permitted, one of the sources said.
“We were looking forward to reuniting in September and hope we can all get back to enjoying the festival together again soon,” the statement said.
The cancellation is a major blow to the city of Atlanta’s tourism trade and the city’s mystique as a music mecca. Other annual music festivals that come to Atlanta each year include the rock-oriented Shaky Knees, which is set for Central Park in May, 2023; the hip-hop/R&B One MusicFest at Central Park in October; and the eclectic SweetWater 420 Fest in the spring at Centennial Olympic Park.
Music Midtown, which originally ran from 1994 to 2005 in different locations around Atlanta, returned in 2011 at Piedmont Park, where it has drawn big-name acts over the years such as Pearl Jam, Foo Fighters, Coldplay, Eminem, Van Halen, Post Malone and Bruno Mars. About 50,000 people attended last year, when Miley Cyrus, Jonas Brothers and Maroon 5 performed. This year’s now-nixed lineup included Jack White, Future and Fall Out Boy.
Peter Conlon, who oversees the festival for Live Nation, declined to comment about the cancellation Monday.
News of the possibility that Music Midtown could be canceled was reported first by George Chidi, an independent Atlanta journalist, on Friday.
Atlanta City Council President Doug Shipman said it was “a sad day” for the city after the cancellation was announced.
“Public policy has real impacts and in this case economic and social implications on a great tradition,” Shipman Posted on Twitter.
Georgia law allows guns at public parks, and preempts local governments from passing local gun laws stricter than the state’s.
Music Midtown has typically banned weapons “of any kind” from being brought into Piedmont Park. A court ruling earlier this year, however, could call into question their ability to legally enforce that rule.
Nearly a decade ago, Phillip Evans, a pro-gun activist and blogger, and the gun rights group GA2A sued the Atlanta Botanical Garden over its no-gun policy, arguing that while the garden is a private entity, it sits on public land and therefore should allow firearms.
In 2019, the Georgia Supreme Court ruled that the botanical garden had the right to ban guns because it has a long-term lease to use its land; An appeals court affirmed that ruling earlier this year.
Evans told the AJC on Monday that he did not take legal action against Music Midtown or threaten a lawsuit, but he made organizers including Live Nation, the company that helps put on the festival, aware of his legal concerns. He argued that since the festival only uses the public park for a couple of days and does not have a long-term lease, it does not have the right to prohibit guns.
“The law is on our side. And we spent a lot of time to make sure it was on our side,” said Jerry Henry of GA2A, the gun rights group that filed the litigation that triggered the 2019 ruling. “So if Music Midtown tried to restrict licensed firearms owners from bringing guns to the festival, it would have been a violation of the law.”
Henry said his group isn’t celebrating Music Midtown’s decision and said he “hates to see it happen.”
“We don’t want anyone canceling anything. What we want is to defend ourselves and our families,” he said.
With the November election about three months away, Democrats were quick to blame Republicans for a raft of pro-gun legislation that included a 2022 law to roll back a license requirement to carry concealed weapons.
“Music Midtown’s cancellation is because of Republicans controlling every branch of government in Georgia and using that power to pass regressive and dangerous laws,” said Ruwa Romman, a Democratic candidate for a Gwinnett-based House seat.
— Staff reporter Maya T. Prabhu contributed to this report.