Atlanta’s Music Midtown festival canceled after court ruling made it illegal to keep guns out of event
The long-running Music Midtown festival at Piedmont Park in Atlanta, scheduled for Sept. 17-18 with headliners My Chemical Romance, Future, Jack White and Fallout Boy, has been called off, according to a statement issued by festival organizers. The likely cause, industry sources tell Billboard, are recent changes to Georgia gun laws that prevent the festival from banning guns on to the publicly owned festival grounds.
“Hey Midtown fans — due to circumstances beyond our control, Music Midtown will no longer be taking place this year,” a statement posted on Music Midtown’s website reads. “We were looking forward to reuniting in September and hope we can all get back to enjoying the festival together again soon.”
While owner Live Nation didn’t provide any additional details for the cancellation, pro-gun rights groups had been emailing and posting comments of the festival’s social media page for several months, hinting at potential legal challenges from gun groups following a 2019 ruling that expanded a 2014 Georgia law that critics had dubbed the “Guns Everywhere” law.
That law – officially known as the “Safe Carry Protection Act” expanded Georgia’s already permissive gun statues to grant residents the right to pack heat in bars, churches, schools and other private businesses with the owners permission. It also expanded gun carry rights on publicly owned land, like the city-owned Piedmont Park, although there was no legal consensus on whether or not the law applied to private events on city property, like Midtown Music.
That changed in 2019 when the Georgia Supreme Court set new rules on what types of businesses could and couldn’t bar guns on publicly owned land. Five years earlier, a Georgia gun rights group filed a lawsuit against the Atlanta Botanical Garden after one of its members was briefly detained for attempting to openly carry a holstered pistol into the garden, which is located on publicly owned land.
As part of the 2019 ruling, Georgia’s high court set a test for how the Safe Carry Protection Act was to be enforced by private businesses using public land. Businesses and groups that held certain types of long-term leases for state-owned land could legally bar guns, while businesses with shorter term leases could not. While the ruling favored the Botanical Garden, it created legal issues for festivals like Music Midtown that held short term leases for city parks sites.
The festival, launched in 1996 by Atlanta-based music promoters Alex Cooley, Peter Conlon and Alex Hoffman, had long barred attendees from bringing guns into the event. In general, most major companies will not host a festival in a location that permits gun owners to carry their weapons into an event, with an exception sometimes made for law enforcement. Some artist riders actually have specific language saying that artist will not perform in cities or states where gun laws grant attendees the right to bring weapons inside of a concert venue.
While the 2019 ruling by the Georgia Supreme Court made it more difficult for private companies to deny licensed and armed citizens access to events on publicly owned land, it did not give the city of Atlanta the authority to enforce this decision or force the festival to allow guns into the event. Instead the law created a pathway for gun carrying individuals, who had also purchased tickets to the festival, to successfully sue event organizers if they were denied entry to an event taking place on public property.
Additionally local authorities are typically involved in security for large scale events and likely would not have been able to enforce an illegal gun ban, so the festival would have had little to no backup to keep firearms out.
Cancelling the 2022 festival gives Live Nation an additional year to weigh its options and potentially move the event to privately held land or to lobby the state legislature to update the law when it is back in session.
Gun rights groups are also refining their own strategies for expanding gun carry rights into concerts and festivals and have begun identifying other Georgia events and venues on public land to test the boundaries of Georgia’s gun laws.