The long-running Music Midtown Festival at Atlanta’s Piedmont Park, scheduled for September 17-18 and featuring headliners My Chemical Romance, Future, Jack White and Fallout Boy, has been canceled, according to a statement from festival organizers. The likely cause, industry sources say billboardare the recent changes to Georgia gun laws that prevent the festival from banning guns on public festival grounds.
“Hey Midtown fans – due to circumstances beyond our control, Music Midtown will no longer be held this year,” read a statement released on Music Midtown’s website. “We were looking forward to reuniting in September and hope that we can all enjoy the festival together again soon.”
While owner Live Nation gave no further details about the cancellation, pro-gun rights groups had been emailing and posting comments on the festival’s social media page for several months suggesting a possible legal situation Challenges from gun groups following a 2019 ruling that expanded a 2014 Georgia law that critics had dubbed a “guns everywhere law.”
This law — officially known as the Safe Carry Protection Act — expanded Georgia’s already permissive gun statutes to give residents the right to pack heat in bars, churches, schools and other private businesses with owner permission. It also expanded gun-carrying rights on public land like the city’s Pimont Park, although there was no legal consensus as to whether or not the law applied to private events on city property like Midtown Music.
That all changed in 2019, when the Georgia Supreme Court created new rules about what types of companies can and cannot display guns on public property. Five years earlier, a Georgia gun rights group filed a lawsuit against the Atlanta Botanical Garden after one of its members was briefly arrested for attempting to openly carry a holstered pistol into the garden, which is on public land.
As part of the 2019 ruling, the Georgia Supreme Court set a test for how the Safe Carry Protection Act should be enforced by private companies using public lands. Companies and groups that held certain types of long-term leases on state-owned land could legally ban guns, while companies with shorter leases could not. While the ruling favored the botanical gardens, it created legal problems for festivals like Music Midtown, which had short-term leases on city parks.
The festival that was launched in 1996 by Music promoter from Atlanta Alex Cooly, Peter Conlon and Alex HoffmanHe had long forbidden the participants to bring weapons into the event. In general, most major corporations will not hold a festival in a location that allows gun owners to carry their guns to an event, with an exception sometimes made for law enforcement. Some artist drivers actually have specific language stating that artists do not perform in cities or states where gun laws grant participants the right to bring guns into a concert hall.
While the 2019 Georgia Supreme Court ruling made it more difficult for private companies to deny licensed and armed citizens access to events on public property, it did not give the city of Atlanta the authority to enforce that decision or force the festival to allow guns at the event. Instead, the law created a way for armed individuals who also bought tickets to the festival to successfully sue promoters when they were denied entry to an event that took place on public land.
Additionally, local authorities are usually involved in security at major events and probably would not have been able to enforce an illegal gun ban, leaving the festival with little to no support to keep firearms out.
The cancellation of the 2022 festival gives Live Nation an extra year to weigh its options and potentially move the event to private land or lobby the state legislature to update the law when it takes place again.
Gun rights groups are also refining their own strategies to extend gun-carrying rights to concerts and festivals, and have begun identifying other Georgian events and venues on public lands to test the limits of Georgia’s gun laws.