Atlanta music fest is example of progress

After letting the field lay fallow for five years and an experiment with a smaller-scale event last year, it looks like Peter Conlon might have brought the music back to Midtown.


For those unfamiliar, Conlon is the president of Live Nation Atlanta, the company that put together last weekend’s Music Midtown festival in Atlanta’s Piedmont Park.

Something of a singular event in what has become a full field of festivals, Music Midtown is a compacted experience, utilizing two stages, two days and no programming overlaps. It means particular care must be taken with bookings.

The proper ratio of top-tier arena acts (Foo Fighters and Pearl Jam), nostalgic classics (Joan Jett, Adam Ant), up-and-comers (Neon Trees, LP) and solid contemporary radio acts (T.I., Florence and the Machine) must be established. That’s what Conlon and company do well. It’s what they did well during Music Midtown’s original incarnation, when it was a much larger, perhaps more unwieldy and more expensive affair.

Was every act excellent? Of course not. That is the nature of these things. It’s as much about the selection as the sounds.

Foo Fighters were incredible. Pearl Jam I found less-than-inspiring. Joan Jett, who rocked Bad Reputation with the Foos, remains iconic. Adam Ant, who wore a jacket and some sort of feathered pirate hat, was entertaining in sort of a train-wreck way. But the music, and musicians, ultimately take care of themselves.

Infrastructure takes a little more effort.

While certainly bigger than anything in the Augusta area, the Piedmont Park location remains a finite space. It was declared a sell-out by a reliable source – the festival’s PR company 360 Media – and the number given, in the form of an onstage shout-out by Ludacris, was 52,000.

Is it good news that Live Nation could attract 52,000 fans to an urban location? Yes. Good news for the company, the city and the music industry. Was that the number organizers should have aimed for? Perhaps not. Entry and exit was crowded and confusing. The natural valley that serves as the setting felt uncomfortable when filled for draw acts like the Foos and Pearl Jam. There were about half the number of portable toilets needed. That’s a significant issue.

It’s important to remember, however, that, although there was an event that shared the name for many years, Music Midtown, as it exists today, is a fairly new event. It’s growing. There are kinks to work out. Problems will be addressed. New ones may arise. That’s the nature of these things. But Music Midtown is an event that is moving forward – and that’s much better than falling behind.