Loving Music Midtown and Piedmont Park shouldn’t be mutually exclusive

By Maria Saporta

Such conflicting emotions.

I love Music Midtown. I have attended every Music Midtown since the festival was launched in 1994, and I have followed the event as it has hop-scotched across town to four different locations and as it has changed from a springtime festival to a fall event.

When Music Midtown went on a six-year hiatus, I lamented Atlanta’s loss.

Now Music Midtown is back — having made Piedmont Park its home for the past three years. To listen to organizer, Peter Conlon, the scaled-down version is doing quite well and Piedmont Park is the perfect spot.

That’s where the mixed emotions come in.

On the plus side, I personally could not ask for a more convenient location. I am more than happy to put up with any inconveniences of closed streets, increased traffic and tens of thousands of people descending on our  neighborhood to listen to music, enjoy one of the most beautiful places in Atlanta and share those once-in-a-lifetime experiences with others.

But on the negative side, I can’t ignore the damage that the festival has on the park.

Fans listen to Phoenix at Music Midtown on Friday evening (Photo: Maria Saporta)

Fans listen to Phoenix at Music Midtown on Friday evening (Photo: Maria Saporta)

When the rain poured down on Saturday, large portions of the grassy meadows and lawns facing Music Midtown’s three stages were turned into big gushy marshes of mud.

How unfortunate that it rained on the biggest day of Music Midtown — but it’s not new for the event to have bad weather, and the rain certainly didn’t keep the crowds away.

But the rain did damage the green space in the park. And unlike the festival’s former locations, there is much more grass and much less pavement in Piedmont Park — making it much more vulnerable to the trampling of thousands of feet.

As best I can remember, festival organizers are responsible for returning the park back to its pristine condition. Yet even with deep pockets and great intentions, it will take time for the grass to take root and be accessible to the public.

After the rain stopped on Saturday, fans turned out for Red Hot Chili Peppers (Photo: Amy Wenk)

After the rain stopped on Saturday, fans turned out for Red Hot Chili Peppers (Photo: Amy Wenk)

Another concern is the total disregard by Music Midtown patrons to respect the park and to keep it clean.

The amount of trash left behind on the ground — creating a grotesque mix of mud and debris at the end of Saturday night — was disgusting, showing how oblivious music fans were to their environment.

In their defense, the number of garbage and recycling receptacles were few and far between giving people few options of what to do with plastic bottles, cans and trash.

By comparison, when the Piedmont Park Conservancy used to put on its “Green Concerts” — (remember Dave Matthews, Paul McCartney and the Eagles) — great attention was made for people to clean up after themselves. Those concerts were used as teaching moments on how we can live in a more environmentally-sensitive way.

Music Midtown fans sort through trash Saturday night (Photo: Amy Wenk)

Music Midtown fans sort through trash Saturday night (Photo: Amy Wenk)

The Green Concerts also raised about $1 million each for the Conservancy — money that was reinvested in the park and its expansion to the north.

What is unclear to me is how much the Piedmont Park Conservancy is receiving by hosting Music Midtown. What I do know is that since the return of Music Midtown, the Green Concerts appear to have been discontinued.

I also know that the previous community that hosted Music Midtown — the area around the Civic Center going toward North Avenue and Renaissance Parkway — received direct cash contributions to maintain their parks and that the close-in residents received passes to the festival.

Close of up Music Midtown trash and mud (Photo: Amy Wenk)

Close of up Music Midtown trash and mud (Photo: Amy Wenk)

Back when there was an active citizens group looking out for Piedmont Park, we used to say we were loving the park to death. There was a sincere attempt by the City of Atlanta and the Friends of Piedmont Park to limit the number of events and festivals in the park.

Now from early spring to late fall, every weekend there are multiple events in the park — often making it almost off-limits for nearby residents who want to ride their bicycles or walk their dogs or simply be enveloped by an oasis of green in the middle of the city.

Because I love listening to live music outdoors, I certainly support Music Midtown. I thought this year’s line-up was particularly good for the two-day version of the festival. Cake was fabulous — I would have been perfectly happy if they had been the Friday night headliner.

More Music Midtown memories — Amy Wenk and I after Friday night's Cake concert (Photo: David Luse)

More Music Midtown memories — Amy Wenk and I after Friday night’s Cake concert (Photo: David Luse)

Saturday night’s headliner — the Red Hot Chili Peppers — is one of my favorite bands. I knew it was going to be great show when the Peppers played “The Other Side” early on. I couldn’t stop singing it all night.

Other highlights for me were the bands — Phoenix and Capital Cities — both bands that are up-and-comers. That’s one of the reasons I love Music Midtown — it’s an opportunity to discover many new artists and to stay current. For example, I remember being able to right up front to the stage to see Jack Johnson play before he became so well-known.

I have so many great Music Midtown memories — dating back to its inception when the festival was nestled between Peachtree and West Peachtree, and 10th and 11th streets. One year it moved downtown to Baker Street before finding a multi-year home around the Civic Center.

Today Music Midtown is creating new memories for younger generations of people — some who weren’t even born in 1994. And that is cause for celebration.

But please, let us find a way to love our music, our precious green space and our city all at the same time.

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25 comments
PublicSpace
PublicSpace

Music Midtown needs to move it has no business in Piedmont Park or any massive event that takes over OUR PUBLIC PARK, limits access to a huge chunk of the park for days before, during and after the event and then proceeds to destroy the citizens park. It has to go no question about it. Put Music Midtown back on an empty lot again or in some muddy hole where it belongs. No event should take over a public park and restrict access to it period. The park isn't intended nor designed to be a concert venue to these promoters that want to make money on the public's dime. Move it out of Piedmont Park. If we care about our park then we need to put a stop to these events taking it over. 

Postman3000
Postman3000

FYI I asked one of the beer cooler vendors where the trash bins were and he said "the ground". Good music bad organization. I'm sure they'll blame it on the rain. PS I heard people were in line to get in for up to 3 hrs. Crazy!

HashBrown1
HashBrown1

I'm sorry, but don't pin this one on attendees. I was one of them. There was no crowd control, no places to recycle, a desperate shortage of toilets, little-to-no signage (leading to crowds of people wandering everywhere), and completely ill equipped volunteers. Total organizational disaster.

Question Man
Question Man

The damage to Piedmont Park is an outrage and the trash is disgusting, but wouldn't Ike have asked:

--It's a public park but why does Music Midtown--a profit-seeking, commercial venture--get to close down a public park and charge people to enter their own park? 

--Is this the latest in Atlanta "public-private partnerships, with the private sector voraciously and destructively sucking at the public teat while the Parks Commissioner and the Piedmont Park Conservancy are asleep at the wheel?

--What about the fact that Piedmont Park was a construction site for days before the event (and who knows how many days after?), during which the public's enjoyment of the Park was materially compromised?  

--If the Saporta Report is so interested in Piedmont Park, what about an Open Records request to find out who the money goes to, how much money is involved, the costs to the City and the Conservancy, the remediation obligations and plans, etc., and then explain to your readership more about this poorly thought-out, more poorly implemented, and altogether smelly deal?

--Why have conflicting emotions when Piedmont Park is treated like a trash dump?

Question Man
Question Man

The damage to Piedmont Park is an outrage and the trash is disgusting, but wouldn't Ike have asked:

--It's a public park but why does Music Midtown--a profit-seeking, commercial venture--get to close down a public park and charge people to enter their own park? 

--Is this the latest in Atlanta "public-private partnerships, with the private sector voraciously and destructively sucking at the public teat while the Parks Commissioner and the Piedmont Park Conservancy are asleep at the wheel?

--What about the fact Piedmont Park was a construction site for days before the event (and who knows how many days after?), all during which the public's enjoyment of the Park is materially compromised?  

--If the Saporta Report is so interested in Piedmont Park, what about an Open Records requests to find out who the money goes to, how much money is involved, the costs to the City, the remediation agreements and plans, etc. and then explain to us more about this poorly thought-out, more poorly implemented, and altogether smelly deal?

haikupoet
haikupoet

I still kind of mourn the demise of the Arts Festival of Atlanta, seems I remember it was forced to move downtown due to consideration of the park ... ? Is Atlantic Station where Cirque du Soleil performs big enough?

Midtowner too
Midtowner too

Midtown Vet - Maria raised a valid and balanced points in her article.   Your description of her position is basically a straw man argument.   She does enjoy the festivals and visitors to Piedmont Park.   She said so.  It's also a fair to raise the question about whether a particular festival is too large and hard on a park like Piedmont, as well as questioning if there are simply too many festivals in that particular park. 

And as muddy as the end of the PRR was this year, check out how long the Meadow was out of commision afterward compared to even Music Midtown 2011 (which was much easier on the park than this past weekend but still closed sections for 6 months).   3 hours of wear by the PRR crowd after heavy rains (where they were limited this year to where they could roam) is nothing compared to Music Midtown's two days.   Notice that you won't hear the Conservancy say the same good things about Conlon & co. that they immediately said about the Atlanta Track Club, either.  I hope Live Nation does the right thing this time.  

If they get a free pass, I wouldn't count on it.   

The Green Concerts (or even 2011's Music Midtown setup) were a better fit for Piedmont Park, particularly considering all the other large festivals held there.      


Matt
Matt

I would not worry about lasting damage from the rain & foot traffic.  Bermuda grass is incredibly resilient and it will come back faster than you think.  

My complaint is that the space is simply not large enough nor are the amenities sufficient to support the size of the crowd.  The main corridors at the top of the hill between the vendor tents, port-o-potties and food trucks are always clogged, year after year, and of course there are never enough port-o-potties.  Once again this year we had people urinating along the fences, under trees, and wherever they could find a secluded corner.  I'll admit I was one of them.  Sorry, I can't hold it for an hour when I'm drinking, nor would I want to miss an hour of music waiting in line anyway.  And by Saturday night the stench coming from those things is inhuman.  I honestly don't know how people can stomach it.  I gagged just walking by as someone opened the door. 

Seems like these complaints arise every year, but nothing changes. 

But as usual the beer lines were short, so good job there I guess.

Midtown Veteran
Midtown Veteran

This column is the epitome of all that is wrong with the current Midtown culture: I like the IDEA of living in the heart of a big city and having great events, but the actual events are so messy/noisy/intrusive that they need to move elsewhere. Oh look, our grass is trampled -- how long does it take for grass to re-grow? It is called Piedmont PARK, not Piedmont MUSEUM, and there seems to be delusional confusion about the different ways that people interact with a PARK vs. a MUSEUM. Finally, no event should be removed from Piedmont Park over concerns about grass until the Peachtree Road Race is evicted. The meadow was a war zone on July 4, 2013, not a blade of grass in sight. Thankfully, grass regrows. Unfortunately, yuppies complain anew.

Paul in Chamblee
Paul in Chamblee

Music Midtown is costing the Consrvancy money. They (and our donations) are repairing the property afterward. Conlon is doing bare minimum required in the contract. He also interfered in the final Green Concert, after profitable DMB/Allman Brothers and Paul McCartney benefit shows. He turned the Eagles show into an unprofitable affair.

I too love a big concert in the park but Conlon's oversold event has outgrown Piedmont. The damage this year is extensive. There are too many festivals there and no festival damages the park like Music Midtown.

Please keep reporting on this issue.

TomTomaka
TomTomaka

I attended the mud-fest on Saturday. Peter Conlon and Live Nation made clear the priorities of the event promoters. Amidst a shortage of waste disposal containers, port-o-lets and crowd control (I waited in line for over an hour to enter the Park), I have never attended a concert with such a propensity of places to buy alcohol. We were never more than a two-minute walk from a beer, wine or margarita tent. As the City and the Piedmont Park Conservancy assess the damages from this year's event, they should consider how the promoters can re-orient this event to the music and not on getting blitzed.

parkvolunteer
parkvolunteer

Why isn't back on the streets of Midtown?  I thought that is where it was located for several years because of the damage it causes to the park. 

Anonymous
Anonymous

I'm pretty sure the Music Midtown folks pay the City of Atlanta for the usual event permit, but the Conservancy does not receive any money from the festival organizers.  Which would make it a shame for the (non-profit) conservancy to have to foot the bill for repairs in the aftermath of an event that does not benefit the Conservancy or the park in any way.

parkfriend
parkfriend

My understanding is that the organizers do NOT have to repair the damage. That is left to the park and the Concervancy to do. The festival is, basically, forced on the park (Atlanta back room politics involving old friends Peter Conlon and Mayor Reed) and they are left holding the bag after.

Candigirl
Candigirl

@Question Man The Conservancy was not "asleep at the wheel."  It has no authority over what events the City permits in Piedmont Park, nor does it have control over what those event organizers do.  The Conservancy provided advice and guidance to the festival organizers.  As is the case with event organizers, Music Midtown could take - or ignore - that advice.  



Landscape Architect
Landscape Architect

@TomTomaka I agree.  Alcohol culture is despicable.  Many of the people attending the event were so trashed they couldn't walk straight.  The entire park smelled like cannabis, yet not a single person smoking appeared out of control of their bodies in the same way as alcoholics.They also carried a calmer, more-controlled demeanor and managed to not piss themselves or start fights.  Perhaps cannabis is a safer alternative to alcohol.

gtalum06
gtalum06

@TomTomaka In response to the shortage of port-o-lets, I've never seen so many people (obviously a bit inebriated) blatantly peeing on trees, fences, etc. It was pretty disgusting. I say replace at least one beer tent with another bunch of port-o-lets to avoid that disgusting mess.

kuhnsone
kuhnsone

 @parkfriendThe City of Atlanta makes all permitting decisions as it pertains to events in city parks.  As is typical with events in Piedmont, the Conservancy has and will continue to offer counsel on best use and practices for staging events, load-in, load-out and repairs.  The event organizer is responsible for 100% of the cost of remediation.  We are focused on a safe load-out and are all in the process of finalizing a remediation plan.  The City and event organizer will be installing temporary fencing while repairs are being made.  We ask that you respect the temporary fencing and continue to be safe while visiting the park 

http://www.piedmontpark.org/

kuhnsone
kuhnsone

@parkfriend Can you cite your sources? I'm just wondering if in the event these are actual facts, why then are more people not coming together and why would the Conservancy, Friends of Piedmont Park and the neighborhood communities ever stand for this? I personally attended, loved it, own a home on 6th St but if what you say is true, I won't donate nor endorse candidates who support this type of green space negligence.  If ticket sales alone totaled over $11M, there is room to replace what they have destroyed.


Question Man
Question Man

@Candigirl: You seem to know much of what the Piedmont Park Conservancy is doing, so would you mind sharing with us specifics about the advice and guidance the Conservancy provided to the event organizers? Am I correct you know of letters and documents sent by the Conservancy to the organizers, and that you know of other efforts (e.g., meetings held between the two)?  

Matt
Matt

@sbgob82 @TomTomaka It's like that every year. Last year there was a trailer near the Park Drive entrance where you could find about 10-15 guys lined up urinating at any given time. The year before that, those huge magnolias near the vendor tents were really popular because you could be completely hidden inside the foliage (I see they've since been pruned so it's a less popular spot now).  This year, the row of fencing near the Roxy stage was a popular area to take a whiz.  Yes, it is disgusting, but it's become as much a part of this festival as $10 beers, not enough food, and world-class musical entertainment.  I saw last year in response to the complaints that Conlon said there were actually plenty of port-o-lets if you knew where to look.  He was wrong then and it was still a problem this year. 

Gogreeno
Gogreeno

Yes, it is time for the neighborhood communities to join hands on this issue. It is the only way to let Mayor Reed know that we will not support anymore for-profit "festivals" on the park's back. Whether or not Live Nation pays for the remediation, we all lose use of "our" park and are forced to co-exist with restrictive corrals and "keep off the grass" signs for the months to come. Please write all of the City Council and let them see the disgusting pictures in this article. Their votes on a comprehensive and fair parks ordinance is what we need to save "our"park.

Landscape Architect
Landscape Architect

@kuhnsone From Conservancy's home page:  "Regarding the park’s post-event condition.   Music Midtown's large crowds mixed with Saturday's rainy conditions have had an obvious effect on portions of the Meadow and Oak Hill.

The City of Atlanta makes all permitting decisions as it pertains to events in city parks.  As is typical with events in Piedmont, the Conservancy has and will continue to offer counsel on best use and practices for staging events, load-in, load-out and repairs.  The event organizer is responsible for 100% of the cost of remediation.  We are focused on a safe load-out and are all in the process of finalizing a remediation plan.  The City and event organizer will be installing temporary fencing while repairs are being made.  We ask that you respect the temporary fencing and continue to be safe while visiting the park."

Candigirl
Candigirl

@Landscape Architect @kuhnsoneThe time and energy that it takes for the non-profit Conservancy to deal with these problems is a real cost.  It's no small matter.  Please also keep in mind that all that the Conservancy can do is recommend the best way for remediation of the park.  It cannot force anyone to use best practices.  So, there is a risk that the "fix" might not be the best one, or the one that is in the best interest of the everyday users of the park.

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  1. […] Atlanta journalist Maria Saporta wrote a column about her experience at Music Midtown this year and described the park on Saturday as “big gushy marshes of mud.” […]