2014 Music Midtown – saved by fabulous weather; park issues remain

By Maria Saporta

If 2013 was the worst of years for Music Midtown in Piedmont Park, 2014 had to be the best of years.

The weather could not have been more perfect. There was not a drop of rain. The days were warm, and the evenings were cool. As Stephan Jenkins, the lead singer of Third Eye Blind, observed between songs, it was the autumnal equinox – the last day of summer – a magical time of year.

For LiveNation Atlanta and promoter Peter Conlon, 2014 was the magical yin to last year’s yang – when Music Midtown was a rain-soaked event that turned the park’s meadow and grass fields into a mud pit several inches deep.

 2014 Music Midtown's market on Friday night, Sept. 19 (Photos by Maria Saporta)

2014 Music Midtown’s market on Friday night, Sept. 19 (Photos by Maria Saporta)

Thousands of people sloshed through the muddy mix of trash and debris that left the park in a state of intensive care for weeks, if not months, after the 2013 Music Midtown.

“I hope last year was the worst case scenario we will ever have,” Conlon said in an interview about three weeks before the 2014 Music Midtown.

Conlon must have been living right this past year because the weather could not have been more perfect for an outdoor music festival.

Personally, I found this year’s musical line-up to be less appealing than in most previous years (I’m proud to say that I have a perfect Music Midtown attendance record).

I am a strong believer in Atlanta having major festivals that help define our city and bring a special liveliness to places by welcoming people from all over the region.

Large crowds come to hear Third Eye Blind on Saturday, Sept. 20

Large crowds come to hear Third Eye Blind on Saturday, Sept. 20

But I must admit that I continue to be torn over the Music Midtown making its home in Piedmont Park. For at least one to two weeks before the festival, the communities around Piedmont Park are inconvenienced with closed streets, sidewalks and bicycle lanes with restricted access to the park.

Fences start lining up the edges of the park a week before the event, and the grumbling among neighbors can be heard as soon as the disruption begins.

I believe several of those issues can be smoothed out with more constructive relations between the city, LiveNation and the surrounding neighborhoods.

Music Midtown fans enjoy Bastille on Saturday afternoon

Music Midtown fans enjoy Bastille on Saturday afternoon

As a Midtown resident who lives close to Piedmont Park, I totally appreciate the special draw to our part of town. And I am more than happy to share my community with people from all over the metro area, the state and beyond.

But when it comes to Piedmont Park, I feel much more protective. Yes, the 2014 Music Midtown turned out as well as it possibly could thanks to an idyllic “Chamber of Commerce” weekend.

The problem is that when planning an outdoor festival weather, as Conlon knows only too well, is a crap shoot, a gamble – especially in a city like Atlanta where the weather can change on a dime.

Greg Allman and his band attracts a large crowd up on Oak Hill

Greg Allman and his band attracts a large crowd up on Oak Hill

Putting on a festival for nearly 160,000 people over two days in the city’s signature park, which already suffers from an amazing amount of use and overuse, begs the question about whether Atlanta should have other places – perhaps spaces that are less sensitive to being overused – providing some reprieve to Piedmont Park.

It is not just the grass or the meadow in Piedmont Park. Even on a beautiful weekend like the one on Sept. 19 and Sept. 20, thousands of people stomping on the dirt, making the ground so hard that the trees have a difficult time being able to get rain water. There is a need to aerate the soil so the trees can get the moisture they need.

One issue that has come to light is that whenever a group rents out Piedmont Park, that money just ends up in the city’s general fund. It is not reinvested in the park to maintain the fragile green space that we have. Those funds are not even set aside to be included in the budget of the city’s Department of Parks and Recreation.

Piedmont Park on Saturday, Sept. 27 one week after Music Midtown on Oak Hill

Piedmont Park on Saturday, Sept. 27 one week after Music Midtown on Oak Hill

To listen to Conlon, the choice is clear. It’s either having Music Midtown in Piedmont Park or not having Music Midtown at all.

“There is no place to do these events other than Piedmont Park,” Conlon said. “We are under-parked as a city.”

For this reason, I believe the longer-term solution would be for the city to actively plan for another park location or locations that could welcome a major music festival and other mega events.

Every weekend there are multiple events in Piedmont Park – large and small – almost all requiring people to bring their cars into the heart of the park – which is supposed to be off-limit to cars.

Area where the 2014 Music Midtown market was held

Area where the 2014 Music Midtown market was held

It is time to spread activities across parks throughout the city. Charge a premium for events in Piedmont Park, and let the park keep those revenues for its own maintenance operations. Let every other city park be able to generate its own revenue by being able to host their fair share of festivals.

Let the natural market forces of supply and demand come into play when it comes to festivals and events in our parks. Maybe the inconvenience of Music Midtown would be easier to accept if there were fewer events every week in Piedmont Park.

Still as much as we’d like to be able to control Mother Nature, Music Midtown will always be vulnerable to the fickle weather patterns of Atlanta — and for Piedmont Park, that risk is a high price for our prized park to pay.

The Piedmont Park meadow where thousands had been just one week earlier

The Piedmont Park meadow where thousands had been just one week earlier

The meadow at Piedmont Park one week after the 2014 Music Midtown - a far cry from the situation in 2013

The meadow at Piedmont Park one week after the 2014 Music Midtown – a far cry from the situation in 2013

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.

6 replies
  1. Living the Dream says:

    To quote a very quotable Atlanta resident:  “Hosting Music Midtown in Piedmont Park is akin to hosting the Superbowl in the Grady HS stadium.” 5 words:  Ft McPherson.  Move over Tyler.Report

    Reply
  2. Tim Langan says:

    MM occurs at a rough time in that giant lawns don’t have time to recover as they are about to go dormant. They will not look good again until much later next year. This spring and early summer the Meadow looked awful and really hasn’t been the same since MM started in the Park. And the pictures posted with Maria’s article don’t show the large mud area left behind. Based on the size of this year’s crowd, the park could have experienced record damage (worst than last year) if the weather had not be perfect. I like Music Midtown, but I can’t believe the choice is this level of wear & tear to our top park or no festival at all.Report

    Reply
  3. Gogreeno says:

    @ Living the Dream:  What
    Arts Festival? I couldn’t get past the “Police State” on 10th and
    Charles Allen to go this year. Who do the police protect in this
    city?  Seriously, these people were
    dressed as APD but acted more like hired bouncers for Music Midtown. I was not
    allowed to cross at the main entrance crosswalk. The bouncers were everywhere,
    wearing APD vests and uniforms and apparently with the authority to cite the
    festival goers. Shame on them and shame on our Mayor.  No wonder our politicians received an F for
    corruption (This year Georgia got the worst score in the country from the
    Center for Public Integrity’s report on ethics, transparency, and
    corruption).  Kasim gReed sold out the people’s
    park (for a lousy 400K) and stole the Green Concert from the Piedmont Park
    Conservancy (they’ve lost millions) to line his and Live Nation’s pockets. Now, Conlan/gReed have
    successfully bullied the lovely Arts Fest into bankruptcy and will continue to
    shove more than 160,000 people and their pee (I’ve seen the pictures and
    experienced the public urination on my street) down Midtown, Ansley, VaHi, and Morningside
    taxpayer’s throats. Time to call on all lawmakers to see who needs to be
    flushed… no pun intended.Report

    Reply

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