Arrested Development’s Speech fears ‘insane’ gun laws after Music Midtown cancellation
By John Ruch
Arrested Development, Atlanta’s pioneering Southern hip hop group, brought its message of peace to Music Midtown many times over the years. But now frontman Speech is expressing his outrage over “insane” gun laws that appear to have triggered the concert festival’s cancellation.
Speech says it’s “really sad” for musicians to lose money and connection with their fans to a gun-carrying urge that he describes as pretty much the antithesis of music.
“Music is a unifying force, and by nature it’s able to accomplish unity and peace in ways that other things don’t. And I’m including religion and politics and nation borders,” he said in a phone interview this week. “Music has a way of uniting people even if they speak a different language, if they’re from totally different political backgrounds, cultural backgrounds — it’s a unifier. And to put guns in the mix of a music festival — it just absolutely makes no type of sense.”
Arrested Development, a Grammy-winner that remains popular three decades after its hit debut album, was not scheduled to play this year’s Music Midtown. The group just wrapped up a tour in Greece and 25 U.K. cities and is heading back to Europe shortly.
“All developed nations that don’t have these same mass-shooting issues,” noted Speech about America’s expansive gun laws. “So it’s even more disheartening when you realize it doesn’t have to be this way.”
Several years of Georgia gun law changes resulted in Music Midtown — and many other festivals in publicly owned parks — being unable to ban firearms. Exactly what impact that had on the Music Midtown cancellation remains unclear. Promoters have denied that firearms prohibitions in musician contracts were a factor. Insurance coverage is another speculation.
Speech said Arrested Development has considered adding a gun prohibition to its concert contracts, but the group never has because the law can trump such deals. “It’s tough because we understand, especially in the United States shows, how the promoters’ hands are tied by local laws,” he said.
Whatever happened behind the scenes at Music Midtown, the cancellation has become a political firestorm over gun laws as the Congressional mid-term and Georgia gubernatorial elections approach. Stacey Abrams, the Democratic candidate for governor, is blasting the situation as a case of extreme laws having major economic impact and blaming Republican Brian Kemp, who this year successfully advocated for a law allowing guns to be carried without a permit.
Speech, too, says he is outraged by the effect of “what I consider to be insane, insistent gun laws about allowing guns into a space where there’s really no need for regular civilians to have guns in this space.”
He calls Music Midtown “a cultural staple for what we are as a city,” and its loss a major blow for artists, especially the locals who would have been showcased.
That goes double in a year where the music industry is reorienting in the wake of the COVID-19 closures, he noted, and there’s an even bigger picture of smaller venues struggling. Spots like the Highlander and the Drunken Unicorn recently closed or are rumored to be on the way out. A new push to more easily shutter nightclubs as “nuisances” got resistance at this week’s Atlanta City Council meeting from rappers Killer Mike and 2 Chainz.
“To me, it really lends itself to how you vote, because these laws really do affect us as a city, as music lovers,” Speech said. “Whether it’s this gun law in this particular case, or whether it’s just various laws that are edging out smaller club owners and people that really love the arts in [favor] of doing bigger developments or things that may be more lucrative as a city.”
Violence rears its ugly head from time to time in every music scene, as it does anywhere human beings gather. Speech recalls occasional fights at Arrested Development shows in the group’s early career playing nightclubs, and one incident where there was a shooting that forced security to rush them out of a club through a kitchen.
But times have changed from such one-off incidents. Speech can still recall days when concert festivals had no metal detectors or similar security. “It was an unwritten, unsaid law that you’re not going to be bringing guns to something like this,” he said.
“To us, it’s insane,” he said of today’s world, which has included “attendees just mowed down” by a madman at a 2017 Las Vegas country music concert — which, like Music Midtown, was promoted by Live Nation. “There’s too many incidents where our safety is at risk as artists,” he said. “To be honest, even in our group, I think about it, I’m sure that others do, too… that a show can end in horror because there seems to be no cap on what can happen wrong in our county in terms of these mass murders.”
Whatever the specific impact of expanded Georgia gun laws on Music Midtown’s decision, Speech agreed that it has opened a can of worms that may inspire more people to bring guns to shows where they know they can do it. It’s on his mind as Arrested Development will tour the U.S. later this year, starting in North Carolina. Asked if his group might rethink shows at publicly owned venues, he said, “Definitely. It does give me a pause, without a question.”
“The people’s lives are well more worth this fixation and idolatry of guns being the solution to violence,” Speech said. “And of course, our lives as a group as well.”
Arrested Development came to fame as a peace-and-love companion to some of the era’s fists-and-gunsmoke gangsta rap. Speech said he’s been thinking about a track off their debut album that was inspired by “a lot of these things that we’re speaking about now — the sheer violence that gets handed off as part of American culture.”
“And the song is called Fishin’ 4 Religion, and one of the lyrics I wrote reminds me of what I feel about this gun law,” he said.
On the dock I sit in silence,
Staring at a sea that’s full of violence,
And I’m scared to put my line in that water.