Perfect attendance. I have been to every Music Midtown since the launch of the festival in 1994.
Actually, I’m rather proud of the fact that I’ve witnessed the evolution, the hiatus and the rebirth of Music Midtown – one of the largest festivals that takes place in the city. As best I can count, that’s 23 years of Music Midtown.
The 2023 festival gave me a chance to reflect on how Music Midtown has been an important part of my life — an event I have enjoyed with my children, who were only 6 and 4 when we all attended the first festival. It was wonderful to share the musical experience once again with them this year at Piedmont Park.
So, readers, please indulge me as I reflect on Music Midtown, its relationship with the State of Georgia, the City of Atlanta, Piedmont Park, the Midtown community and our quality of life.
For starters, there are few things I enjoy more than going to music festivals, listening to music outdoors and watching the amazing diversity of people. I believe it’s one of the best ways to experience city life, and I bristle when people are overly sensitive to the issues that come with such major events – traffic, noise, temporary inconveniences, etc. Of course, we should continually work on ways to minimize those disruptions with a live-and-let-live attitude.
Let’s start with the nuts and bolts.
No guns or weapons were allowed into Music Midtown. There were reports Music Midtown canceled the festival in 2022 because it could not figure out how to circumvent a state law that allows “guns everywhere” on public property. Reportedly, musical artists didn’t want to perform at a festival where guns were freely permitted, which makes total sense to me.
Walking into the 2023 festival, we all had to go through metal detectors. Mark Trammell, one of the security managers at the gate I entered over the weekend, kept me abreast of various issues. Someone had been pick-pocketing cell phones. Others tried to get in with fake badges.
By 4 p.m. on Sunday, no one had tried to enter Music Midtown with a gun or weapon. If someone had tried to enter Music Midtown with a gun, security folks would have sent them to the 12th Street gate, where the weapon would have been locked up until the owner exited the festival.
“People come from all over — Chicago, New York, Philadelphia — to see the musical artists they love,” Trammell said. “They come from miles away.”
Despite the intermittent rain that dampened the 2023 festival, Trammell said having Music Midtown at Piedmont Park added to the ambiance because people could enjoy the “beautiful scenery.”
Then there was the issue of mud, caused by several downpours with thousands of people stomping all over the grass in Piedmont Park. Mark Banta, president of the Piedmont Park Conservancy, spent time over the weekend personally assessing the situation.
On Monday, he forwarded the official statement from Conservancy that said it was “actively monitoring conditions in the festival footprint as moveout and cleanup continue.” The Conservancy plans to collaborate with the city and event organizations to initiate the restoration plan.
“The Conservancy’s role is to advise on best management practices to expedite the recovery of muddy turf areas,” the statement read. “As always, repair efforts are paid for by event organizers as determined by the experts at the Conservancy and the City of Atlanta.”
The Conservancy went on to say: “Initial assessments indicate the impact on the park is consistent with anticipated mud based on the amount of rainfall and will be restored in the coming weeks.”
I reached out to event organizers to get their thoughts, but I had not received a response as of press time.
My dear friend, Amy Wenk, and I attended our first Music Midtown together in 2013 when we saw “The Red Hot Chili Peppers” during a torrential downpour that created a mess of trash and mud that plagued the park for months. It led me to write a column: “Loving Music Midtown and Piedmont Park shouldn’t be mutually exclusive.”
From what I understand, there’s an art and a science to good turf management of Piedmont Park’s green spaces. If the turf is in relatively good shape before an event like Music Midtown, it is possible for the grounds to quickly recover as long as the roots are not removed. Apparently, the response in 2013 was to remove much of the root system and replace it with sod.
We’re in the midst of a leadership transition at the Piedmont Park Conservancy – Banta is retiring, and Doug Widener will be the new CEO beginning in late October.
As I’ve said before, weighing the plus and minuses of hosting a major music festival in a signature city park is an urban balancing act. The City and the Conservancy also need to do everything they can to not jeopardize the health of Piedmont Park all year long for a three-day festival. On the other hand, urban parks are meant to be places for people to enjoy, and there clearly was an overabundance of joy at the 2023 Music Midtown and every other music festival I’ve attended.
So, what were the highlights for me of this year’s Music Midtown?
There were at least three that deserve special mention.
Billie Eilish was amazing — having grown as an artist and performer since she first played at Music Midtown in 2018 and then again in 2019. This time, she was the headliner on Saturday night, connecting with the audience and Atlanta in a most personal way. It was her 100th concert and the last of her 2023 tour. Eilish also said it was the fifth anniversary to the day — Sept. 16 — of when she first played Music Midtown.
For years, when Eilish was asked to name her favorite performance, she would say it was Music Midtown, which delighted the 2023 crowd. And given the fans’ response to her Saturday night, it wouldn’t surprise me if she continued to say Music Midtown.
Another highlight was Pink, the headliner on Friday night. Pink delighted the crowd with her singing ability as well as all the acrobatics she did while performing.
The third highlight for me was “The National Parks,” a band that played at 11:45 a.m. on Sunday morning — certainly not the best time in the line-up. Every time I go to a music festival, I try to “discover” a new artist. For me, “The National Parks” fit the bill, and I plan to follow them and attend their show when they’re back in Atlanta on Sept. 29 at Terminal West.
An example of one of my discoveries — back in 2002, Jack Johnson was barely known. He had a 2 p.m. slot at a stage set up at the Civic Center parking lot. Only a smattering of folks had shown up, so I was able to get close to the stage and enjoy his presence and songs up close.
So many special memories over the years.
I must admit, among my fondest recollections was going to the first several Music Midtowns — starting with year one when James Brown thrilled us all with his amazing dance moves and tunes. I loved that location — the block that now houses the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta at 10th and Peachtree.
Since then, Midtown has developed all around with high-rise offices and residences. But even back then, I remember there was pushback from new residents to the area complaining about the festival’s noise and traffic disrupting their daily lives.
I remember thinking back then that people can either embrace living in a city — welcoming the wide array of experiences it has to offer — or they can complain about it.
I choose to embrace the vibrancy and vitality of our city — celebrating our quality of life — festivals and parks alike.
As my new friend Mark Trammell told me about Music Midtown: “It adds to Atlanta being a real city.”