Piedmont Park sign
At noon on Sunday, exuberant Music Midtown fans pose at a special sign celebrating the annual festival taking place at Piedmont Park. (Photo by Maria Saporta.)

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.

Enjoying Music Midtown while riding a Ferris wheel at Piedmont Park while enjoying the Midtown skyline over Piedmont Park. (Photo by Maria Saporta.)

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. 

Security manager Mark Trammell in front of a sign clearly saying no guns or weapons were allowed at 2023 Music Midtown. (Photo by Maria Saporta.)

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.

Piedmont Park Conservancy’s Mark Banta inspects the grounds on Sunday during Music Midtown. (Photo by Maria Saporta.)

“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.

Crowds were slow to arrive Sunday afternoon during a performance by Incubus. (Photo by Maria Saporta.)

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.

100th concert
Billie Eilish loving the crowd at 2023 Music Midtown. (Photo by Maria Saporta.)

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.

Sunday tunes at Music Midtown
The National Parks played early Sunday – a special treat. (Photo by Maria Saporta.)

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.”

Maria Saporta, executive editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state. From 2008 to 2020, she wrote weekly columns...

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  1. No one ever seems to realize how awful this event is for the people who actually live in Midtown. I really don’t think there are many people who like this festival coming into our neighborhood and taking over the park we use on a daily basis for three weeks. And now its torn up to shreds and unusable. I have been going to concerts since I was 16, and still attend many shows, however, the city of Atlanta constantly prostitutes itself, leaving people with no other option but “deal with it”.
    I and many others feel that they wish this event found a space that does not impose itself on so many people and impair so many people’s daily lives.

    1. Adam, I would recommend reading Ann’s comment. If you chose to live close to Piedmont Park in the last 20 to 30 years, you should have known what you signed up for. There is PLENTY of space in the metro area that is quieter and less lively.

  2. What deal allowed the stand-down by GA2A and other gun rights groups? They promised, in writing, not to “threaten lawsuits” this year. Music Midtown was exempted.

    A bit curious about how this came about.

  3. For 24 years I lived on 10th Street. My family and my neighbors watched the Midtown Music Festival, the Peachtree Road Race with hot air balloons, the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, the Atlanta Arts Festival and many other organized public events take place practically in our front yards. We welcomed every event and participated whenever we could. We felt we had an honored place in the life and energy of a dynamic and historic part of America. When the detour barriers went up on 10th it meant something wonderful was on its way.
    Back then there was not much grass in the park and cars could park anywhere on the “grass”. Talk about mud!
    Now, Atlanta’s largest public park is well groomed and set up to host Atlanta’s broad range of public interests and to bounce back afterwards. Isn’t that what a public park is all about?
    At one point some several years ago, a tall iron fence with gates that closed at 10 at night was in the planning for the park. We, the public, opposed the idea and won. Imagine a city with an iron gate around its public park….
    If you live near Piedmont Park, lucky you! You made a great choice! Enjoy all it has to offer!

    1. ATL + DFW 2022 combined passengers total 167M!
      MIAmi still #1 in Pharma. Cargo imports of healthcare & dental …
      That changes our demographics!
      GT 45,000+ students at main campus. People, and alot of goods.
      And now there is Tuscon!

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