One Central Park concert festival worries about gun laws while another moves ahead
By John Ruch
Following Music Midtown’s reportedly gun-related cancellation, at least one major concert festival in the Old Fourth Ward’s Central Park may back out if firearms can’t be banned, while another is moving ahead.
And yet another festival — Shaky Knees, one of the biggest in that park and the entire city — just deferred its 2023 permit request from Neighborhood Planning Unit M until November for unexplained reasons, though that may be due to upcoming neighborhood association elections rather than gun laws or other factors.
Held annually in Piedmont Park, Music Midtown was abruptly canceled by its promoters on Aug. 1 for unexplained reasons amid reports that state laws preventing it from banning guns were causing legal problems. Guns are allowed in public parks and short-term events like concerts cannot ban them — an issue raised about Music Midtown by a gun rights activist earlier this year, as first revealed by SaportaReport. That activist’s complaints also forced the removal of a similar ban at another public-park venue, the Home Depot Backyard outside Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
It remains unclear exactly how and why those laws would force the cancellation of an entire festival. The legal recourse for an unhappy gun owner is a private lawsuit, which would take time and money. And many concerts and festivals are successfully staged in public parks without explicit gun bans.
One example is the major SweetWater 420 Fest, a concert festival in Downtown’s Centennial Olympic Park, a facility that does not ban guns. But some legal sleight-of-hand may be involved. The festival’s 2022 edition, according to its website, prohibited “illegal weapons” — without explicitly saying that guns are legal weapons in the park. The festival’s promoters did not respond to a comment request.
At Central Park, a major new concert festival — using the working title NAF Fest — is planned for June 2023 by AEG Presents, a company that is also a partner in the Atlanta music venues the Variety Playhouse, Terminal West and The Eastern. The three-day festival was originally planned for 2020 under the name “First Day of Summer” but was delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The organizers told the Fourth Ward West Neighborhood Association (FWW) that they “will call off [the festival] if guns are allowed,” according to minutes of the group’s August meeting, which was held the day of the Music Midtown cancellation.
“They are concerned about the open-carry laws in Georgia and they probably will not know until November if they are able to proceed,” reported FWW President Catherine Chase in a follow-up at the Aug. 22 meeting of NPU-M. She was apparently referring to the common misunderstanding that the Music Midtown issue involves a new law allowing guns to be carried — openly or concealed — without a permit, rather than the older law that allows guns to be carried in public parks. The NAF Fest organizers did not respond to a SaportaReport comment request.
At the same NPU-M meeting, chairperson Forrest Coley said Shaky Knees’ permit request for its May 2023 edition was being deferred to November. He did not explain why and the promoters did not appear to be present and did not respond to comment requests. “I have not heard why Shaky Knees was deferred,” Coley said after the meeting.
Chase later said the November deferral relates to the FWW not wanting to approve such a major event prior to its board elections this fall when new leadership might have different opinions. However, she said that many promoters are quietly “taking a wait-and-see attitude” in the wake of the Music Midtown cancellation. “Nothing has been stated officially” to her group, she added.
Chase also noted that another major concert festival is going ahead at Central Park — the ONE Musicfest, scheduled for Oct. 8 and 9, which also will use the nearby Renaissance Park and former Atlanta Civic Center site. The 12-year-old festival is expected to draw more than 50,000 attendees with headliners including Lil Baby, Jazmine Sullivan, Jeezy, Rick Ross and Gucci Mane. The festival’s website says it will ban “weapons of any kind” and subject attendees to a metal detector wand. The organizers did not respond to a comment request.
The City also continues to offer no response to questions about the legal situation and its effect on concerts. The industry and the political silence are loud, but the message is unclear. Was Music Midtown a singular situation? Is someone working on a legal solution? Is everyone is just hoping no one will notice the weapons ban at their festival if the issue stays quiet?
For concerts at Central Park, promoters are required to contact the office of District 2 Atlanta City Councilmember Amir Farokhi. His chief of staff, Jay Tribby, spoke about gun laws during the August FWW meeting discussion about NAF Fest to note that finding a private venue was the only solution.
Farokhi said this week that he has not heard from concert promoters or organizers about the gun law, and he’s also not aware of any City work on finding a legal loophole “that would protect the organizers or limit gun access, either.”
“This is an issue that, as you know, we are preempted on by the state,” he said.
Update: This story has been updated with comment from the chairperson of NPU-M.
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