Editor’s note: George Chidi now publishes a Substack newsletter titled “The Atlanta Objective”. If you want to support him directly, sign up for a paid subscription to his newsletter by clicking here.
Few trades operate with less honest transparency than the music industry. In an age where musical talent and skill are largely disconnected from financial success, the only thing that reliably sells is hype. And anything between a promotion and its hype — especially a reporter asking tough questions — is the enemy. The song house is built with mortar made from industrial grade bullshit.
I may be cynical.
But I bet I’m less cynical than Live Nation, which was selling tickets to Music Midtown until they told people it would be canceled this morning.
“Hey Midtown fans – due to circumstances beyond our control, Music Midtown will no longer be taking place this year,” Music Midtown posted in a brief note on Twitter. “We were looking forward to reuniting in September and hope that we can all enjoy the festival together again soon.”
They didn’t say why directly. But the media gathered from Atlanta, talking to everybody except the actual promoters get it: Georgia’s new gun law has closed the door to private festivals that can ban people from carrying guns in a public park. How this interacts with festival profits is anyone’s guess. I think some artists were going to retire rather than perform in front of an armed crowd. But the mere insurance risk was perhaps too great in an era of mass shootings.
I broke this story three days ago, in front of Billboard, Rolling Stone and the AJC, but it’s almost irrelevant. It doesn’t matter when I found out. It matters when they or they knew or should have known.
As I was taking the advice last week, a recent conversation I had with a restaurant owner in Atlanta bounced into my thoughts. My friend had complained because the cost of evening security had skyrocketed, along with everything else. Local police departments – including DeKalb’s – began offering in addition extra money for overtime, to incentivize police officers to stay punctual instead of taking lucrative club security jobs in their spare time. DeKalb pays the police three hours overtime.
So some clubs have cut corners to hold on to profits and abandoned the use of off-duty cops, my friend said. And those are the clubs that also tend to be where people get shot. “They’re going to kill the nightclub scene,” he lamented.
The music industry has long been troubled. While music industry recording revenue is at an all-time high, Spotify and Soundcloud artist revenue is a bit of a joke to everyone but the top tier. And for the first time, young people are listening to less new releases than catalog entries. You can’t imagine it: the novelties are not as popular.
Musicians increasingly rely on live performances to earn a living. And in Atlanta, these live performance spaces are literally under fire from critics. A mass shooting at a festival makes national news. But the drumbeat of late night club and restaurant shootings is actually a more significant threat to Atlanta’s music culture.
Some – many – club and restaurant owners are proactive and responsible in fostering a safe environment. But those that aren’t threaten the entire ecosystem. It’s not clear to me that the industry itself, built on a hustle and bustle of fakes until you fly it at night, can manage without law enforcement.
It’s easy to put Music Midtown’s cancellation in a partisan political frame. Blame the Republicans and Brian Kemp for guns everywhere! And yeah. I will buy this, up to a point. Georgia’s gun culture is part of the problem. So is the problem of concentrated and pervasive poverty and inequality that we largely ignore, even as it fuels violence. Police resources are overstretched. Access to mental health is a rumor. Gang violence has increased. Juvenile delinquency too.
Atlanta’s music culture requires a secure base for music patrons to persist. It is threatened. Music Midtown’s cancellation is a wake-up call.
The GA2A poopers — formerly known as Georgia Carry — began sending love letters to Live Nation and Music Midtown in May about the effect of the 2014 “firearms” law. everywhere,” from the 2019 legal case over the right to carry arms at the Atlanta Botanical Gardens and how it all interacted with Georgia’s new “constitutional carry” law passed this year.
When I inquired about gun rights activist Phillip Evans and his legal warnings over the phone, I could hear the mayor’s spokesman roll his eyes. “The legal department knows who they are,” he said.
It is not finished. Looking at you, One Musicfest and Shaky Knees. Both festivals are scheduled for Central Park in Atlanta, and both are subject to the same law. (None returned calls seeking comment.)
– George Chidi is a political columnist, public policy advocate and veteran. He also writes for The Intercept.
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