The abrupt cancellation of Atlanta’s Music Midtown Festival, originally scheduled for September, has infuriated music fans. The event’s organizer, Live Nation, has not officially said what led to the cancellation.

Music Midtown’s statement says circumstances were beyond its control. But reports say Georgia’s gun laws are to blame. The concert location, Piedmont Park, is public land. And because it’s on public land, Midtown Music can’t legally prohibit people from bringing guns to the event.

Phil Evans is a gun rights advocate who, along with gun rights groups, has previously sued to preserve the right to carry firearms at festivals like Music Midtown. Some say he’s partly to blame for the loss of this year’s festival. He spoke with GPB’s Peter Biello. 

TRANSCRIPT

Peter BielloYou’ve been accused of “celebrating” this moment, the cancellation of this year’s Music Midtown Festival. Are you celebrating?

Phil Evans: No, sir. If you read my entire blog article, you won’t see any indication whatsoever that I’m celebrating.

Peter Biello: How do you feel about the cancellation of the festival?

Phil Evans: Actually, I feel the same way that Jerry Henry, the executive director of GA2 — formerly called Georgia Carry — he said that he was disappointed that they canceled. And I’m disappointed, too. You know what I wish that they had done? I wish that they had done the exact same thing that the Sweetwater 420 Festival did in 2018. At that time, they had a prohibition of weapons on their site. Now they hold their festival, their music festival, in Centennial Olympic Park, which is state-owned property controlled by the Georgia World Congress Center Authority, which is a government entity. So when I brought that up with the GWCC, the attorney emailed me back and he said, “I’ll take care of it.” And sure enough, they changed their website. They changed the word “weapons” to “illegal weapons,” meaning they now allow lawful carry. So I wish that Live Nation had simply said, “Okay, we’re going to follow state law just like everybody else does,” just like you and I do, and allow lawful carriers to carry their firearms.

Peter Biello: Live Nation did not respond to GPB’s requests for comment, but we do have some indication that this is about not just gun policy, but about the ability to insure a festival where guns were not allowed to be banned. Tyler Lyle is a guitarist and singer with the band The Midnight. He was going to perform at Music Midtown, but now, of course, he’s going to take his show elsewhere. He said in a tweet: “We were scheduled to play. It wasn’t about guns in riders. It was about the inability to ensure a festival where guns were not allowed to be banned.” Now, we also don’t know when the decision about insurance was made, but it does seem like if this is the case, then this is a barrier to having festivals here in Georgia and other states might capitalize. Georgia, in other words, might be losing business to other states. The governor of North Carolina has already invited the festival to move there. So I wanted to ask you. With this law in place, is it worth it to you?

Phil Evans: Well, there are a lot of private venues here in Georgia, and this did not come as a surprise to Live Nation. This same law that affects them became law in 2014 and was clarified by the Georgia Supreme Court in 2019. And I reached out to them in 2020. So they can’t say this is unforeseen circumstances. They can’t say they were blindsided. They had two and a half years at least to get their act together and to find private property.

Peter Biello: You reached out to festival organizers a few years ago simply to say, look, your prohibition on guns runs contrary to state law.

Phil Evans: Correct.

Peter Biello: Seems like you’ve been reaching out to festivals throughout Georgia to make them aware of this. Can you let us know your process a little bit? Are you scanning the internet looking for festivals that might run afoul of this particular law? What’s your approach here?

Phil Evans: Well, yes, actually, I am, because you and I, as as the little folks, we have to follow the law. And when these big companies come in, they can’t say, “Well, we’re going to disregard the law,” because they’re not only breaking the law, but they’re also violating our rights.

Peter Biello: You mentioned in your blog the need for safety and how being able to carry a gun in a venue like this ensures one’s safety. Concerts like Music Midtown, they’re often densely packed areas. People are consuming alcohol, sometimes a lot of it. Is this the safest place to have a gun?

Phil Evans: Well, whenever I carry my firearm in public, I never drink alcohol at any of those festivals. In fact, I was recently at the Piedmont Park Atlanta Jazz Festival and carried my firearm openly. There was thousands upon thousands of people there. There were some folks drinking. You wouldn’t know whether they’re carrying, if they’re concealing. There’s people around you that carry. And drink. You know, you can’t do anything about that. But in general, lawful carriers are lawful people and we are careful with what we do.

Peter Biello: Is it possible to use a firearm in such a densely packed area for safety? In trying to defend yourself, would you risk hurting somebody else?

Phil Evans: Peter, this is a red herring, because in Georgia for years now, I mean, decades now, it’s been legal to have a drink in a restaurant, whether it’s a few people or a crowd of people. We’re still responsible with our firearms.

Peter Biello: The other side of that question, which I do not believe is a red herring, is that there have been many music festivals with metal detectors that have successfully prohibited guns, and there has not been a security situation that would have required the intervention of the so-called good guy with a gun. In other words, why claim you need it for safety if there’s no need for a gun to provide your safety?

Phil Evans: It’s not just particularly for safety at the festival. People sometimes travel for miles to and from these festivals. They can run into trouble on the way there or on the way back. Or once they park there at the parking lot, they can run into trouble walking from to and from their vehicle. So you know what they’re going to do if they say, “Well, hey, I don’t want to be disarmed while I’m traveling, but I can’t bring my gun in, so I’m going to leave my gun in my car.” Can you imagine how many guns could be stolen at a festival if folks had to leave them in their cars?

Note: After we spoke, Evans reached out by email saying he’s received threats from people who are upset with him about the cancellation of the festival. In an email addressed to Live Nation executives, he said, “Perhaps Live Nation will issue a statement completely exonerating me as being responsible for their decision to cancel the festival.” GPB reached out to Live Nation again regarding Evans’ request but has not heard back.

This story comes to Reporter Newspapers / Atlanta Intown through a reporting partnership with GPB News, a non-profit newsroom covering the state of Georgia.

Peter Biello | GPB

Peter Biello is the host of All Things Considered on GPB. His interviews and stories can be heard every weekday from 4 to 6 p.m. on GPB.