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Music Midtown expands, ready to thrive

It's sad when Dave Grohl just phones in a performance and puts in no effort or passion whatsoever, isn't it? Photo: Getty Images

It's sad when Dave Grohl just phones in a performance and puts in no effort or passion whatsoever, isn't it? Photo: Getty Images

When Music Midtown returned last year after a five-year hiatus, there were plenty of questions.

Would people still come? Was the lineup strong enough? Did trimming it to one day instead of the multi-day fests of yore indicate a shaky market?

The answers were resoundingly positive.

About 38,000 fans flocked to Piedmont Park last September to immerse themselves in music from Coldplay, the Black Keys, Cage the Elephant, Joy Formidable and others.

No major problems distracted from the music, the weather cooperated, MARTA handled a significant portion of concertgoers and most patrons even agreed that concessions were reasonably priced.

“Coldplay called our CEO and said it was the best festival they’ve been to,” said Peter Conlon, president of Live Nation Atlanta, the promoter of Music Midtown. “They just loved the site, but it comes down to the audience, too. Atlanta audiences tend to be very polite versus some other cities.”

Last year’s event was enough of a triumphant resurrection that Conlon has expanded the festival to two days. On Sept. 21-22, a heftier, more diverse lineup including Foo Fighters, Pearl Jam, Florence and the Machine, Ludacris, Joan Jett and the Blackhearts, Neon Trees, T.I., the Avett Brothers and Adam Ant will perform on two stages erected in the Meadow at Piedmont Park.

The event will cost about $6 million to produce.

Conlon said returning to the spot of last year’s scene was an unambiguous decision, calling Piedmont Park “the perfect site.”

“It’s the most obvious place to do something of this size if you want to be inside the city. A lot of festivals [nationwide] are outside the city, and I didn’t want to do one of those. [Former promoter partner] Alex [Cooley] and I always wanted to do something city-oriented, and we always wanted green space. This is the best site available,” Conlon said.

Pearl Jam's only U.S. date was Music Midtown until other promoters saw they were available. They played Jay-Z's "Made in America" festival last weekend in Philly. Photo: AP

Pearl Jam's only U.S. date was Music Midtown until other promoters saw they were available. They played Jay-Z's "Made in America" festival last weekend in Philly. Photo: AP

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed touted the park as, “a world-class venue that is perfect for a world-class music festival.”

“Music Midtown will bring energy and excitement to tens of thousands of music lovers across the city and state,” Reed said in a statement to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “Artists such as the Foo Fighters, T.I. and Ludacris will perform and bring the community together to enjoy the best that Atlanta has to offer in a fun and safe way.”

While last year’s event included Atlanta-based Manchester Orchestra on the bill, Conlon wanted to expand the Georgia connections this year, pulling in high-profile hometown rappers Ludacris and T.I., as well as Atlanta-based ambient rock band O’Brother and soul-funk singer Van Hunt, an Atlanta resident for more than 15 years.

O’Brother, which recently returned from Europe and is on a two-month tour with Circa Survive, Touche Amore and Balance & Composure, is enthusiastic about both the location and the massive platform the band will receive at Music Midtown.

“It will be our largest hometown crowd,” said the band’s drummer, Michael Martens. “And it’s an honor to play on a bill with bands like Pearl Jam and Foo Fighters, let alone in our own backyard. We’re stoked to represent ourselves and the music scene we came from.”

While the original Music Midtowns had slots for fledgling local bands, Conlon said he hasn’t decided whether to resume that aspect of the festival.

“We might do something like that again,” Conlon said. “We want to keep an Atlanta flavor.”

Ludacris is one of a handful of Atlanta-based acts playing Music Midtown. Photo: AP

Ludacris is one of a handful of Atlanta-based acts playing Music Midtown. Photo: AP

He cites the inclusion of SweetWater Brewing Co. as an on-site merchant, as well as the expansion of vendors to include local-based restaurants Goin’ Coastal, Food 101 and Fox Brothers BBQ as a commitment to keeping Atlanta businesses in the mix.

While this year’s fiesta offers a second day of music, at its peak, Music Midtown had ballooned to a three-day affair packed with six stages spotlighting artists ranging from Tony Bennett to Jethro Tull to David Lee Roth.

Last year, Prince was a possible addition for a Friday night show, but after “waiting and waiting,” Live Nation couldn’t get confirmation from the notoriously last-minute artist.

“I’d love to have him one day, but it wasn’t in the cards right now,” Conlon said when asked if Prince was a consideration this year.

Conlon is cautiously optimistic that a third stage could be added next year — and yes, he is already making calls for potential acts for a 2013 edition — but said he never wants Music Midtown to turn into a bloated money pit, as became its fate by 2005 after an 11-year run.

“It was too hard to control and book and very costly. The cost of talent nowadays has skyrocketed. Ten years ago, a headliner got $100,000. Now they get a million, so you can’t afford to do six stages. Will we add another day? Maybe. Talk to me on the 23rd [of September],” he said with a laugh.

As for those who grouse about the $55 advance one-day ticket price ($100 for a two-day pass, plus the usual ticketing fees and a $1 donation to Centers of Hope), Conlon has a simple response: “Where have you been the last 20 years?”

Indeed, any major upcoming show, from Rush at Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre ($40-$129) to Miranda Lambert at Aaron’s Amphitheatre at Lakewood ($25-$49) to Madonna at Philips Arena ($49-$359), is a comparable cost for a one-act show, sometimes with a B-level opener.

“I don’t even have a $55 ticket for any upcoming shows at Philips [Arena],” Conlon said. “The cheapest we might ever do there is $50 or $60 for the top level of the arena for one band. Look at Lollapalooza or Bonnaroo, they’re $200. This is, hands-down, the best bargain of the year.”

Mr. Ant, I don't think I want you to strip for me. Thank you. Photo: Getty Images

Mr. Ant, I don't think I want you to strip for me. Thank you. Photo: Getty Images

But, economics aside, Conlon is hopeful that Music Midtown will surpass last year’s success.

“It was a shame for the years we didn’t have it,” he said. “It brings people into the city. It’s a cultural thing, too, and it puts us on the map musically. I think it’s a good thing.”

Music Midtown

4:30-11 p.m. Sept. 21 with Van Hunt, Joan Jett and the Blackhearts, T.I., the Avett Brothers and Foo Fighters. 1-11 p.m. Sept. 22 with O’Brother, Civil Twilight, LP, Garbage, Adam Ant, Ludacris, Neon Trees, Florence and the Machine, Girl Talk and Pearl Jam.

General admission is $55 for an advance one-day pass ($65 at gate), $100 for a two-day pass, plus ticketing fees. VIP and Super-VIP packages available for $250-$1,000.

The Meadow at Piedmont Park, 1320 Monroe Drive N.E., Atlanta. 1-800-745-3000,

Follow me on Twitter and Facebook.

By Melissa Ruggieri, Atlanta Music Scene

13 comments Add your comment

The Nomad

September 10th, 2012
6:28 am

Where is the southern rock Peter ? How about some Allman Brothers,Lynyrd Skynyrd,Molly Hatchet,Blackfoot ?
How about a little blues ? Derek Trucks Band,Gov’t Mule,Buddy Guy,Kenny Wayne Shepheard ? Foo Fighters ? Pearl Jam ?
That’s a Seattle vibe,we are in Atlanta.


September 10th, 2012
9:31 am

Here is some southern rock for ya Nomad!


September 10th, 2012
10:07 am

Nomad, Molly Hatchet? Really? What year is it? 1976?

I think the mix of bands is great. You should check out The Avett Brothers if you’re looking for a southern bluegrassy vibe.

Also, saying Foos and PJ are a Seattle vibe is like saying the Stones are an English vibe. Both bands have long since become more than “Seattle bands’. That was 20 years ago.


September 10th, 2012
10:22 am

“People who pretend to be musicians who really aren’t — especially local musicians. … If you’re working in a bar, and you’re a bartender but you play in a band, you’re a bartender. It’s how you make your living. If you’re making your living as a musician full time, you’re a musician. This is a business of talent. People in this business seek talent out. If you’re talented, someone’s gonna find you and you’re gonna get discovered. If you’re still flailing around and you’re in your late 20s or 40s, you probably don’t have any talent and you should really look at plan B. A lot of people come to me and they’re still waiting to get discovered, but look, it’s hard to hide talent. In our business, people will find you and make you a star. When people claim to be musicians but they’re working as bartenders or waiters, it’s just not the same thing. It takes away from the people who really do have talent.”

Quote is from Peter Conlon in the Creative Loafing. You heard right, all you Atlanta bands: one of the founders of Music Midtown, our hometown festival, says that you should just hang up the Telecasters if you aren’t an overnight success. You should just quit if the first tune you release doesn’t hit it big. Get a rejection from a venue or a record label? Give up. Stop playing all together. You’re probably a loser anyway, right? I mean, you slog away in the bar every day so you can make music at night and we all know that’s hard, but… you’re talentless, ok? Just stop trying.

Of course, the Music Midtown homepage says things quite a bit differently: “We love local bands! Local music is what makes the world go ’round. Local artists can submit for future consideration. Just fill out the form below.”

So, Peter, which is it? Do you love local bands? Or do they not “have any talent” because they also have to buy groceries and pay rent?


September 10th, 2012
11:35 am

Nobodyimportant…great post man. You hit it on the head.


September 10th, 2012
12:35 pm

I concur with both Nomad and NobodyImportant, although Blackfoot or Molly Hatchet wouldn’t excite me much. The lineup doesn’t appeal to me enough to buy a ticket. So, according to Conlon, someone who plays cover songs at a local Mexican restaurant is a real musician, but someone who decides to support a family by choosing a more stable career and put off being a “real” musician is a no-talent hack that is hurting the field? WTF? As the latter type of musician, that disgusts me. Part of being in Hell, for me, would be performing various Jimmy Buffet hits at a Mexican restaurant.


September 10th, 2012
1:10 pm

It would be hard to beat the Music Midtown 11 years ago. Blues Traveler, Bob Dylan, and the Black Crows on one night. Then on Sunday Eric Johnson, Derek Trucks, and Govt Mule playing one after the other on the same stage.


September 10th, 2012
1:18 pm

LOL @ Nomad!

C from Marietta

September 10th, 2012
1:48 pm

Get some good bands and I will attend. I guess the teenagers will be happy though.

Johnny Comelately

September 10th, 2012
2:01 pm

@C from Marietta, someone who is 16 today would have been born two years after the Foo Fighters released their first album, and five years after Pearl Jam released theirs.

Johnny Nam

September 10th, 2012
2:20 pm

Right on Nomad!! If you’re going to put on a two day concert event in the deep south, you better have some some southern rock headliners. I went to several of the first Midtown Music Festivals before I found out about City Stages in Birmingham. Sixteen City blocks were closed to businesses and 16 stages erected for 3 Days of every kind of music you could think of, especially Blues and Southern Rock. I doubt that the crowds will match last years with such a crummy line up. Not much appeal for old rockers like me and my friends.
Rowdy, I checked out Not quite devils……great band, home grown as well!


September 10th, 2012
2:38 pm

rw you are so right…the old music midtown had some seriously good days. Unfortunetly a lot of posers also showed up making the crowds and eventually the concerts not that fun anymore. I would suggest that The Allmans want nothing to do with Peter or music midtown these days.
I would like to go to see Pearl Jam if for no other reason as they are one of the last remaining rock bands along with the Foo Fighters who tend to scream a little too much. Like the MTV music awards that only had one rock band the entire night(if you consider Green Day a rock band that is) even music midtown is succumbing to the rhymers and those with no talent. I would prefer covers of jimmy Buffet (whom I somewhat despise) than a crotch grabbing poet wannabe with no talent.

Piedmont park neighbor

September 16th, 2012
10:37 pm

How about a story about Music Midtown locking park neighbors out of the park for a week while they set up the stages and posting nothing in the neighborhood link on their site.