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Music Midtown canceled for '06; promoters cite expense

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Published on: 01/06/2006

Atlanta music lovers will have to

find somewhere new to dance and drink away an entire weekend this June.


Music Midtown is off — at least for 2006.

Concert promoter Peter Conlon announced Thursday that the 12-year-old outdoor festival, one of the city's signature entertainment events that brought the likes of Bob Dylan, George Clinton and Ashlee Simpson to town each spring, is on hiatus. It may return at a different site — and maybe even in a different city — in years to come.

Conlon blamed the cancellation on the growing expense of running the event at its current site — a Midtown expanse near the Boisfeuillet Jones Atlanta Civic Center — as well as on other factors, including inclement weather and the media.

Conlon stressed that the festival may return, but he wants to find a new and pleasant site with the right combination of grass and pavement, adequate size and (if it's in Atlanta) MARTA accessibility.

"We'd always like to be in Atlanta," he said. "But we'll go where it's the best situation."

The festival began in 1994 as the brainchild of longtime Atlanta promoter Alex Cooley, who was let go by Clear Channel Entertainment in 2004. At its peak, the event drew 300,000 people over the course of a weekend.

"With Music Midtown, Peter and Alex really defined how to produce a major music festival in this city," said 99X director of programming Leslie Fram, whose station has had a stage at Music Midtown for the course of its run.

"It's a huge loss, not only in revenue for the city but for music fans. At 99X, we centered everything we did for the entire year around Music Midtown. It meant that much in exposure for the station. ... But I feel it will come back. It means too much for this city not to have it."

Francine Reed, the Atlanta vocalist who has played nearly every Music Midtown, would hate to see it go: "Oh my Lord! Music Midtown is the one thing I look forward to each spring in Atlanta. Can it be spring in Atlanta without it?"

Greg Pridgeon, Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin's chief of staff, is also disappointed by Music Midtown's hiatus.

"We're crying guitar-sized tears. ... It's become an institution in Atlanta. There's a hole left by its absence. But we respect and understand the business decision that led to the cancellation. We're not opposed to working with the festival in the future."

Conlon said the festival was profitable for its first nine years, and a statement from his company said Music Midtown generated "over 27 million dollars in revenue for the city annually."

Conlon blamed the festival's financial slips in 2003 and '04 on rain, which he believes kept some fans away. He said last year's event, with a doubled talent budget and a three-day ticket price hiked from $45 to $65, was designed to be weatherproof — advance ticket sales were supposed to cover the festival's expenses.

But, Conlon said, media reports of potential gridlock created by the competing Vibe MusicFest at the Georgia Dome killed ticket sales several days before his event started. In the end, turnout was low at both festivals, and rain fell for a third consecutive year on Music Midtown as Atlanta felt the effects of Tropical Storm Arlene.

Michele Rhea Caplinger, senior executive director of the Atlanta chapter of the Recording Academy, attributed the festival's cancellation to other factors. The Recording Academy puts on the Grammys.

"For the past couple of years, to have that caliber of acts — and I have a pretty good idea about how much they get paid — plus with the ticket price escalating, and the general economy, it just may not have made sense. Kids' dollars may not have stretched that far. I never once, though, questioned its value in terms of ticket price."

For his part, a saddened Cooley recognizes that the financial challenges might have been overwhelming.

"From a logistical point of view, it was very difficult," Cooley said. "And it wore us out and it was hard as hell. But we could do it. We did it, and we proved we could do it. But Peter is probably talking from a financial point of view. ... And that's a whole different thing. It can be made to work logistically, but financially — possibly not, probably not."

Staff writers Richard L. Eldredge and Sonia Murray contributed to this article.

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