Peter Conlon’s Music Midtown 2014 gathering, which is scheduled Sept. 19-20, has four superstar headliners including Eminem, Jack White, John Mayer and Zac Brown. (Special Photo)
ATLANTA — Sitting at the poker table of the suddenly lucrative national music festival business, Live Nation Atlanta President Peter Conlon paused for the briefest of moments, looked each of the others sitting around the table — the promoters of Bonnaroo, Lollapalooza, Coachella, Jazzfest — dead in the eye and declared, boldly, “I’m all in.”
The music industry heard the collective gasps around that table this week when the lineup was announced for Conlon’s Music Midtown 2014 gathering, which is scheduled Sept. 19-20. With four superstar headliners — make that four top-of-their-game, genre-defining, superstar headliners, as in Eminem, Jack White, John Mayer and Zac Brown — atop a lineup that boasts a good seven or eight other acts that at any other place would themselves be headliners, Conlon has indeed splashed the pot with all of the Atlanta festival’s impressive stacks of chips.
“You and I have talked about this before: The South in general simply does not get the respect from the national media that it deserves,” Conlon said Tuesday, shortly after the initial wave of Music Midtown signees was announced. “(Music Midtown) specifically doesn’t get the respect of some of the other festivals, even though the people who put those festivals together came to Atlanta to see how we did things.
“So I decided it was time to take this to another level.”
Conlon did just that, signing the aforementioned quartet, along with another set of dynamic acts that includes Lorde, Gregg Allman, Lana Del Rey, Bastille, Run DMC, B.o.B and Iggy Azalea. Also on the bill are Fitz & the Tantrums, twenty one pilots, NEEDTOBREATHE, Mayer Hawthorne, Banks, The Strypes, AER, Sleeper Agent, Magic Man, Bear Hands and Ron Pope.
And that’s just the first wave of signings.
“This was definitely a different booking experience for all of us here,” said Conlon, who with fellow Atlanta-based hall of fame promoter Alex Cooley — who is now retired — started Music Midtown in 1994. “With the (Red Hot) Chili Peppers and all those folks we had last year, we had a pretty big festival. But we more than doubled our budget this year.
“We wanted acts that haven’t played here in a while, acts that everyone would be excited to see. Eminem hasn’t played in Atlanta since the ’90s, and he’s one of the biggest acts in the music business. Since festivals have become kind of trendy, what you’re seeing now is the same acts playing at all the different festivals. We wanted to stay true to the things we’d established with Music Midtown, but we wanted our show this year to be unique.”
Consider that done.
Eminem proved his name is still among the biggest in hip-hop with the release of his mega-hit “Marshall Mathers LP 2” late last year. The RIAA also recently certified Eminem’s “Not Afraid” as a digital diamond release, signifying download sales in excess of 10 million. Slim Shady became the first artist to collect two digital diamond singles. His other is “Love the Way You Lie,” featuring Rihanna.
White, the musical mastermind behind the now-defunct White Stripes, the Raconteurs and the Dead Weather, and whose new solo album “Lazaretto” debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 200 album chart and sold more vinyl copies (40,000-plus) in its first week than any album released since the industry started back counting vinyl sales in 1991, is maybe the hottest artist in the industry. He also recently produced Neil Young’s latest album.
Grammy favorite Zac Brown and his eponymous band is a country-based crossover sensation, while Mayer is a pop hit maker who is lauded by “serious” musicians for his guitar chops. Del Rey, Lorde, Bastille, B.o.B and Azalea’s names are among modern music’s biggest, while Allman and Run DMC are multi-generational favorites.
“There are certain things about Music Midtown that we’ve established and wanted to maintain,” Conlon said. “We will remain an in-town festival; we’re not going to start camping. And we want an eclectic lineup that offers something for all music fans. That’s why we focused on getting up-and-coming acts like Lorde, Bastille and Iggy Azalea, some of today’s top acts.
“We’ll have headliners on each stage both nights, and we’re pairing them with acts that complement them. Like we’ll have Gregg Allman playing before Zac. It’s a good balancing act.”
Conlon said the Music Midtown site will expand for the second year in a row to accommodate what is expected to be large crowds.
“We’re going to move some things around,” he said, “open up some space we haven’t used in the past. We’ll reconfigure our vendor space to make it better logistically.”
Conlon doesn’t pause for an instant when asked where, given the amazing lineups that have played Music Midtown over the years, this one ranks.
“Oh, I think this is going to be probably the best we’ve ever done to date,” he said. “The challenge we place upon ourselves is to always improve from year to year. But we’ve set the bar pretty high for next year.”
Tickets for the festival, which are $125 for two-day general admission, $500 for two-day VIP packages and $1,000 for Super VIP packages, go on sale Saturday at 10 a.m. They may be purchased at www.musicmidtown.com, www.livenation.com or by phone at (800) 745-3000.