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Peter Conlon readies the return of Music Midtown

A Q&A with the festival's co-founder

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This year we got a late start. Normally we should have [announced the acts] by January or February, but we didn't start booking bands until April. We could possibly add an additional day if it comes together the way I want it to. If not, we'll just keep it one day because it's costly and I don't want to do a lackluster, "Let's make a second day happen."

Alex Cooley came out of retirement to help launch the Buckhead Theatre a couple years ago. Is he involved with Music Midtown's return?

He's not involved at all this year. Alex stopped being involved in Music Midtown prior to his retirement.

Why did you choose Coldplay and the Black Keys to headline the event?

I wanted the day to be filled with new, independent acts that are on the threshold, getting satellite airplay, and some terrestrial airplay as well, and have a good buzz. For the headliners I wanted acts who were in the daytime acts' shoes five to 10 years ago. The Black Keys were that act five years ago, and Coldplay was that act 10 years ago. As we go forward you'll see more diversification in the talent that we bring in.

How do you plan to handle any criticism you might face as a result of the headliners selected?

The only regret that I've ever had with booking is adding the country stage to the last Music Midtown. I was pressured into it, but it didn't fit. We even had Keith Urban on a Friday night and not that many people showed up.

The hip-hop stage usually worked well with past performances from Big Boi, Ludacris, Lil Jon and artists like that.

It was an urban music stage, not just hip-hop. We had Black Eyed Peas, B.B. King and Funkadelic as well. We even had James Brown play one year. I remember he refused to come out of his hotel room because he didn't think that his limo was long enough. I had to measure it with a tape measure to prove that it met his rider.

So why is there no urban component to Music Midtown this year?

As we get started, we have to go after our core audience. We can't be everything for everyone right now. That comes later. Right now we need to draw in younger people who are invested in the music and will go see acts in a nice place while keeping it affordable, and that's the original Music Midtown formula. In the future we will expand and be more diverse, and if we announce a second night this year, maybe ...

Can you address the rumors about the possibility of Prince playing this year?

There are rumors but like I said, Saturday, September 24, is done, and I can't say anything about the rumors you've heard. I'd rather deal with the reality of the festival, which is a pretty strong show in itself. It's a one-day festival with two stages on the Piedmont Park meadow.

The same place where Dave Matthews, Paul McCartney and the Eagles played benefits for the Piedmont Park Conservancy?

Yes, but it's set up a little differently because there are two stages. It will have a festival vibe, and that's what we're really trying to foster. Tickets are $55, which is an exceptional value for the amount of talent we're bringing, especially in this kind of economy.

The music festival climate has changed a lot since the last Music Midtown. Coachella and Bonnaroo have both become nationally successful, and Music Midtown predates them both.

Actually, Bonnaroo's organizers flew to Atlanta to spend a weekend studying Music Midtown, and walked away with a lot of ideas.

How do you think Music Midtown stands up next to a Bonnaroo?

It's a different type of festival altogether. We're a city festival, and a day festival. Bonnaroo is a camping festival and has a completely different nature. We want to bring people into the city to see an event that a city like ours can support, and do it in a great location. But essentially, Bonnaroo isn't the model that we look to for Music Midtown.

The other festivals foster more of a niche sound and scene as well.

They're kind of all over the place now. Bonnaroo started off as a jam band thing, but they booked Metallica two years ago, and then Springsteen? When you do a festival over a long period of time you reach a point where you try to reinvent it every year, but there are lives to these things. I pulled the plug on Music Midtown to redevelop it. The other festivals are probably getting to that point as well, where you don't want to do the same thing every year, but when you start changing you find yourself off the path, and all of the sudden you've lost your formula for success.

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