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This Is the Man Responsible for Canceling Midtown Music — And He’s Surprised Too

For years, Phillip Evans has been fighting for guns rights in Georgia — but he wanted Live Nation to pull its policy, not the plug.

Phillip Evans wants to set the record straight about his role in causing Atlanta’s Music Midtown festival to be canceled. A 61-year-old Georgia IT worker, author and gun- rights activist, for years his “guns everywhere” philosophy on the state’s concealed and open carry weapons laws has collided with Live Nation’s long held prohibitions on weapons at concerts and festivals. Evans says he didn’t want the whole thing shut down. He just wanted to be able to bring his gun.

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Officially, the long-running Music Midtown festival was canceled on Aug.1 “due to circumstances beyond our control,” according to a statement issued by Live Nation. Those circumstances, industry sources tell Billboard, are the result of recent changes to Georgia gun laws that could prevent the festival from banning guns on the publicly owned festival grounds at Piedmont Park.

The changes to Georgia law are a direct result of Evans’ unsuccessful 2014 lawsuit against the Atlanta Botanical Garden and a 2019 Georgia Supreme Court ruling that reshaped which groups operating on publicly owned land could prohibit concealed and open carry weapons from their establishments and events, and which businesses couldn’t. While the garden’s long-term lease of public land exempted it from the gun requirement, groups using city park space on a short-term basis – like concert and festival promoters – would not likely be able to bar attendees from bringing guns into a concert, according to the ruling.

Since then, Evans has taken up the mantle of enforcing gun rights at those public spaces where — according to the 2019 Georgia Supreme Court ruling — guns are legal and should be allowed. Evans spends a significant amount of time scouring the websites of public parks, pools and facilities on public land, looking for policies that prohibit guns.. He often posts his findings online and even shares copies of the letters he sends insisting the weapons prohibitions be removed from their website.

Evans says his goal is to significantly reduce or even eliminate what he calls “sensitive places” — government owned land, taxpayer funded facilities and public spaces like K-12 schools, parks and public pools that prohibit weapons and guns for entry. In 2014, he unsuccessfully sued the Gwinnet School board for the right to bring guns into the campus of his child’s elementary school.

“There should be no off-limits places,” he says, where guns are not allowed for licensed and lawful gun owners, besides court rooms “secured prisons” and “secured jails,” he says.

Through his blog, Evans often details his absolutist views on gun rights and his distain for politicians “threatening to punish you just because you want to be able to shoot back at monsters.” He has documented letters he’s sent to companies like Live Nation on the message board GeorgiaPacking.org, including a December 2015 letter about Midtown Music stating, “I’m certain that some of those I interact with on the Internet would like to lawfully and openly exercise their 2nd Amendment Rights while attending your music festival,” adding, “I’m also fairly certain that any harassment against them would be effectively documented for subsequent legal action.”

A year and a half later, he wrote the Atlanta city attorney — also about Midtown Music — protesting “TSA-Style searches and pat-downs of citizens attending a public event at a public city park.”

He went on to add, “I imagine there might be some who could quickly react with a measure of physical violence if private, non-government security personnel were to touch or even come close to touching anyone’s private areas on their body. I would completely understand such a reaction.”

Ahead of this year’s Midtown Music festival, Evans’ strategy became even more targeted and specific. Weeks before the festival’s cancellation, he emailed a contractor hired to handle security at the festival and warned, “Should any member of your security team accost a legal carrier of weapons … [then] your company (and any involved individual) could be sued for damages,” adding, “I urge you to honor and follow our state weapons law here in Georgia.”

Evans never, however, actually pushed for the festival’s cancellation and says he didn’t expect Live Nation to react the way it did. His hope was that Live Nation would pull its ban — instead they pulled the plug.

“There’s nothing in my blog, in my opinion, that indicates I celebrated the decision,” says Evans. “I would’ve actually been thrilled had Live Nation gone ahead and had the event and said that they were following state law.

Evans — who describes himself as a” hardcore music fan” that “loves all kind of music from all eras” — now says that he has been getting death threats in from people who blame him for the event’s cancellation. “That’s giving me far too much credit,” he says.

Live Nation officials have never blamed Evans for the cancellation, or even publicly confirmed that the long-running festival at Piedmont Park in Atlanta was canceled because of guns. But since the news broke on Monday, that’s been the common understanding, with local politicians like gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams even weighing in, blaming the current Georgia governor, Brian Kemp, and his gun laws for an estimated $50 million loss in economic impact from the festival.

On the phone, Evans is polite and intellectually curious. Online, his tenor ranges from moderate to extreme depending on the topic. Evans is a Trump supporter, a savage political memes fan and enjoys jokes at liberals’ expanse. He’s a pragmatist, selling an extreme stance on gun ownership to a sympathetic audience that often feel ignored by pandering politicians. His firearm of choice is a “service size pistol with at least a four or five inch barrel and a secure holster so that no one can just simply grab it.”

That Live Nation only has to “abide by a law” is an argument Evans makes repeatedly during an hourlong interview. For the world’s biggest concert promoter, however, this may not have seemed like a choice. While the promoter declined to comment for this story, it maintains a ban on firearms at all events — and changing that even once likely posed safety concerns and the possibility of upending its existing, decisive policy.

Since the 2019 Supreme Court decision, Evans has seen his star rise in the Georgia gun community, although it’s unclear how long that will last. Even though the language in the Supreme Court decision is clear, it has not been challenged in court or even been tested in any significant way. For any business daring to test it out, though, gun advocates are liable to force the issue by showing up to the event and demanding to be let in. Evans says he would not have attempted this strategy with Music Midtown had Live Nation decided to ignore his group’s warnings and stage the festival without changing its weapons policy, but notes he would not rule out forcing a similar confrontation at one of Live Nation’s amphitheaters.

“For a long time now there have been various pop acts and ’70s acts that I’ve wanted to see,” he said. “So I do plan at some point to challenge that, because I really do want to go to one of those concerts and to maintain my right of self-defense.”

When asked if that includes showing up armed, Evans says, “It could. It could include showing up in person and I wouldn’t change my normal method of carry”

Evans said he understands that some people may view him as a threat to their safety and says changing their minds might not be possible.

“It might not be solvable for certain people because some people have such a fear of weapons and they’re terrified when they see someone with a weapon,” he says. “Because their terror exists even onto themselves, because they’re afraid of a gun in their own hands. They’re afraid that, ‘Well, if I have a gun and I get mad while driving, I might shoot somebody.’ They’re projecting that irrational fear of causing harm to others.”