Insomniac, prepare for war. TomorrowWorld wants your fans.

Anyone in attendance who hadn’t followed the news would have been shocked to find that TomorrowWorld was the first major multi-day festival of its kind in the US. The odds were stacked against it, as many “purists” felt the experience was meant to exist only in Belgium, yet many were relieved this became an option because Belgium wasn’t possible. Sales were down, and therefore many scalpers had to take a loss. This meant full madness passes with camping were on the market for as low as $175. If you had the ability to go, but skipped out, you missed a festival many will be talking about for the rest of their lives.

This event succeeded in taking everyone away from their lives as they existed, and engulfed the would-be ravers in a totally new and amazing environment. The grounds had a decidedly rural feel to the 500 acre plot of land, with stages built into rolling hills, separated by suspended bridges, mulch paths, with no sign of the real world in any direction. Even our phones were affected, when attempting to check in to Facebook or Instagram, they told us we were in Boom, Belgium, home of the TomorrowLand flagship event. We were all in Georgia? Could have fooled anyone.

Before I go any further….Special shoutout to my fellow attendees Liz and J Leo for helping put this together.

Dreamville

Talk about a rough start. Depending on where you entered Dreamville, you probably thought either 1) “Pretty easy,” or 2) “Oh my god, this is a soul-crushing nightmare.” Those who parked by the second entrance, named “Atlantic,” might as well have been Atlantis, with a murderous 2-4 mile walk from the cars to the camping areas, in the heat, through the mud, heaving hundreds of pounds of camping gear. Many groups found themselves taking 2-3 trips. Who would have thought the festival would begin with a half-marathon? For those on the “Fitbit” train, move in/Gathering day, accounted for 15.4 miles on my counter from the time we parked (and 30.2 on Friday – however many of those miles were from jumping around). This trek was TomorrowWorld’s biggest flaw, and not one that lingered for the event itself.

Dreamville had more than enough space for camping, sectioned off with spray painted pathways, and very clearly distinguished color-coded camping areas, each with its own info tent, a phenomenal marker for those venturing back late. The bugs vacated the area quickly, and the area was appropriately lit at all hours, and this was complemented with green lazers that stretched and bent across the length of the 2 mile stretch of camping area about 100 feet above the campers.

Venue/Artists/Sets/Lineup

Unlike its Belgian counterpart, with walks up to 40 minutes, entering the venue was about a 10-15 minute walk from the farthest reaches of camp as the entire oval shaped TomorrowWorld was split parallel between areas deemed “camping” and the festival itself. Boasting two well-spaced entrances, lines were manageable, and security was refreshingly full of “southern hospitality.”

As a standalone, TomorrowWorld had a vastly diverse lineup that covered every major genre. Styles were given their own stages, so many less seasoned EDM fans would have a good idea of what to expect amidst some unfamiliar names. It also made stage hopping less necessary for those with specific tastes. The event carried a lineup that could be considered “par” with many large scale world festivals, lagging only slightly behind this year’s EDC Vegas and TomorrowLand. Festival main stage residents like Armin Van Buuren, Hardwell, and Steve Aoki were complemented a supporting cast complete with several strong up-and-comers, like Orjan Nilsen, Shreddie Mercury, and Will Sparks.

It won’t win “lineup of the year,” probably because Beyond Wonderland competed for talent and a first year event lacking the “cool factor” for many DJs, but there was little issue filling schedules with strong representatives from the 300+ artist selection.

Nearly every stage was designed in a way that was worthy of its own main stage at other events. The “beach” stage, which hosted Gathering headliners like Morgan Page as well as record labels Mad Decent and Fools Gold carried multiple fully functioning LED screens, set on the edge of the lake. Q-Dance delivered again, with a “Scorpion,” complete with moving parts. Trap/Anthem/Dirty Bird had a decidedly eastern “Buddha” theme, which was nested in a cove with ample shade and a constant breeze off the lake. The LIV stage theme changed every day and the tent featured hanging mushrooms and a forest behind the DJ booth. Then there was main stage, a breathtaking experience, especially when doing a “big reveal” from over the ridge by Q-Dance. The only stage lacking was the Full-On/Belgian/TranceAddict Stage, somewhat haphazardly thrown together in the middle of open ground, with little production, and less than 200 feet from 3 of the other stages.

Drugs

While the presence of this as its own section may certainly fuel the fire of many EDM haters, ignoring the presence of drugs and its associated effect on EDM does us no good. This event saw one of the first implementations of DEA agents on-site at the festival, complete with drug/bomb sniffing dogs. It was as you’d expect, a “buzz kill,” walking to main stage, but it wasn’t as in your face as many had made it out to be. Call it a necessary evil I suppose. Couple this with a very visual presence of DanceSafe tents and volunteers (who handed out ear plugs, condoms, and educational cards on many common symptoms of substance overdose) to help advise festival-goers, and a dash of luck, and the festival had no deaths for a reported 140k attendees over 3 days, a MAJOR win for the scene. 17 medical-related incidents were minimal, and a measly 0.012 percent of the total number of festival goers. Nobody seeks to deny that drugs were consumed at the event, as one shady news team tried to unfurl in a poorly hidden camera sting. However, the take away here is that ID&T managed the risk appropriately, taking both preventative, and educational measures to keep attendees safe. Here’s to hoping many others follow this example.

People

It’s hard to deny that making this event 21+ is what cost TomorrowWorld a fully sold out event. It’s also hard to deny that it made for a different festival dynamic. As disappointing as it is not to be able to attend the event with friends younger than 21, an older crowd was likely a risk-averse way of controlling some of the promoter concerns as well as preserve some “magic,” as ID&T referenced here. According to South Fulton police, there were very few incidents: two drug related, three for violence, and nine minor traffic accidents. The smoothness may or may not have been related to the age, but it would be easy to assume other events will try this soon.

More generally about the people, by and large, the attendees “got it.” Whether it was a veteran raver lending seasoned advice, or a newcomer realizing that it’s so much more than “just a party,” strangers from across the globe united through music. One individual boosted another smaller individual to see his favorite artist. A group of Swedes asked neighboring campers if they could borrow their cart to transport beer, the cart was handed over with faith that it would be returned (and it was). The amount of hugs, smiles, and high-fives freely exchanged this past weekend was only narrowly surpassed by the number of times “Animals” was featured. A 60-something grandma out-shuffled those half her age at the trance stage and was adored for it. These connections were far more prevalent and impactful than those stories churned out by mainstream media and ones that could’ve easily been uncovered by an “investigative reporter” if the few that attended weren’t so heavily biased by an intent to harm.

TomorrowWorld vs. TomorrowLand

While each festival experience begs to be considered its own entity, this one all but asks to be compared to its Belgian inspiration. Without a doubt, being able to say “I went to TomorrowLand” is worth greater bragging rights. However, as an event, TomorrowWorld wins for 3 reasons.

  1. Spacing – TomorrowLand continues to fit more and more people each year into a set area, which led to a number of overcrowded stages and camping, with difficulty navigating from stage to stage. The Chattahoochee Hills venue was 5x larger, and therefore every stage had ample space, and pushing mid-set was comparatively lower than many other venues/shows. Most importantly, not a single stage had to turn anyone away because of overcapacity.
  2. Stage Productions – Perhaps this was an easy win, because while TomorrowLand has to re-innovate 10+ stages every year, World had the honor of choosing a set of “greatest hits” including the book of Wisdom from last year, strategically placed so the sun would set behind the stage, giving the remaining few hours of daylight surreal, sometimes mystical, undertones.
  3. Logistics – The US is no stranger to festivals, with a storied history of hundreds of festivals dating back to Woodstock ’69. American promoters and their logistics departments know their S*%&. Every day we would collectively trash the venue, while workers were busy cleaning Dreamville and dropping off trash bags at camps. While we slept, or raged until the wee hours of the morning (like one mystery DJ going by the name of #burritoswag played an 8 hour set of #superdeeptrance the final night in Dreamville), the workers cleaned the venue. Trash was not a problem. Bathrooms were as good as could be expected. Food, drinks, general stores, and even showers had manageable lines. Water stations left a bit to be desired, but even that was an improvement.  None of this has anything to do with the music, but it made an amazing amount of difference.


Overall

In a world where we are conditioned only to look out for ourselves, TomorrowWorld demonstrated what the world needs a lot more of: compassion, understanding, and love. So, for those who attended paradise this weekend, continue to teach people how to dance without reservation and to spread love in a world that is normally very cold and harsh. Share your love for the music and open those doors to heaven for someone else. Lead by example and show those who don’t understand that we are not a bunch of addicts looking for our next fix. We are a community with some of the most caring individuals in the world.

Thank you to all the attendees, workers, stage crew, promoters, and DJs from the bottom of our hearts at EDMTunes for making this weekend an unbelievably magical experience and reminding us why these festivals are truly an experience worth repeating.

As a final note, all eyes on Memorial Weekend 2014, as EDC NY, and MysteryLand are slated to go head to head in a “clash of the titans,” as they’ve both laid claim to two former Northeastern Woodstock sites in the northeast.

As far as TomorrowWorld is concerned, the event lease on the venue is effective for the next 5 years. In other words…

“See you next year.”