Independent Philly is no stranger to the “Book of Wisdom”. We witnessed the majestic themed stage while covering Tomorrowland 2012 in Boom, Belgium. The Book of Wisdom stage was resurrected in 2013 for the first ever edition of TomorrowWorld right here in the USA.
We sent seasoned festival-pro and writer extraordinaire, David Polinow, and our über talented photographer, Chorale Miles, to Georgia to capture the splendor of TomorrowWorld for us.
Whether you were there yourself or just want to experience it though our eyes, we think you’ll enjoy the sights and experiences that they brought back from their adventure. We’ll call it the closing chapter on the Book of Wisdom. Dig in.
I had mixed feelings when I first heard that the world’s Holy Grail of dance music festivals,
Tomorrowland, would be launching a sister fest in the States. With the often prohibitively high cost of
international travel from the U.S., and the seemingly impossible task of actually scoring tickets (in the 10
seconds it takes them to sell out), making the journey to Boom, Belgium is a pilgrimage most U.S. EDM
enthusiasts only ever dream about. For that reason, along with the unprecedented announcement that
entry would be restricted to ages 21 and up “to maintain quality”, many fans cheered the news (especially
those 21+ fans tired of feeling like that creepy college guy still hanging out at high school parties every
time they go to a show).
However, as the American dance music festival is in the midst of the era of
the corporate controlled “pack them in, blast them with lights & loud for 12 hours, herd them out”
mentality that’s become the running standard, I wasn’t convinced that the essence of Tomorrowland would
remain intact during its’ transition overseas. I wondered how they could possibly make the U.S. version
live up to its European counterpart. How would the notoriously all-around positive energy brought by
the seasoned, global dance music crowd in Belgium be emulated by the comparatively inexperienced
mainstream American EDM fan-base? With U.S. entertainment powerhouse SFX acquiring a 75% stake
in Dutch Tomorrowland organizer, ID&T, earlier in the year, I couldn’t help but envision a heavily
watered down festival sharing little but a name, as several other offshoot fests have done recently in the
name of increased profits (few people disagree that EDC New York this past year could at best be called
the ‘Natty Light’ version of EDC Vegas). After some heated debate between the devil and angel
on my shoulders, two weeks before the festival I decided there was no way in hell I would forgive myself
for missing out on TomorrowWorld if it turned out I was wrong. Looking back, I’m so glad I made the choice I did.
Despite rapidly rising ticket prices, many of the major US EDM festival organizers are great at throwing
an awesome concert, but are becoming increasingly terrible at creating an overall good experience for the
fans. They couldn’t care less if you don’t have room to move between stages, or if you have easy access
to free water in 80+ degree heat, as long as they make their money. TomorrowWorld, however, delivered an
incredible experience on all fronts, and their attention to detail was apparent from the moment the ornate
faux-wood boxes containing the wristbands arrived in the mail. The top GA tier for 5-day passes with
Dreamville camping ran about $400, which in my opinion was a steal for the stacked line-up (compare
that to Ultra at $500+ dollars for 3 days, and you still have to buy a hotel room in Miami).
The organizers took a big gamble early in the planning stages. Making it 21+ greatly limited the potential
fan-base in an already non-major market like Metro Atlanta. However, despite some rumors buzzing
about a potentially low turnout, in the end organizers reported an impressive attendance of 140,000
people throughout the 4 days. The gamble clearly paid off, and the event can undoubtedly be stamped a
great success even though it didn’t initially sell out.
The festival took place in Chattahoochee Hills, GA, about a 35 minute drive from the Atlanta airport.
After packing our rental SUV to the brim, and a long drive down from Philly, my group and I finally
arrived at the venue around 830pm Thursday night. Our plan was to get there just in time to set up camp and
catch the last hours of “The Gathering”, an exclusive campers-only pre-party featuring some big names
like Fedde Le Grand and Griz, sponsored by Counterpoint Music Festival (former tenant of the same
The venue was spread out over a sprawling 500 acre property full of big open fields, dense forests, rolling
hills, rivers, and lakes. The location was apparently chosen for its resemblance to Boom, Belgium, home
of the original Tomorrowland, and the organizers’ goal was to bring as much of Belgium to the Hills of
Chattahoochee as possible. They somehow even made it so the GPS’ on everybody’s phones showed up
as “Boom, Belgium” everywhere on the festival grounds.
We learned pretty quickly the timing of our original plan wasn’t quite going to work out when we
realized how difficult it was actually getting to the campsite; this inevitably became most people’s biggest
complaint of the weekend. With “greening” measures in effect to protect the fields, camping by cars or
driving directly up to the campsites to drop gear was prohibited. The trek from the drop off point involved
a shuttle bus, three security checkpoints, slogging through muddy fields, and a long boardwalk which all
in totaled at least a mile worth of walking. After multiple back and forth trips hauling tents, luggage, beer,
water, chairs, & other festy necessities, 4 hours, and a broken cooler handle later, The Gathering was
already wrapping up by the time we had our campsite up and running. We’ll be better prepared next year.
It was definitely worth the hike, as in my opinion the only way to truly experience the festival was to
camp in Dreamville. It wasn’t just a camp ground, but a tent-city of 30,000 party people from all over the
world, complete with a general store, restaurants, shops, bars, and even a full-service salon. The
atmosphere was surreal, and at times downright insane.
By far the best part about the entire experience was the crowd, which was hands down the nicest, most
diverse, and most international mix of people I’ve ever encountered at a festival. It was a beautiful mix of
veteran festival goers, first timers, ravers, hippies, college kids, working professionals, and everything in
between. Nearly everybody I met was from a different country. Just in the tents around our own campsite
we had people from Venezuela, Austria, Sweden, Canada, North Carolina, and Florida. Many of the
global travelers were sporting wristbands saved from Tomorrowland in years past, and shared stories
about the Belgian big brother (definitely next on my festival bucket list). You could feel the positive
energy everywhere you went in Dreamville, everybody offered to share whatever they could, and there
was hardly anybody who walked past our camp in the AM without smiling and saying “Good Morning”
despite being complete strangers. After a couple days it really felt like one big family.
While temperatures during the day were blazing in the high 80’s, it dropped to the low 50’s at night, so
the best way to keep warm was to keep partying. Every day people were up cracking first beers by 9am,
and kept the party going through the night to the early hours of the next morning.
The easy access and quality of the amenities made the 5 days of camping feel like home. For example, at
most camping fests using the showers is comparable to getting the $5.99 all-you-can-eat seafood buffet
at a strip club – you just don’t do it. But in Dreamville, although it came with a small fee, the shower
facilities were surprisingly clean and had hot water. The bathrooms all had banks of sinks with mirrors
stocked with spray deodorant, hairspray, and other conveniences. There was even a Tomorrowworld
Daily newspaper distributed to residents every day, filled with pictures and articles from the festivities of
the day before – it was the little touches like that that really put the experience over the top.
As for the actual festival, I have no delusions that profit wasn’t a primary motivation for the organizers,
but it was easy to tell that the people in charge really, genuinely cared about the attendees’ experience
and they weren’t afraid to spend the money to improve it where they could. As with Dreamville, the
attention to detail in the main festival grounds was noticeable, from the fountains and fire-breathing
dragon heads lining the water (as you entered and exited), to thoughtfully placed decorations at every turn,
which created a completely immersive fantasy world. There were drug & alcohol safety information
pamphlets being distributed and other safety tips cycling on LED signs throughout the grounds. Free
water fill stations were also readily accessible.
The location itself was perfect for an event of this size. Unlike many of the city-based EDM festivals,
one thing it definitely wasn’t lacking was room. The 8 stages were spaced far enough apart that sound
didn’t bleed in between, and moving from stage to stage was extremely easy, with plenty of open area
leftover to find a comfy spot to lounge in the grass. Although there were 140,000 people there, it never
felt too claustrophobic even in the closing hours on the Main Stage. That being said, the weekend was
definitely not easy on the feet, and getting from one end of TomorrowWorld to the other was a hike.
As with most major music festivals, the food and drinks were by no means cheap, but there
was definitely some awesome southern-style classics. Big props to Sonny’s BBQ for turning out an epic
Pulled Pork Sandwich, my primary source of sustenance over the five days.
Despite the controversy over it being 21+, the open alcohol policy once inside definitely was a positive
addition to the experience, and there were fully stocked bars around every corner. While it didn’t
completely prevent everyone from drinking too much, I think it definitely helped keep things under
control. It was nice not having kids running around more focused on the novelty of getting wasted instead
of having a good time partying responsibly.
All around the production quality was really incredible. There was, however, some controversy as many
Tomorrowland veterans that hoped they would be unveiling a new design for the Main Stage, were slightly
disappointed to learn they brought in a revamped version of the “Book of Wisdom”, recycled over
from Tomorrowland 2012. It was a spectacular structure none-the-less, an enormous bookcase with a
giant story book in the center which opened to reveal an LED screen displaying the 3D animation of the
festival’s fantasy narrator. That along with the sound, lights, water fountains, fire balls, flame throwers,
fireworks, and dozens of lasers, entranced the crowed and left everybody blown away. I was glad they
brought it back so I had a chance to see the production marvel for myself.
While most festivals of this size have their main themed stages, and then several which are essentially
just generic mobile platforms, at Tomorrowworld each of the 8 stages was a beautifully crafted work of art,
with over-the-top sound, decorations, lighting, and SFX combined to create the ultimate fantasy world.
The names of most of the stages changed daily to feature various artist labels or sub-genres. There was the
Icon stage with pools of water shaped like the Tomorrowworld butterfly, a Buddhist Temple, and a giant
mushroom, and the amazing Waterfront Stage with huge fountains and an LED waterfall. Even the
smallest stage nestled at the edge of the woods had a beautiful and unique ambiance all its own.
One disappointment for me was an unfortunately low turnout at the Giant Scorpion-shaped Q-Dance
stage, which was likely due to its secluded location behind a steep hill (which I, along with many others,
busted my ass on once or twice). However, the mind-blowing lightshow and special effects still gave
even the Main Stage production a run for its money. I always make it a point to thank the rarely credited
lighting/SFX techs if they put on a good show – at one point at Q-Dance I actually went up to the booth
and bowed down to them, it was that good. There, heavy-hitters in the Hardstyle realm such as Wildstylz
and Headhunterz, along with many names I’ve never seen before (some making first-time appearances in
the U.S.), had the dedicated Q-Dance followers jumping and shuffling for hours on end.
Although there was a slightly tense mood around camp on Thursday night, with people physically and
mentally exhausted from long journeys and lugging heavy gear, Friday was a new day and people woke
up ready to get the party started.
Friday night the Book of Wisdom opened to a stacked lineup with Fedde, Porter Robinson, and Ingrosso
turning up the heat for Tiesto to deliver the main attraction. Despite the music cutting out midway
through, Tiesto managed to churn out a monster set before Dimitri Vegas and Like Mike closed out
the night. I was also fortunate to be able to catch the end of Benny Benassi followed by Laidback Luke
tearing it up in the nearby Super You & Me tent.
Saturday was equally as loaded with killer performances by Alesso, Calvin Harris, and Axwell. Afrojack
delivered an impressive late-night set noticeably different (in a good way) than I’ve heard him play in the
past, which he followed by joining up with Steve Aoki as a super DJ duo dubbed “Afroki” – a weekend
favorite for many.
Come Sunday I made it a point to go to as many stages as possible, and spent some time bouncing
between OWSLA and Mad Decent, catching some awesome mixes by Seven Lions, the M Machine, Alvin
Risk, Skream, & Paper Diamond.
Over at the Main Stage, Hardwell had a lot to prove with his recent crowning as DJ-Mag’s #1 DJ in the
world (to anybody who even really cares about that sort of thing). While its hard to say whether it was
the best set in the world, I have to admit it was damn good and had me moving enough to call it one of
the best of the weekend. We opted to skip Guetta (due to some past disappointments), and instead chose
to have our minds blown by Gunz for Hire and Zatox on the the Q-Dance stage, before seeing Cazzette
make some magic in the Dirty Dutch tent.
Armin Van Buuren finished out the weekend living up to his legend as usual, milking the last ounces
of energy out of the exhausted people of TomorrowWorld. The Book of Wisdom wished everybody a
good night, and finally closed its pages. But, the night ended with an unexpected grand finale as the
entire crowd watched in horror as some guy who was clearly on a different planet, climbed a 50 foot
broadcasting tower, precariously balanced on top, and then attempted to slide down one of the guide
cables before climbing down and being pummeled by a dozen security guards.
All in all TomorrowWorld proved most of my initial concerns completely wrong. Having seen firsthand
what goes into making even a small festival happen, its hard to fathom the money, time and care that went
into making it a reality. By most reviews it had the grandeur of EDC, the great community crowd vibes
of Electric Forest, and the totally immersive fantasy experience promised by Tomorrowland.
Looking back, I not only had the time of my life, I realize I needed this to revitalize any hope I once
had for a positive future for EDM in the U.S. While Georgia is no Belgium, and it may not be as big as
Tomorrowland, it’s probably about as close as you’ll get without breaking out your passport.
Word is there were very few arrests and hospitalizations, so with the organizers having signed a 10 year
lease with Fulton County to use the property, we can be fairly sure TomorrowWorld will be back again
There’s so much more I could write about it, but I’ll just leave it with an assurance that this
is something you need to experience for yourself. And when buying your tickets next year, I’d highly
suggest getting them early, because I bet they will sell out again this time around.
Big shout out to Camp Dirty Internationals and all of the other new friends and amazing people who made
it one of the most memorable 5 days of my life!
[Photo credit: Chorale Miles Photography]
You can view an expanded photo gallery below (click thumbnails to enlarge):