All That Glitters Is Mud: The TomorrowWorld Experience

The excitement associated with TomorrowWorld ran high among the 190,000 attendees. The festival is located deep in the desolate woods of Georgia’s Chattahoochee Hills, outside of Atlanta. The electronic-music artists are the most talented in the world and the décor resembles an 8,000-acre Cirque du Soleil set. Though the event brought people from many different countries, Texas was well-represented — our state flag was seen on flags, shirts, fanny packs, shorts and even chef aprons.

This event was incredible, despite the nuisances others and I experienced that flooded social media and news articles this past Sunday. This was my second trip, and I plan to go back many times. I do not want to minimize the suck experienced by others, but it is important to keep in mind that they were only inconveniences. I have seen no reports of maiming or deaths from the weekend. [Note: one festivalgoer was reported dead of a suspected drug overdose on Thursday — ed.] It is unfortunate that the problems stemming from transportation issues will be the main memory clouding an otherwise incredible time for many people.

Day One started off fantastic for my good friend Gabe and me. Highlights included seeing so many people ecstatically happy and taking in sets by DJ Snake, Benny Benassi and the first festival appearance of Shaquille O’Neal, aka DJ Diesel. (Overheard in the crowd, “He can DJ a lot better than he can shoot free throws!”) The problems occurred as it came time to leave.

The fact is that TomorrowWorld officials were prepared for many things. Bathrooms, food, drinks, sound system, medical tents...everything was pretty good except for Friday night's parking/shuttle debacle. Leaving the festival, the wait for the shuttle to off-site parking and Uber/taxi pickup was just over two hours. Staff and security were pleasant and friendly, passing out water and shuffling people through the chutes made from barricades. Several of the buses had problems making it through a few muddy bends. Once at the dropoff sites, there were phone chargers and more people waiting for Uber rides. The taxis were long gone, so the only option was to use Uber at that point. A car from the airport area to the festival site was a flat-rate $40, but the surge prices were in full effect for the ride home, costing $125. All you knew at the time was that surge pricing was at 5.9. At that point, it was take Uber or sleep in a field. After waiting about another hour, an Uber driver arrived and took us to the hotel just before 4:30 a.m.

On Saturday, everyone was seemingly having the times of their lives. There was a lot of mud and some spots of water, but they did what they could by laying down wood chips and hay; the ground was sticky from the Georgia red clay. Saturday night seemed more congested, as people tried to stay on the plastic walkways and high-ground paths. Still everyone appeared happy and excited about the music. Pete Tong was top-notch, at one point mixing three songs at once. Bassnectar was solid as usual and the Bixel Boys left their crowd clamoring for more.

Due to Friday's issues from Friday, TomorrowWorld adjusted the contingency plan again and placed the barriers in a straight line along the road the shuttle buses traveled the previous day. The line of a few thousand people stretched nearly three-quarters of a mile. Luckily, a great friend had offered to pick us up and we took him up on it.

I personally try to stay positive and make the best out of any situation. I also don’t stand around and wait for someone else to help me. When we attempted to walk past the shuttle line to gain access to the main road, the people waiting behind the barricade started screaming at us and throwing water bottles. I am sure video exists of me and my camera being pelted by half-full water bottles on World Star or LiveLeak. I suppose they thought we were going to try and get to the front of the line. These were the same people we were just having a great time with, but then the mob mentality took over. So much for P.L.U.R. (Peace, Love, Unity and Respect).

The worst part though was when a “parking official” — somebody in an orange safety vest — tried to physically stop me from leaving the area. I am not a small man and have extensive training in self-defense and de-escalation techniques. This person was not being rational, and yelled and screamed at me to turn around and to listen to him and that the road was in other direction. No way was he going to ‘detain’ me or stop me from leaving. He soon realized it was a battle better left to someone else, and resorted to trying to trip Gabe, who was following behind me.

Leaving this area was one of the best decisions we made during the weekend. After a four-mile hike through a dark road reminiscent of a scene in The Walking Dead, we came upon our friends in a very long line of standstill traffic waiting to get into the Uber/taxi area. Our friend promptly escorted us out of the area and to the confines of a very comfortable hotel room.

The final day of the festival came with the news that the thousands of people had been stranded on-site, as TomorrowWorld had reportedly suspended Uber and shuttle services until 7 a.m. Many festivals are affected by inclement weather. Sets may be delayed and festivalgoers evacuated, but it is rare that the event is outright cancelled. Promoters understood that after two days of this, there was an issue that could not be safely resolved. There was also no way to remove the 40,000 campers from the grounds. So, the final day of the festival was restricted only to current campers. This was arguably the best day of the festival; those who got to stay were going to be in for a treat.

After reading the news, the day was planned to go to downtown Atlanta and eat breakfast at the Flying Biscuit then find a sports bar and catch the Bucs and Texans. After the game, my buddy and I were trying to catch an Uber and spent ten minutes watching the car icon rotate around the map, seemingly trying to avoid us. Surprisingly, what appeared to be the Muppets' Electric Mayhem bus pulled up right in front of us and the driver said, “Y’all going to TomorrowWorld?” I responded that we couldn’t because they weren’t letting people in. “We can get you in…”, they said. We cancelled Uber and took a trip with the Interstellar Transmissions crew from Austin. Once again, we were on our way to the festival site with a traveling band that actually played live music during the ride. Upon finally arriving at the grounds, we were a bit anxious whether we would get in, but that quickly subsided within seconds as security waved us through. It was an entertaining ride, to say the least.

The grounds were better than the previous day in terms of mud. Several people I spoke with reported having no major issues in the Dreamville campsite. The crowd seemed to be on their sixteenth wind, a bit worn down but still raging strong for Bakermat, Destructo, Guy Gerber, Maya Jane Coles and Thomas Jack. Joy was still permeating the festival.

Having an early flight, we decided to cut the night short and left close to 11 p.m. After a short walk, we came across a guy with an Uber sign at the end of the road where everyone had waited the night before. He directed us to a car. Halfway through the trip the drive he said, “You know this is a cash-only Uber, right?” Our fake Uber driver provided us with the most seamless exit of the festival.

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Jackson is a freelance photographer and writer covering a variety of music and sporting events in the Houston area. He has contributed to the Houston Press since 2013.
Contact: Jack Gorman