Quick – name an annual US music festival that attracts six-figure attendance over the course of a weekend and includes a campground setting. OK – Coachella qualifies, but how about closer to home? Bonnaroo is a decent example too, but nearer yet to Atlanta’s backyard and larger still is TomorrowWorld, the Chattahoochee Hills gathering that attracts 160,000 electronic dance music fans and will reconvene this September 25-27 for “The Key to Happiness,” its third annual installment.
“When you look at the staple festivals in the US, such as Coachella and Bonnaroo, it took them years to achieve close to the kind of attendance we’re already getting,” boasts project director Jamie Reilly. Making the feat even more remarkable, TomorrowWorld is one of only a handful of 21-and-over festivals, and easily the largest.
TomorrowWorld was the first offshoot of the Tomorrowland festival in Belgium that has been going strong since 2005, and that exceeded 180,000 revelers this past July. A third instance, TomorrowWorld Brasil, premiered this spring. “I think of it as a family—we’re like the little brother figuring out who we are along the way,” explained Reilly while packing her bags for a seven-week Atlanta stay to sweat the details that accompany such a massive undertaking. “The intent is to bring Tomorrowland to different continents, to share the magic, the community and events with more people, abiding by the same values. We want to provide the same level of experience, while giving TomorrowWorld its own personality and local flavor.” Expanding on the notion of shared values Reilly adds, “Unity and community are the most important core value. We want to provide a place where everyone can be themselves and express themselves through music.”
With a roster of 300 artists comprising a Who’s Who of the EDM scene (David Guetta, Tiesto, Afrojack, Martin Garrix, DJ Snake, etc.) it would perhaps be easier to list who won’t be performing. Nonetheless Reilly—whose experience managing Cirque de Soleil fits well with the fantastical backdrops across TomorrowWorld’s 8,000 acre setting—is equally proud of the non-musical embellishments. New this year is the Tomorrow’s Table partnership with Atlanta celebrity chef Kevin Gillespie, encompassing both picnic baskets and curated sit-down meals overlooking the main stage and evoking Gillespie’s flagship southern-themed restaurants (Gunshow, Revival, Terminus City BBQ). During a brief conversation at his newly opened Revival, Gillespie sounded energized by the challenge of creating a full on-site kitchen and delivering a quality dining experience to 800 people nightly. He also harbored some hope of making it back to his nearby home each night and sleeping in his own bed.
“In Belgium they now have five different (on-site) restaurants,” according to Reilly. “This is the first year we have one, and it was important to me it be from someone local.” At the same time, the fest aims to satisfy various tastes and budgets with global cuisine including a Belgian Corner featuring waffles, fries and a beer café.
TomorrowWorld has added a ninth stage for its 2015 edition, and Reilly proudly notes that six of those will feature entirely new designs. “Even though we’re on the same grounds, we put a lot of emphasis on bringing in new elements so it’s a different experience every year.” Further 2015 enhancements include an ATL stage curated by area DJ collectives (VAVLT, Cardio ATL, Slow & Low) showcasing a range of current genres. There will also be a new live stage to accommodate DJs bringing full bands, and a trap stage highlighting the local electronic/hip-hop hybrid style and delivering on TomorrowWorld’s commitment to local flavor.
Amazingly, 70 percent of TomorrowWorld’s attendees come from outside Georgia, representing all 50 states and 70 countries, a far wider distribution than Bonnaroo, for instance, and geographic diversity that would be the envy of most universities. Roughly 35,000 spend the three-day weekend in DreamVille, the festival’s pop-up “glamping city.” Reilly is proud of the enhanced experience in this area as well, including a partnership with Cyc Fitness (which counts Buckhead among its six nationwide locations) to construct a spin studio at the campsite—a first for any festival. “People can take spin classes with us in the morning, or yoga and meditation in the afternoon,” she says.
Given these demographics, it’s not surprising that TomorrowWorld provides a meaningful boost to the area economy. An independent study from ICF International found that the 2014 festival generated $94 million of economic activity across the state, $30 million in labor income and $4.7 million in state and local taxes.
TomorrowWorld’s focus on the overall experience extends all the way to ticket purchase. This year TomorrowWorld will build on its 2014 success as the largest festival to go entirely cashless—all transactions and ground access are tied to a bracelet controlled through the Festival app. “Once people arrive, they don’t need a credit card or money of any sort,” Reilly explains. Perhaps not, but those bracelets still mean plenty of business for the Atlanta scene—music and otherwise.