Plastic mushroom statues outnumbered hay bales last weekend on a horse farm near Chattahoochee Hills,Georgia,about 25 miles southwest of Atlanta. A stage designed as a massive facade of books with titles like Beauty and the Beat and The Story of Us sprouted in the centre,with seven smaller stages scattered over 500 acres of rolling countryside.
Each day,50,000 festival goers from 75 nations high-fived strangers as they moved from stage to stage. About 30,000 camped on the grounds.
From noon until midnight,DJs played frenetic,percussive music non-stop. When darkness fell,crowds of bouncing,hand-waving dancers packed cheek to jowl close to the main stage to hear DJs like Axwell and David Guetta. Screens flashed videos,while throbbing music pounded out of giant speakers. Fireworks lighted the sky in sync with the beats. Pulsating lights swept the crowd.
This was the debut of TomorrowWorld,the American version of Tomorrowland,the Belgian electronic dance-music festival.
Concert promoters and authorities were carefully watching the festival because of recent drug-related deaths at other dance-music events,including two overdoses at the Electric Zoo festival in New York City. That made seven deaths at dance events around the US since March,and raised concerns that the negative publicity around them could cripple these festivals,a $4.5 billion segment of the music industry.
But TomorrowWorld went off with relatively few problems. Its organisers said 19 people were taken to hospitals over three days,mostly for physical injuries like ankle sprains.
As a reference,I transport more people from smaller-venue sporting events,including tennis,over a three-day period, said Dr Andrew N Bazos,of Sports and Entertainment Physicians,who was hired to oversee the festivals medical care.
The fans,mostly in their 20s and ranging from clean-cut frat boys to dreadlocked stoners,came ready to party.
TomorrowWorld organisers advertised a zero-tolerance policy towards drugs and said they enforced strict security,including the use of drug-sniffing dogs,and that they didnt admit anybody younger than 21.
The security didnt seem to bother the fans,who paid at least $347 for three days admission and extra for shuttle rides,parking,campsites and access to VIP tents.
I prefer it this way, Arijana Alic,25,of Bosnia,said after security guards told her to remove her shoes and searched her bag at a festival entrance. With this many people,you never know whats happening.
Which is not to say that drugs didnt get inside. Several fans estimated that at least half the festivalgoers were using some sort of drug,mainly Molly,an MDMA-based drug thats illegal and sometimes mixed with hallucinogens like LSD.
Some fans said using Molly is simply part of the experience,like smoking marijuana while listening to reggae or drinking a beer on St Patricks Day. It turns the music into a full sensory experience.
It makes you hyper,makes you energetic, said Jordan,23. It really influences the music.
Elizabeth,22,said that she planned to use Molly that night. People react badly to drugs when they dont know what theyre doing,she said.
If you know the precautions,like staying hydrated,you should be fine, she said,noting that shed never consider using certain other drugs,like cocaine and LSD,or mushrooms.
Some fans,like Jessica Strain,22,of New Orleans,were upset by the negative attention electronic dance-music festivals have received because of drug use. Ive been going to music festivals for years,so it breaks my heart to seek how its turned out, she said. Back in the day,it was better.