Published by Josh Mills
Imagine is one of the nation's last independent music festivals and is in its 3rd year. This year was significantly different due to its need to expand due to the growth in popularity of the festival .This required a venue change to Atlanta Motor Speedway from the Old Fourth Ward Park. This venue change paid off mainly because of the amenities offered by a facility ready to host a crowd of up to 100,000 people. The lineup had also grown from filling 3 to 5 stages. The 887 acre footprint and infrastructure of the site allowed for the expanded vision of the curators to be realized. This added up to an experience that pleased all but the most negative of internet trolls and night crawling news reporters.
It is hard not to draw a parallel between Imagine and another well known festival held at a raceway, EDC Vegas. Due to the success of EDC that is a compliment and where many of the similarities ended. This festival felt more homegrown than corporate. That pays off with progressive music choices and creative amenities rather than just having bigger stages every year. Its hard to explain the value a real bathrooms, accessible shaded areas or even some air conditioning for those working to someone new to festivals. Coming out of the tunnel or walking down the bleachers with your friends led to a panoramic view of the festival. This gave a overwhelming sense of what was in store to explore. There is no denying the festival was a scorcher but the weather was typical of a weekend in August in the South. There were water stations and shaded areas on each end of the festival grounds. I saw numerous occasions where staff with blue Imagine t-shirts were handing out water in the crowd and EMS staff present when needed. If that wasn't enough there were misting stations, a huge pool and a water slide to cool off. Speaking of the pool the water was changed out periodically and although I admit being skeptical the water was clean every time I visited. The pool was really a good time and provided a much needed break from the heat. Running and sliding through the water spray made by the inlet was a highlight of my festival. Friday night there was a two man acrobatic act on something that looked like what would happen if aliens put humans in a hamster wheel. It was straight out of Cirque du Soleil. Security was laid back yet responsible promoting a good vibe that lasted all weekend long. The infield garages served as great spots for vendors to setup and they also had spots open to get out of the sun that were surprisingly cool and they were well utilized by groups of festival friends smart enough to take a break from the heat.
The variety and quality was exceptional. The Iris family does a great job keeping the lineup progressive. I was excited to see some acts I had only just begun to hear about and I was excited for the live debut of DJ Hanzel which had us going "One Deeper."
Friday really felt like an appetizer having only one main stage open and the local stage but by the time the sun had set crowds had gathered to rage. When I checked in at 2:30Pm to pickup my badge I heard the attendance was already at over 16,000. That was believable because the crowd was thick and if you didn't make it towards the front by the time Snails came on you would be fighting to get up there. It was a strange transition to Steve Angello after that but the crowd didn't seem to care and sometimes scheduling artists just works out that way. It's hard to complain when you have such great international talent on the stage.
Walking into the venue Saturday you could immediately tell the staff had been busy overnight and there were more stages to explore and new art installations and water playgrounds to discover. In addition to the Oceania stage which housed mostly EDM acts and the local ATLantis stage there was the experimental bass and jam heavy Amazonia stage, the house and trance Disco Inferno and a high BPM Aeria stage. Saturday seemed to have two main themes going on, a heavy dubstep line up on the mainstage and on the Amazonia stage the second largest crowd was drawn to the more experimental side of bass music during the day which turned into more Jamtronica at night. This is the point of the show where tough choices had to be made and you just couldn't catch the whole set of every act you liked. I ventured to the Amazonia stage during the day and I heard many people including myself mention Minnesota as one of their favorite sets. It really did seem like the climax sandwiched between G Jones who was good and Papadosio who played a very electronic heavy set compared to when they last came to Atlanta for their Earth Day show or even last year at Imagine. DJ Hanzel's debut was impressive even if you don't know about Dillon Francis's alter ego from social media. What's equally impressive is that right after his set only an hour later Dillon Francis played as himself at the main stage and the quality of both his sets made him stand out as a favorite of the 30+ people I spoke to after the show. Zed's Dead capped off my favorite night of the festival at 3AM and played some unreleased tracks. Walking out of the venue at 3AM it occurred to me that this is later than many festivals let out and this is due to the sheer amount of talent present that all needed stage time.
Sunday was really equally as impressive when you look at the lineup. Again Amazonia catered to the "headier" crowd while Oceania was heavily favored by the EDM crowd. It really showed that Imagine tried to cater to both of these two large festival demographics and it was done in satisfying fashion. Many festivals are heavy on either EDM or Jam Bands but Imagine had an impressive enough lineup to attract both crowds again. I really see that as one of the festivals strengths, it truly brought people together through music and you could feel that was their vision. I was impressed by Opiuo from New Zealand who I had not heard live before. Every set from artists I was familiar with or even those I was new to like Opiuo made me realize we are truly in a golden age of music. If you had the stamina to go until 3AM on Day 3 you were rewarded by sets from Gramatik or Excision. Gramatik was also commonly cited as a favorite set of those I surveyed. If you had the energy for Excision at 3AM on Day 3, pat yourself on the back you are a freak of nature.
If 3AM was too early for you to go to bed the campgrounds offered more options to party including a Silent Disco that was packed every night. It is nice to still have an option to party that doesn't piss off those in the campgrounds trying to sleep. I'm not sure if I was lucky with the spot we got but every group I knew was a short walk from my campsite and the venue was at most a 10 minute walk. Going back to the theme of great amenities I was pleased to find out showers were open 24 hours. Going to bed not feeling disgusting was actually an option. I have never experienced that at a festival before. The only downside to camping at any festival is the wait time to get setup which takes a few hours unless you can get your group on the road super early. The crowd at Imagine made the best of this by creating a train of cars already raging by the time tents were being setup. Being able to camp really enhanced the experience by being able to maximize the time spent at the festival compared to last year. Typically the downside to camping is how rough you feel by Day 3 and Imagine did a good job providing facilities to minimize that.
It has not yet been announced but keep your eye out for Imagine next year if you weren't able to make it @
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