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Imagine Music Festival Disco Inferno

Imagine a Perfect Festival. We Can’t Either…Or Can We? #TBT

by Kelly Fresh

Imagine a music festival where everything is perfect. Can you even? 

For the weeks leading up to, and even during the fourth Imagine Music Festival, held at the Atlanta Motor Speedway from Sept. 19th – 23rd, I definitely couldn’t Imagine ANY music festival ever being perfect. My thoughts seemed to be echoed over the course of the weekend, but with lighthearted familiarity in their voices as ravers all around me repeated the phrase “yeah, but that’s Imagine!” I didn’t understand at the time. 

I sit here a week later with a different understanding of the word ‘perfection’ and a whole new perspective on life. (Jilly, you were right, Imagine was life-changing) Though I grew up raving and went to plenty of fests “back in the day”, my REAL festival journey was sparked after I quit my marriage and my job a couple of years ago. I had the chance to start over and do whatever I wanted with my life. So I went to the Dirtybird Campout in Florida last year, shortly after I got separated. That was the first fest that I did without my ex, and while it was fun and a great way to shake off the funk that was my life at the time, I felt distant and disconnected. Despite that, I met some pretty great people when I connected with my old friends from California and was welcomed into their fest fam, which included my editor, Jen! 

In the year and a half since that journey began, I have grown more than words can even describe and learned more about myself than I ever could have imagined. I was challenged and tested throughout the whole festival experience and with hindsight, I would have to say it was perfect for exactly that reason. As I get ready to leave everything and move to Brooklyn, solo with no job, I suddenly have more confidence in my ability to handle bullshit and ‘bad luck’ with more calmness and grace. And I have to credit last week at Imagine with that new found confidence and spark of motivation.

My trip to Imagine started several days before the festival when I drove from Virginia Beach to Knoxville to hang with my good friend Jill and get ourselves festival ready. I really took my time for this one, shopping at various thrift stores and Halloween shops for weeks before, scoring MAJOR festival fashions for minor damage to my bank account. So when I got to Jill’s, I hooked her up as well and spent the days leading up to the festival adding sparkles and flowers and patches and awesome sauce to all of our fresh festival finds. By midnight on Wednesday, the night before we left, we were packed and tucked into bed for a restless four-hour nap. 

Our day started with a bang as we had to leave Knoxville at 5 A.M. to make it to WalMart and link up with part of our fest fam by 9 A.M. We decided on an R.V. this year after they were talking about how hot camping was, and I think everyone is glad we did. After a slight delay and some early morning sass with our coffee, we made it to the WalMart and stocked up, loading all of our crap onto our shared R.V. before parting ways with the boys to go pick up my press credentials while they went to get the R.V. pass at will call. 

Chaos was the word I heard the most to describe the entry process to Imagine this year. Everyone was discombobulated. So much so that it was almost comical. Lines ran from a couple hours to upwards of six hours the first two days of the fest and much of the staff seemed to lack knowledge and confidence which made a huge impact on the effectiveness of their entry process. By Saturday though, you could see a noticeable difference in the coordination and confidence of the staff, which showed that the festival organizers were listening and involved in troubleshooting and adjusting to the situation as they went through it. 

I heard that many of the problems arose from not receiving all the bands in the mail and then the tech issues with their contracted ticket outlet, Unity Travel, who ended up giving our whole group VIP camping bands for a mistake that was made with our booking. I welcomed that wristband after my long morning of waiting in the sun and getting thoroughly acquainted with the entire parking staff as we drove back and forth around the speedway, trying to find information and then Day Parking as no one knew what the companion pass I bought to go in with the RV was so they gave me Weekend Parking. 

I finally did find the parking, at the very front of the lot, SCORE! Only to discover that all the gates into the festival grounds were still locked until later that night and the only way in was to walk all the way back out around GA Camping and walk in there. BUMMER. Luckily for us though, there was a security guy there who saw our dilemma and presumably my media band and allowed us to go in a gate to the vendor village, beating our boys in the R.V. into the festival! SCORE!  (Is anyone else starting to notice a pattern?) This theme continued throughout the weekend. 

We got our campsite in the third row of RVs, right by the festival entrance, Shakedown Street, where the vendors were located, and the MASSIVE shower houses at the Speedway, which easily housed 25-30 showers and toilet stalls, complete with flushing toilets and HOT water! I really did welcome that shower house in the mornings. Those showers were open to everyone and were free for VIP and free for everyone between the hours of 6 P.M. and 6 A.M. From 6 A.M. to 6 P.M. they were charging $5 a per person. It seemed to be one of the smoothest flowing parts of the fest for me. I had no problems with showers or bathrooms all weekend. Although there were a couple of VIP shower and toilet trailers set up across from the shower houses at the entrance to VIP camping, I think those had more hiccups than the shower house when they had to be turned off to service. 

We were quickly surrounded by ALL THE SOUND CAMPS in RV Camping. So if you were at one of them, you were next to us. We were directly behind the Jellyfish Camp who played WAY too much Spotify WITH ADS all weekend…they spent all that time and money on a whole sound camp set up and then had no DJs in their crew! But to each their own. Their neighbors on both sides seemed to figure it out as they were sandwiched between the dildo-filled bouncy house camp on the one end and the bass-heavy, blacklight- reactive club in a tent on the other end. Regardless, all of them kept the campgrounds going pretty much 24 hours a day, all weekend long. But they weren’t the only ones to get in on the fun. 

One of the RVs that wasn’t even part of a sound camp straight up brought a WHOLE screened-in POOL, not a kiddie pool. This baby was like 3 feet deep and they were on floats in that thing all weekend! It was amazing! Also, BIG SHOUT OUT to the ladies in the General Store! They went out and got us an RV power adapter after we grabbed the reverse one from what we needed, allowing us to power up by Thursday night and enjoy a nice, fully-powered weekend. 🙂

After getting settled into camp on Thursday afternoon, leaving it fully decked out for our boy Tim’s 40th birthday, I got to explore the campgrounds a bit more. Tim’s husband, Nate asked if I wanted to take a walk with him to meet one of his friends, a double amputee named Michelle from Florida in ADA Camping. “Sure!” I responded with enthusiasm. I was curious about the festing experience from that perspective. What were the differences? Similarities? It turns out that it’s really not much different than festing any other way, it’s still fun and also still a huge pain in the ass! The five Ps still stand: Proper Preparation Prevents Poor Performance! 

The ADA camping area was actually super close to us and conveniently located to the shower houses, the entrance, and there was a mini vendor village right around the corner in VIP camping with cool off lounge, some shops, and a Mexican food stand who had like EIGHT different Aguas frescas – including my personal favorite, the nectar of the gods, HORCHATA. And they had it almost until the end of the fest so big ups to you guys! Lol Despite your comically slow service at times, your cold drinks revived my rave bod daily and inspired one of the best festival quotes to date after my friends said that horchata looked like semen. My response was “Honey, if your semen tastes like horchata, I will suck your balls through your peehole every day of the week!” That’s how much I LOVE this drink, y’all. Ok – I digress. Where was I? Oh yeah, Michelle! 

Michelle was amazing. She had her whole camp basically set up when we walked up on her van parked halfway down the narrow ADA lane of campers. She had solar panels and light up curtains, inflatable chairs and 2 wheelchairs, a manual and an electric, which she decked out in rave lights and flare each night when she went in. She had her whole sleep set up in her van and I think she may have even had a shower set up! Honestly, despite Nate and I being in the R.V. with 4 people total, I feel like Michelle, who was solo in her van was better prepared than we were and I found myself taking mental notes on ways to improve my own set-ups in the future. This woman was one of my soul sisters. As soon as we met, we tuned in to one another’s intuition and affinities for the cosmic cookie jar. Both of us are highly intuitive, free-spirited, foul-mouthed, independent women who love raving and see life through a comedic lens. 

I was so happy I got to meet her and I actually shared a dope moment of synchronicity with her the next morning when I went to visit. While we were talking and drinking coffee, one of her neighbors across the road was playing The Doors and I started to sing along, musing about how great it was to hear The Doors at Imagine after all the EDM and Bass the night before. Michelle, giggling said, “I woke up to them playing the song ‘Imagine’ this morning!” and not two seconds later, I turned around to one of the guys from the Doors camp handing me a bracelet with the words “You might say I’m a dreamer” on it! How synchronous! Crazy stuff like that happened all weekend! Read on.

Backing up to Thursday night, after meeting Michelle, I went to go check out more of the fest site. I was out exploring and went to check out the Imagine sign at the entry of the festival and try to get a photo and there was a guy taking pics of his boys on the sign yelling “ATL HOE!”. I almost asked if he wanted to jump in with them and I’d take their pic but I decided to just wait for them to finish to get my shot. After that, I got dressed and linked up with the rest of the Fresh Music Freaks Family who were festing and got to finally meet a few of my colleagues, Alex, Mister Speed Raver himself, and my girls Becca and RiMo! 

We decided to walk over and check out the Thursday night pre-party, where Space Jesus was headlining. It felt amazing as we crossed the threshold onto the speedway bleachers, which were vibrating so hard with the bass, our whole bodies shook with the reverb. As we descended the bleacher stairs down onto the track, we were met with huge flame-throwing disco ball at the Disco Inferno Stage, surrounded by multiple other flames shooting fire up in choreographed patterns, high into the night sky. 

Shortly after we got onto the field, I actually ran into my son, Tom! I had him in high school and gave him up for adoption. Then about 5 years ago, we found each other and met and have been building our relationship since! He lives in Chicago and I’m on the east coast so running into him at a fest is always great for me and the fact that we’re both ravers?! LOVE! It was kind of cute to see him telling his friends that I was his birth-mom and then seeing all their reactions. It makes me want to share our story with more people! Hearts to Tom and all his rave fam! It was great to meet you guys!

A few minutes after I linked with Tom, Space Jesus was up. The music faded slightly as he got into the booth and then I heard “ATL HOE” over the mic. Except it was the SAME VOICE as the guy who was taking pics of his friends at the Imagine sign earlier that night! 

Me: “Heyyyy! I almost asked him if he needed help earlier!” 

Tom: “Who? Space Jesus?” 

Me: “Is that who this is?” 

Tom: (Laughing) “Yeah”

Me: “Oh! Well, I didn’t know! I guess then yeah, Space Jesus”

Tom: “You were talking to Space Jesus? The guy who’s playing right now?”

Me: *Explains cute photo story from before

Tom: (Laughing harder now) “No way! That’s crazy”

Cue Bass…..

While bass isn’t my genre, I do love hip hop and grime and breaks and dnb, so I can still appreciate a dope bass set, and Space Jesus was a good start to the festival. I went to bed pretty early that night to be good for the next day. Friday started off good. The weather was nice, not too hot but hot enough to fill the huge plunge pool at the Oceania Stage, which almost had a main stage feel to it, despite it being at the far left end of the festival grounds. It was surrounded by a huge pool with Cabanas, a VIP viewing area, the Six Feathers Stage, which had a throwback vibe all weekend, a village of food and retail vendors, and a hidden video game lounge under the track where DJs and ravers alike gamed all weekend, playing Fortnite with Shaq or catching a secret set by Alison Wonderland. It almost felt like a carnival. 

Shaq was actually a last-minute addition when played a set as his bass-heavy alter-ego, DJ Diesel, in response to a cancellation from Diplo. I heard he played a very entertaining set that no one really complained about so I guess it was a success! Unfortunately, after spending THREE hours on fest hair and makeup Friday afternoon, I was incapacitated Friday night with severe stomach cramps so I crawled into my loft bed in the R.V., gutted, and crashed out while my fest fam went out and killed it on the dancefloor. They said the Techyes stage went hard on Friday night too with Clyde P., Anthony Attalla, and Amine Edge & Dance dominating the decks.

Saturday I was up early after all that sleep and hopped in an early morning shower. My shower helped get things moving and in no time, my stomach felt much better and my dancing shoes were back on! Turns out, I was full of shit, you guys! LOL! With a spring in my step, feeling light as a bird, I donned my customized, retro, red, purple, and turquoise school color guard dress turned intergalactic space queen uniform and brushed my tight curls into an AMAZING GOLD FROHAWK. That’s where you take an afro and sculpt it into a mohawk, a frohawk! And it was DOPE! Paired with gold booty shorts, gold leg wraps, red socks, and combat boots, I felt like I rave royalty – and I didn’t have to break the bank! A lot of my rave gear is stuff I score at thrift shops and upcycle or embellish. It’s a great way to save money on your festival wardrobe.

Saturday night came faster than expected and my fest fam was anxious to catch Wax Motif so they went ahead and Jen, Alex, and I hit our media meeting .and then headed onto the track. We had an interview with Darude lined up 45 minutes later so we walked out to catch the end of the Phantoms set at the Amazonia stage. It was at the other end of the track from the Oceania stage and much more relaxed with a meadow of grass, a huge shade cabana, and a gang of couches for people to relax on. I also managed to hang out with my kid again during that set so that was nice. After that, it was off to the SWEET Media Suite overlooking the entire speedway for our FMF interview with trance legend and ‘Sandstorm’ creator, Darude

Fellow Freak, Alex Lamb a.k.a. Speed Raver was on camera for this one and it was really fresh to be sat up there in this suite with the BEST views of the entire Imagine Music Festival just GOING OFF behind their interview, which was filled with depth and insight and also, an unexpected tech lesson as Darude showed us his love for technology when he whipped out this dope little phone camera lens attachment that really took iPhone photography to the next level! Who knew?! After we wrapped our interview, we shared some of those widely revered street noodles everyone was talking about (at least around the campgrounds), and then I took off to try and catch up with my fest fam. 

Instead, I ran into my old homegirl Lucy and shortly after, I realized that the Cherub set I thought I missed earlier was actually coming on next! That was my MUST SEE of the weekend so I headed that way without any more thoughts. Colors got brighter and sounds more magical as I drifted past the Techyes stage and down into the sea of couches in front of Amazonia. Everything sparkled and swirled around me as I waited for Cherub to start, working my way to the front and cementing my spot just as they took the stage, my gold frohawk shining in the lights as manufactured smoke started to waft through the crowd, making it all very retro-futuristic and surreal. It was like my whole look had been conceived to be at that show and I wasn’t the only one who noticed as different people from the groups surrounding me started to point it out, building the vibe between us as strangers quickly became my Cherub Dance Crew.

At first, Cherub killed the power. True story. They were playing for maybe a minute, if that, when all the sound went out. Slightly confused but mostly supportive, ravers were unphased, shouting “WE LOVE YOU CHERUB” as they raced with their stage crew to get back online. After a short time, they were back on and shooting soulful, weird, amazing lasers of synth-pop eargasm love into our souls. And we were ALL THE WAY IN IT with them. The energy at that show was one of the best vibes I have ever felt at any live show in my life. They took us on a curated journey through space and sound that went up and down and all around and finished with all of us singing ‘Doses and Mimosas’ at the tops of our lungs. We loved it. I loved it. I said it all weekend and I’ll say it again in case you missed it, CHERUB WAS AMAZING.

After that life-changing set, I hustled all the way across the speedway to the Six Feathers stage to grab my girl Farah, who was the last man standing from my fest fam, which was now back at camp. We linked up and headed for the Techyes Stage where we caught the second half of Detroit native, Anthony Attalla’s set which reeled us in like two beat loving fish, hypnotized by the bait of that beat. The house beats were hard-hitting and bouncy and kept us firmly planted for Treasure Fingers, an Atlanta native whose set was so jacking, I thought I was going to need a neck brace the next day from head-bopping so hard. Even after we were too tired to stand anymore and had sat down in the grass, he kept our feet and bodies going to funky, gritty, dope ass house tracks and finally, around 1 a.m., we decided to head back to camp. 

Apparently though, my phone wasn’t done with that set so while Farah and I made our way back up the speedway bleachers and down the exit ramp, my phone was like “I’m just gonna hang out in this field for a while and hitch a ride back later! Bye!” I was almost out of the exit gate back to the campground when I realized my phone was gone. Slightly panicked but not really, we walked back to our spot and found that my phone had already taken off with somebody else. Still not totally crushed, we went back to our camp where I turned on my lost iPhone message and decided to just not stress about it and find something else to do. If it didn’t show up by the end of the festival, I had insurance so why worry, right? 

I still had loads of energy and wanted to dance so I changed into some dry clothes as I had thoroughly sweated through my space queen ensemble, and then I headed out to the Struggle Bus, another sound camp that was on a bus parked in GA Camping. It was around 1 a.m. on Saturday night and whoever was spinning at the time was playing some DOPE MUSIC. The crowd, however, was definitely a struggle as I joined two other people dancing in the grass, trying to build a crowd. We were joined by a few more and thought we might have a party starting when we got up to like eleven people there, but that was short-lived as we all dissipated within 20 minutes or so. 

Not feeling like sleep yet and not wanting to be sitting in my camp, I ended up at the Mac and Cheese on a Stick stand, cutting up with those guys for a good half hour before people started to wander in from the closing festival venue and make their way to the silent disco, which unbeknownst to me was directly across from the Mac and Cheese stand! As their line built, I walked over to the CBD/tobacco stand and when I went to grab my wallet to buy some wraps, it was gone too!!!!! That was almost too much as panic set in for a split second. But it didn’t ever surface as I just got up and walked over to the mac and cheese stand and there was my wallet, in the grass, unscathed! YAY! I ended up befriending some of the vendors that night and we stayed up all night clowning and talking about life until I dragged myself into bed around 5 a.m., cursing the frigid temperatures in my R.V. as I tried to warm up from spending all night out in the cold. Snuggled up in my sleeping bag, I passed out and slept like a champ. 

Sunday was the Dirtybird Players takeover of the Disco Inferno Stage and the day I was most looking forward to out of the whole weekend. I LOVE Dirtybird and their gritty, grimy, gnawing house music that just gets up in your guts! I woke up to my girl, Farah telling me that someone found my phone and they had it! I waited for a while and by mid-afternoon, I was walking right around the corner to the Qube village to link up with my hero, OLIVIA! She rescued my phone from that field and kept it safe for me, sparing me hours of agonizing driving with RADIO music and saving my festival coverage from the weekend! After that, we laid low for the rest of the day and started to get our stuff packed up to leave early the next day. Some of our fest family had to head out early as well so we said our goodbyes and then got ready for our final takeover of the weekend. 

Dressed in my FRESH Dirtybird Campout counselor shirt, I descended upon the speedway with my crew halfway through Justin Jay’s set. With the flames shooting high and the bleachers shaking hard with the womp, womp, womp, we made our way onto the field and set up our spot, which was quickly enveloped in a crowd of lit up, totem toting, sparkly ravers and a buttload of GIANT inflatable pool floats, aka portable rave couches! WELL DONE BOYS! 

I was excited to finally get a night to dance it up with my girl Jilly as we had missed each other the first three nights, and I couldn’t keep my feet still as Justin Jay, J Philip, Justin Martin, and Claude Von Stroke threw fire on the decks, blending remixed nostalgia with lasers and alien space funk with breaks and bass. It was exactly what a Dirtybird Takeover should be and by midnight, I was thoroughly satisfied, percolating back through the crowd to head back and finish packing up my camp. We had a bit of fest fam drama that last night so the vibes around camp were a bit wonky and in the midst of putting my crap in the trunk of my car, which I had relocated the day prior from the original lot I was in, I locked my keys in my trunk! Sonofabitch!

In keeping with the theme of the weekend, however, Jilly called AAA and in an hour, my trunk was opened up and we got the keys back! We turned in early that night and were up by 8 a.m on Monday, packing our final bags and saying our final goodbyes to our fam and newfound friends and neighbors. Tired and looking like we just crawled out of a hobo’s asshole, we loaded into my car and decided to take the scenic route back to Jilly’s in Knoxville, stopping at the BEST WAFFLE HOUSE EVER on the way! 

All in all, the weekend was a rollercoaster and apparently the lost phone theme was widely shared amongst Imagineers as a lot of them were pickpocketed while the rest were just like me, absentminded! There were injuries and illnesses, fights and lost items, but there were also AMAZING moments that were had. And some of those highs wouldn’t have even happened without the lows happening first. When one door closes, another one opens. It’s all up to us how we respond to situations and manage our reactions, and I felt myself responding differently as I went through the weekend, overcoming more challenges than I could have imagined. And because of that, that growth and change in perspective about “things happening to me”, I can’t say that Imagine was anything less than perfect! It was exactly as it was supposed to be and once I started trying to adjust myself to my situation, there really wasn’t much that could get me down! It showed me just how far I have come from two years ago and made me realize that I can handle a lot more than I was giving myself credit for. What an amazing lesson to learn just before taking a huge leap into a new life in a brand new city!!! 

Could the festival organizers improve their operations? ABSOLUTELY. But what festival couldn’t? Personally, I would like to see a lot more interactive activities and spaces in the campgrounds because there wasn’t a whole lot to do during the day and the vendor village in the campgrounds was fairly small. However, I also overheard some rumors about Imagine relocating to a new home outside the speedway for 2021, perhaps on a well-known mountain in a much more natural environment. This may spark some change and give the festival a whole new vibe. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see! In the meantime, just Imagine. 🙂

Stay Fresh!

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