After months of holding out hope, Imagine Festival has finally announced that this year’s event will be canceled in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. While this news is hardly a shock given the cancellations that have already happened, to me this is without a doubt, the biggest heartbreak of the most unfortunate festival season.
In an email to ticket holders Imagine Festival reps stated that they had been hopeful that the reopening of Georgia was a sign that the festival could proceed as planned. But with a recent uptick in COVID cases, it is no longer safe to hold the event as planned. Fortunately, refunds will be issued to ticket holders.
While this is most certainly a wise decision, it is also devastating for loyal Imagine fans.
If you’ve ever experienced the grandiose visual splendor of Electric Daisy Carnival or Ultra festival, Imagine might not be the most aesthetically pleasing U.S. festival. After all, a racetrack in the middle of rural Georgia is an odd venue to attempt to transform into an “Aquatic Fairytale.” But Imagine was my festival and during one the darkest times of my life, it threw me a lifeline I could never have anticipated, and it’s thrown me one every year since.
This year would have been my fourth visit to Imagine and probably the most excited I had been to attend. Over the years, this three-day festival has become a part of my identity, not only because it was my first exposure to EDM and music festivals, which are now staples in my life, but because it saved me.
Very few people get the opportunity for a second chance at life, but Imagine was just that for me. When I thought all doors had closed, and the concept of “hope” was nothing more than rhetoric peddled by the foolishly optimistic, the music brought me back to life. I quickly learned that if I surrendered myself to the experience, I could leave all the pain of my past behind and start healing. After meeting and talking with so many of you over the years, I now know I am not alone in feeling this way.
Every year that I’ve gone back, I pay homage to the broken girl who reluctantly accepted an invitation to a festival she knew nothing about because she literally had nothing else to lose. And by some miraculous happenstance, the simple gesture of saying “yes” altered the course of everything in my life. To speak so passionately about Imagine might sound silly—it’s just a festival. But anyone who has ever danced in the heat of a warm summer’s eve while confetti rain poured down, and the bass sent chills down your spine knows that this is an experience like no other.
There is an unbridled love for oneself that occurs when you stop caring about what the rest of the world thinks and just let go and dance. In fact, every single moment of profound clarity that I’ve had over the last three years has happened at Imagine. Each year has also served as a sort of check-in with myself to see how I’m doing in life. Without that opportunity this year, I admittedly feel rather lost.
People find salvation in a multitude of ways and places. I found mine on a racetrack in Hampton, Georgia. With tens of thousands of strangers dancing all around me. I’ve fallen in love with myself, forged lifelong friendships, and found more peace than I ever thought possible. But the truly miraculous aspect of Imagine is that it doesn’t just end when the festival comes to a close. The lessons I’ve learned and the connections I’ve made with the people I’ve danced with have spilled over into every facet of my life.
If you would have told that girl who danced so reluctantly that first year that the music would become her world, she wouldn’t have believed you. But music heals, music saves, and music gives us purpose. As hard as it is for me to fully accept it now, the truth is, that purpose isn’t contingent on a festival, even though without it life isn’t quite as bright.
Everything might feel uncertain and scary right now. But in reality, everything is always uncertain, it just doesn’t always seem so glaringly obvious as it does in 2020. But we cannot capitulate to despair or anguish. And above all, we cannot stop dancing. Sometimes the only thing left to do when things seem bleak is to dance to the soundtrack of uncertainty, whether that’s on a racetrack, field, forest, or our own living rooms. And this year will probably have to be the latter. No matter where you make your dancefloor, just keep dancing.
As Alan Watts once wrote, “The only way to make sense out of change is to plunge into it, move with it, and join the dance.” These are wise words we would all do well to remember right now.
My heart hurts at the prospect of not returning “home” to Imagine this Summer, but this is not the end of the dancing and it’s certainly not the end of the music. Imagine will return one day, and when it does we will dance more fervently and with more love than ever before.
*Featured Image Via Imagine Festival.