Exit Reality, Enter TomorrowWorld
When my boss told me I was being sent to Chattahoochee Hills, Georgia to cover TomorrowWorld 2015, my brain couldn’t work fast enough to give any response other than, “Me? Really?”
Electronic dance music is one of those genres of music with a reputation. Everyone has an image in their heads of the prototypical EDM festival-goers: they’re in their early-to-mid twenties, wearing neon and flower crowns, dancing with no abandon.
That’s not exactly me. I’m more acoustic guitar, less bass drop. To the point where, in telling my friends that I was covering the biggest EDM festival in the US, I got the same reaction across the board: “You? Really?”
Armed with that arsenal of glowing support, I hopped in a cab to JFK Airport absolutely terrified that I was going to stick out like a sore thumb in the TomorrowWorld crowd. I immediately regretted not hitting up the craft store to fashion my very own flower crown.
The nerves kept bubbling up throughout the flight to Georgia, and in the car with the Elite Daily crew as we drove out to the festival. I had read that TomorrowWorld USA takes place in a magical forest location, but I didn’t realize that was the first step in a total break from reality.
As we walked through the giant rainbow gate into the Dreamville campgrounds, it felt like my childhood 96-pack of Crayola crayons had exploded to life. Hair of every color. Unicorns. The most beautiful and intricate tattoos I had ever seen. Hello Kitty masks. Walking bananas. Flags of every nation. I saw why they called it Dreamville.
But the dreamlike state of the festival didn’t end at Dreamville’s rainbow gates. As I entered the festival, I saw each stage was its own twisted fantasy – none more so than the main stage with pyrotechnics and a working waterwheel.
After the initial shock of the fantasy-land wore off, I took a closer look at the population under the costumes. I listened more closely to the languages around me. That’s when I realized that TomorrowWorld completely negated the idea of a prototypical EDM listener. Around me were people from every country of the world – people of all races, cultures and ages. You couldn’t tell who was rich and who was poor, who was gay and who was straight. And, above all, it didn’t matter.
It was impossible to stick out like a sore thumb at TomorrowWorld in a crowd that was the epitome of open.
Let’s call a spade a spade: Alice and Helene aren’t the typical couple that frequents EDM festivals. They’re adorably clean-cut and spend their lives traveling for high-powered, corporate jobs.
In fact, when we first started following them around for the weekend, Alice expressed her shock. “If you’re looking for, like, ass-cheek girls, that’s not us,” she informed us, while Helene agreeably giggled.
That was probably the reason Helene harbored some fear last year when she bought two tickets to TomorrowWorld without Alice’s knowledge.
Helene, when you bought those tickets, did you think Alice would want to go?
I'd wanted to go to TomorrowLand [in Belgium] for a long time, and when I heard it came to Georgia in the form of TomorrowWorld, I thought, “We absolutely have to go to this.” I didn't know if Alice would be into going to such a big music festival, so I secretly bought tickets.
I remember sitting at my desk at work and talking to a colleague saying, “Should I do it, should I not, I don't know! I'm just gonna do it.” So I bought the tickets.
Helene, what was the backup plan if Alice didn't want to go?
I was a little nervous to tell Alice last year. One thing that I knew about Alice is she's always up for an adventure, so I knew no matter what it was she would say yes.
She said, “I'll bring someone else if you don’t want to go.” I was like, “No you're not taking someone else, I'm going with you.”
Alice, you said you were kind of into electronic dance music, but now you're a die-hard?
Yeah! Now I listen to it in the morning when I'm taking a shower, when I'm working out, when I’m going to work. It just totally pumps me up for the day and keeps me energized. And I absolutely love dancing. Spontaneous dance parties with Helene are a big part of our relationship.
Alice was such a convert that she immediately bought two tickets to this year’s TomorrowWorld and started planning a surprise even bigger than Helene’s: a marriage proposal.
While other campers were worried about keeping dry in the weekend’s rain and mud, the weather was the farthest thing from Alice’s mind as she geared up for Sunday’s big proposal.
When I was able to steal her away from Helene for a moment, I asked Alice where she was hiding the ring in their tent. She stealthily opened her fanny pack to reveal the beautiful ruby-and-diamond ring. She had been keeping it there all weekend, making any excuse possible to keep Helene away.
Alice looked nervously excited any time she thought about the big moment. Understandable, as she’d be asking the biggest question of her life in a crowd of thousands of people AND their favorite artist, Chainsmokers.
How did you two meet?
Helene and I met on OkCupid in July 2013. And it took a little while to convince her to be in a relationship with me.
I met Alice when she was interning in Boston between her two years of MBA school. I wasn't looking for a relationship at all, so it took me a while to decide I wanted to be with her. But she was absolutely worth it. At the time, I thought I was too young to get in a committed relationship; but I've had so many adventures with her that there's no reason not to be together.
She's a smart girl.
When the big moment finally arrived, we followed the couple into the crowd. Alice was hiding her nerves well, and Helene had no idea her life was about to change. All she knew was how excited she was to see Chainsmokers, giddily jumping up and down when they took the stage.
The plan was for Alice to wait until eight minutes into the set, but adrenaline took over. After about five minutes, she kneeled down and popped the question in an emotional speech. Helene was so shocked and so emotional she could barely speak. She nodded her head “yes.”
To say this was the highlight of the festival would be an understatement. We’ve never witnessed that kind of public display of pure emotion before. It was the best representation of the TomorrowWorld community – and an honor to watch a love like Alice and Helene’s.
When you meet Bradley and Ashley, you think you know exactly who they are: A young, carefree couple who attends festivals like TomorrowWorld all the time. They seem like veterans as they set up their camp with their coolers, adorn their wrists with kandi and put on their matching bandanas. They hop from stage to stage to find the best dance party, and when Bradley picks Ashley up and spins her around in time to the music, you can see how happy they are to be here together.
But dig a little deeper, and you’ll see their roads leading to TomorrowWorld were very different.
What led you here to TomorrowWorld?
I'm from Minnesota, and I actually was introduced to electronic dance music through my ex-boyfriend. He had me listening to EDM, and he brought me to TomorrowWorld  the first time.
Well, I was in Alaska at the time. And while I was in Alaska, I was diagnosed with Stage 4 Hodgkin's Lymphoma. Somebody decided the best way to cheer me up was to buy me these tickets to TomorrowWorld.
After your treatment, you beat the cancer. How does that feel?
It feels even better than this [gesturing to the festival around him], to know that, beyond TomorrowWorld, I'll still be here.
Not only could Bradley have not imagined he’d be in remission at TomorrowWorld 2013, he couldn’t imagine what the festival would be like period. In fact, before his friend got him those tickets, he had never been to ANY festival.
In preparation for TomorrowWorld, Bradley started checking out the TomorrowWorld USA Facebook page. Then fate brought him to the B*tches Gone Wild subgroup — a group Ashley and some other festival goers started in response to a bully on the TomorrowWorld USA page; their goal was to provide a safe place for people to let their guards down and have fun.
In the spirit of EDM, the subgroup decided to camp out in Dreamville together, and that’s how Bradley and Ashley met — which eventually led to the birth of their son, Bradley Spears III.
Take us into the future. What’s been going on since TomorrowWorld 2013?
At TomorrowWorld 2013 we would spend hours sitting on a cooler, outside of our tent, talking for hours until the morning. That's literally what we did every single night. Then she had to go back to North Dakota, and I went back home to Mississippi.
Fast forward a year, Ashley moved to Mississippi and we had a kid. Our son was born which was kind of out the blue, because that wasn't supposed to be possible. She told me she was pregnant and I was like, “No you're not, stop lying.”
It was crazy, it was surreal.
The doctors had told Bradley during chemo that he had a 50/50 chance of being able to have kids one day. He turned down the opportunity to freeze his sperm and left it up to fate — a risk that paid off.
Bradley Spears III was born in 2014, which of course kept Bradley and Ashley away from that year’s TomorrowWorld festival, the very event that brought them their son in the first place.
This year's festival meant a return to the community that started it all. Bradley walked around on the last day wearing his “I Beat Cancer” shirt. The response was overwhelming. People came up to him asking if they could sign his shirt, and took pictures with him to honor the superhero he is.
Bradley doesn’t see it that way. He just did what he had to do to get to this point in his life: beautiful baby, beautiful girlfriend, and a community he can always call home.
Danny Cole was all smiles as he carried his backpack and two giant duffel bags through the giant rainbow and into the Dreamville camp grounds, putting his Army-trained muscles to good use. For most of us, it would be impossible to feel human, let alone happy, after an 18-hour bus ride. But for Danny, TomorrowWorld is his happy place.
As Danny entered the Friendship camping ground, the check-in staff hugged him like they were old friends. Once he got to his group’s plot of land, he couldn’t even put his bags down before his camping buddy, Edwin Escobar, brought him into a long embrace. “Happy TomorrowWorld,” they said to each other.
These are the welcomes you can expect to receive when you’re a festival mainstay. But this is Danny’s very first TomorrowWorld.
This is the first time Danny has met his campmates, and the first time he and Edwin have ever talked face to face.
Tell us about your journey to TomorrowWorld. How did you get hooked up with your campmates in Friendship?
I was coming to TomorrowWorld solo, and I didn't really want to camp by myself. I went online to the TomorrowWorld USA Facebook page and posted, saying I needed a Friendship group to camp with. Edwin Escobar commented on my status five seconds later and that was it. I bought into the Friendship spot within five minutes. Everyone in my group is meeting for the first time, and it's been pretty wonderful because we've been talking for about three months now, non-stop, day in and day out.
What was your first impression when you walked through that rainbow and into Dreamville?
When I walked through the rainbow it was…I can't even explain the feeling that I was having at that moment. The night before I didn't sleep at all, so it just felt like I'd fallen back asleep and I was dreaming. I'd been waiting for this time to come for months now.
Despite never having met in person before, Danny and Edwin have an easy rapport. They reference their daily conversations and inside jokes constantly, like the time Danny made fun of Edwin for crying at New York’s big EDM festival, Electric Zoo.
On paper, these two are unlikely friends. Edwin works and lives in the Bronx, New York. His friends don’t get his obsession with EDM, being that he lives in a hip-hop-centric community. Edwin is loud and free with his feelings.
Danny? Not so much. He grew up in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. His background in the Army is much more rigid, and he’s naturally more quiet than Edwin. But when Danny goes to TomorrowWorld, it’s his chance to live a different life.
You have two lives – you have this very structured Army experience, and then you have this EDM festival experience. Do those make up the two sides of your personality, or is it a release from what you do in your typical day to day?
Since I'm in the Army, it's pretty structured with strict rules on everything. And then the EDM side…everyone's laid-back, relaxed. I feel like everyone should know when to be serious, when to abide the rules. But letting loose and having fun, it really lets out a lot of frustration, a lot of anger. I just love to smile and have fun.
Danny doesn’t get a chance to bridge the gap between his two lives often, but he did just that on Saturday (aka Day 2) of the festival. He organized America Day through the TomorrowWorld USA Facebook page about a month before the festival, asking the community to show their pride through their clothing and to join a midday dance party. It was his way of bringing his new family together to celebrate the country he’s honored to serve. As we walked around the grounds before the dance party, we saw tons of people wearing red, white and blue because of what Danny put together. It was a huge success.
What do you get out of EDM?
What DON’T I get out of EDM should be the question, because I get everything. I get happiness. I get love. I get the experiences of a lifetime. I haven't found anything else in this world that even gives me the feels that EDM does.
Editor’s Note: All interviews have been edited and condensed for clarity