Most weekends, Atlanta's Historic Fourth Ward Park is filled with dogs on leashes and carefree locals pushing strollers. Just replace "dogs" with "ravers" and "strollers" with "unidentified substances", and you have Imagine Music Festival.
The two-year-old dance music festival is organized by Iris Presents, an event and promotion company that Glenn Goodhand—who local photographer Dylan York described as Joel Osteen, if Joel Osteen worshipped filthy wobble bass instead of God—started in the mid-90s. Goodhand took a break from the scene and reemerged in 2011 with a new partner, his wife and power-couple-solidifier Madeleine Goodhand. They've since been putting on weekly events, dabbled in another Atlanta-based festival named CounterPoint, and are generally making a grab for a slice of the Southeast festival pie with Imagine.
The two-day lineup leaned towards big-room names like Dada Life and Morgan Page—who even the most DJ-illiterate people have abused bottle service to at their friend's 26th birthday party—and heavy bass acts like Datsik, 12th Planet, and Griz. Headliners were scheduled at the same exact time, forcing distraught ravers to choose between The Glitch Mob or Tipper, Morgan Page or Shpongle—even though the two main stages were uncomfortably close enough to catch some of both sets. Ah, the dilemmas of an EDM-addled mind.
It was also the close proximity of those two stages, dubbed Oceania and Amazonia, that made making the short trek past a 2-acre lake to the third stage, an outdoor theater called Imaginarium, feel as if you were leaving civilization for a place where lesser-known DJs are cast.
The layout of the festival mimicked that of the on-site Masquerade, an almost 30-year-old music venue that's been around much longer than the majority of the neon-clad attendees, and consists of three areas: Heaven, Hell and Purgatory. In the festival's case, Oceania was Heaven; Amazonia, where more trap-heavy artists like Buku played and kids were seen crouching down to break up pills, was Hell; and Imaginarium was most certainly Purgatory.
VIP was a world of its own, a land where hookahs and bottles were passed, acrobats poured champagne while hanging upside down and a guy waved a rave totem pole (if you have a rave pole in VIP, you've completely missed the point).
The inside of Masquerade, which the festival called Chill House, became a dark place where weary attendees could escape the outdoors and grab an overpriced drink while listening to deep house. Luckily though, despite the stormy forecast and the constant cloudiness, the festival gods were looking out. Apparently they just wanted a couple of guys to show up in penis-shaped ponchos so they could look like metaphorical dicks when it never rained.
The Crystal Method gave the Masquerade a shout-out, but I don't think they got the memo that it was sold recently and therefore its future as a beloved music venue is uncertain. In the beginning of their set they called out something to the effect of: "We played here 20 years ago, I can't believe it's still fucking standing!" to which locals in the crowd started shaking their heads and yelling, "Nooo." The group ended their uninspired set without receiving much reaction at all or saying any departing words.
Then there was the anticipated DJ set from a celebrity who never showed: Lil Jon. The first sign of a cancellation was that all the Oceania stage set times were inexplicably pushed back about an hour. But it wasn't until moments before his set was to start that I began hearing murmurs about him having to cancel his appearance due to an operation. Efforts to confirm with staff were fruitless. So unless you religiously follow the musings of Jonathan Mortimer Smith, who announced his cancellation two nights prior on Facebook, you wouldn't have known a thing. As one commenter on the Imagine page said, "Very sad imagine didn't use the power of social media to announce lil Jon NOT performing and that set times were different."
At the time Lil Jon would've certainly been remixing "Get Crunk" and screeching "yeahs," an attempt at theatrics went awry. A painted woman in an extremely long, flowing white gown was being lifted up on stage. The dress intentionally dropped to the stage floor as a whimsical voice over the speakers started to wax poetic about the world of imagination. Then, just as Chromeo was being introduced, the sound cut out. In the silence, you could hear a staff member repeatedly yelling at the crowd, who had pulled the discarded costume from the stage and started passing it overhead as if it were a crowd-surfing blanket, to "Let go of the fabric!" But a few minutes later, a seemingly unfazed Chromeo came out with an anthemic set that of course included "Jealous" and 80s Vegas-style imagery (neon legs, cars, lipstick), and all was forgiven.
If we couldn't have Lil Jon, at least we had a nod to him when local hip-hop heroes, the Ying Yang Twins, played the crowd-pleasing "Get Low" that made me feel like I was back in high school using a fake ID at a shitty 18+ club (which was, in fact, the festival's age requirement). Their high-energy set was with Pyramid Scheme, the also-local duo of Adam LaRossa and Sterling Pike who just released the hood house track "Thundercat" with YYT (hence the set). Sterling mirrored the pulsing crowd by jumping around the stage with a grin permanently plastered on his face. They seamlessly sampled current songs like "Watch Me" (Whip/Nae Nae), to which the go-go dancers on stage did in fact both whip and nae nae, and a few throwbacks, like a housed-up "Wonderwall" by Oasis.
Despite the hiccups that could have been cushioned by better communication, the future of Imagine holds promise. From the two adult men entrancing each other by doing crazy hand motions in front of each others' faces, to the guy offering everyone some of his Nerds, to the couple who got engaged on stage, the crowd consistently proved that Georgia has a healthy appetite for hard-partying dance festivals beyond TomorrowWorld. Sure, "alternative remedies" could be blamed for some of that. But no matter. It was still kind of a weird love fest.
Becca Godwin is a writer based in Atlanta. Follow her on Twitter.