Rural south Fulton braces for TomorrowWorld

“This is interesting!”

She may be 86, but Auverne McGinnis’ eyes are dancing — and her feet pretty-near are, too — as she watches 18-wheelers thread their way through the security checkpoint that marks the border between unincorporated south Fulton County and the magical realm of TomorrowWorld.

From where McGinnis is standing, she can’t see the eight giant stages taking shape, the circus tents, the speaker towers, the forests of scaffolding or even the construction cranes. But she’s delighted, nevertheless.

“Music festival” is the shorthand description for TomorrowWorld, next weekend’s U.S. re-staging of a hugely successful, decade-old Belgian event. But Shawn Kent, TomorrowWorld’s project director, describes it as a 3-day, immersive fantasy experience with an EDM (electronic dance music) soundtrack.

“For us it’s about the set design, the entire experience,” he explains. In addition to the music, there are actors, props, special effects and an over-arching storyline: “The scientists who are creating the magical potion … “

Think of it as Cirque du Soleil on steroids (Kent is a Cirque veteran), set amid 500 bucolic acres that might pass for the southern version of Woodstock.

Plus the comforts of home and then some: hot showers, an on-site bakery, dance floors the size of football fields and its very own weather station, staffed by an on-site meteorologist.

McGinnis darts across the road to gaze up at a barbecue smoker the size of a small house, which rolls in on a flatbed trailer, following two semis bearing the logo “SapphireservicesAZ.com.” That’s AZ as in Arizona, where this particular catering outfit is based.

But what the hey: If you’ve shipped 80 cargo containers full of vibrantly colored tents tents, Las Vegas-worthy sets and other theatrical paraphernalia from Belgium through the Port of Savannah, what’s a couple of mobile kitchens from Tuscon?

“Are we going to eat?” McGinnis jokes with Eli, the Gate Keeper. (It says “Gate Keeper” on a nearby mobile office.)

Pure curiosity has brought the sprightly octogenarian to this otherwise unremarkable spot on Brown’s Lake Road, deep in the woods bordering a remote stretch of the Chattahoochee River. She lives across the river in Douglas County, but the subject of TomorrowWorld came up this morning at her church.

That’s Campbellton United Methodist Church, whose tidy, white-frame sanctuary sits perhaps a third of a mile from the field designated as parking for the 30,000 campers festival organizers envision thronging onto the site. (All told, they’re hoping for daily attendance of 50,000.)

Like many rural churches, the 183-year old congregation is struggling to hold its own. Its membership reached its apex nearly a century and a half ago, before what McGinnis refers to simply as “the war.”

“The largest recorded membership of the church is at the beginning of the conflict: 432 whites, and 57, blacks, all communing members,” notes a historical preface in the Campbellton United Methodist Cookbook.

Most of the handful of worshippers present this sunny September Sunday are somewhat nervously aware of the huge happening bearing down on their little community. When talk turns to TomorrowWorld, one woman produces a copy of the 12-page newsprint tabloid festival organizers mailed to area residents.

It features reassuring (if not terribly detailed) articles on concerns like traffic management and sound control. Even more prominently displayed are glowing testimonials from (and huge photos of) Fulton Commissioner Bill Edwards and Chattahoochee Hills Mayor Tom Reed.

There’s also a Q&A with world-class horseman Carl Bouckaert, who owns the 500-acre festival site and several thousand surrounding acres of pastures, woodlands, lakes and equestrian facilities.

“Let’s show the world our Southern hospitality!” urges Bouckaert, a Belgian who has lived in Georgia for 35 years, prospering along with Dalton’s carpet industry.

And, despite some trepidation about what 50,000 visitors will mean for the area’s two- and four-lane roads, Campbellton’s Methodists are a hospitable bunch.

“Some of us old fogies are fussing about it,” says church member John Bray, “but I say: Let them have their fun.”

They might be more alarmed, had other musical events at Bouckaert Farm produced the traffic jams the community had been warned to expect. Based on those precedents, some regard TomorrowWorld’s attendance projections with a kind of bemused skepticism.

McGinnis, who is caretaker for an older sister who suffers from dementia, laughs, remembering the dire warnings of some neighbors in advance of those earlier events.

“They told me: Get her out of this community!” she says with a twinkle.

But she’s made of sturdier stuff. Besides, she’s having a blast, just shooting the breeze with Eli and watching the trucks roll by.

“I have one question,” she tells him at length. “What kind of music is it? What style?”

He pauses, at an apparent loss for how to describe it in terms she will understand. “It’s 100 percent electronic music,” he ventures.

She cocks her head in exaggerated puzzlement. “Do it again,” she instructs him, leaning one ear closer.

“It’s electronic dance music, made on a computer,” he explains hopefully.

“Honey, I’m 86 years old. I don’t understand a word you said,” she says with another laugh. “See, I liked square dancing when Fred and I were first married.”

Be that as it may, she’s not about to let incomprehension dampen her enthusiasm.

“I’m going to tell my kids and grandkids I know something they don’t” she promises Eli. “I’m going to make my grandson’s hair …” she throws her hands wide in an eloquent pantomime of hair standing on end.

She chuckles again, with relish. “If I had me a boyfriend, we might just check into it.”

Read more about TomorrowWorld on accessAtlanta.com

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