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27 September 2017

The Truth Never Stops with Singer-Songwriter Vérité

2017 started off right for 27-year-old Kelsey Byrne.

(Kelsey Byrne, better known by her stage name, Vérité, continues to redefine success for herself and her music career. Photo credit: Eric Ryan Anderson.)
Entertainment Weekly magazine premiered her new single, “Phase Me Out,” to its loyal readers. Radio personality Elvis Duran named her his Artist of the Month. And the New York-born singer-songwriter, who goes by the stage name, Vérité, made her national television debut with a performance on NBC’s “Today” show.

Three years ago, if anyone were to ask Vérité her definition of success, she likely would have pointed to the first few months of this year as her measuring stick. Byrne admitted as much in a recent telephone interview.

Now, with fourteen singles and several tours under her belt, the State University of New York at Purchase graduate displays a maturity unexpected from someone not yet 30.

“Success is ever-changing,” Vérité says.

Indeed. Success means never resting on your laurels, and Vérité is not resting.

The grit Vérité showed while working up to 70 hours a week at the Applebee’s restaurant in Times Square remains a significant part of her musical career today. She toured North America this summer, often scheduling three or four straight days’ worth of shows before taking a break.

The multi-city tour came in support of her first full-length studio album, “Somewhere in Between,” released in June.

31 August 2017

South Fulton Picks Fight with Neighboring City Over Land and Tax Dollars

The new City of South Fulton needs to balance its checkbook. But local leaders are learning start-up costs don't mirror numbers that said South Fulton could form without a tax increase.

A search is on for more money. That quest now has South Fulton eyeing land and tax dollars in Union City they say belongs to them.

South Fulton City Council members approved legal action against their neighbor on August 30, 2017.

At issue is 125 acres annexed by Union City last year. South Fulton contends the annexation was illegal, and they point to a recent Georgia Supreme Court decision to support their case.

Fulton County Superior Court Judge Alford Dempsey invalidated several Atlanta annexations before the November 2016 vote incorporating the City of South Fulton. Judge Dempsey said the annexations were untimely since they came into effect after the July 1, 2016, deadline that locked South Fulton's borders. Atlanta appealed the judgment, but Georgia Supreme Court justices unanimously upheld the lower court ruling.

South Fulton lawyers claim the state Supreme Court opinion also reverses the Union City annexation because the move took place around the same time as the contested Atlanta annexations.

"Right now, we're trying to kind of work it out with the cities to reach an agreement where those properties come back into South Fulton, considering the Supreme Court's decision," a staff attorney told officials. "The declaratory judgment action would ask that the court declare the annexations from Union City improper."

The disputed property, located at 5355 Hunter Road, carries a value of $2.9 million. Public records show the property yielded $13,431.64 in taxes to South Fulton while the area remained unincorporated.

Against the backdrop of a tight budget and possible tax increases, every penny counts. District 3 representative Helen Zenobia Willis admitted as much during her questions to city staff.

"If successful, how far can we go back and reclaim our tax revenue dollars that we didn't get," Willis asked.

South Fulton City Manager Ruth Jones replied, later in the meeting, "We would not be due any back taxes because we were not a city."

21 August 2017

Tomorrowland: A More Elegant Festival for a Civilized Age

Tomorrowland is an event unlike any other.

The 3-day festival celebrated its thirteenth year, in 2017, with two weekends of DJs spanning the entire gamut of electronic music. But limiting the annual gala to only music would greatly undersell the party. More than just an event, Tomorrowland is an experience. And the Tomorrowland experience starts when the plane first lands in Belgium.

(Greeters welcome Tomorrowland ticket-holders as they arrive at Brussels airport. Image courtesy Tomorrowland.)
Decorations greeted visitors as they made their way through the Brussels terminal. Beautiful ladies adorned in light blue outfits tended official welcome desks, answering questions and providing information. The steady beat of house music pumped from a nearby kiosk selling cell phone SIM cards to international travelers. Anticipation was in the air. Eyes gleamed with electricity as person after person gathered their luggage and left the building.

Belgian hospitality did not end at the airport though.

Many U.S. festivals like Imagine Music Festival, held south of Atlanta in Hampton, often run into angry residents who demand elected officials shut down or scale back the event. The entire city of Brussels, on the other hand, rolled out the red carpet for Tomorrowland ticket-holders.
(The Museum of the City of Brussels hosted one of many Tomorrowland welcome parties before the official start of the event. Photograph by Andre Walker)
Grote Markt, the Brussels town square, served as the epicenter for pre-game festivities.

Tomorrowland banners sporting the words, "Magic, Beauty, Unity and Love," garnished the Museum of the City of Brussels located across from city hall. Tomorrowland flags waved from poles usually reserved for Belgium's national flag. A DJ played a high-energy set from the museum's balcony while locals and visitors danced below. Tourists packed the shops and restaurants surrounding the square, sampling food and beer. The day ended with a massive fete at another Brussels hotspot, Tour & Taxis.

Dawn brought Tomorrowland's second weekend into focus.

Boom, a town of over 16,000 in northeast Belgium, continued the warm reception shown in Brussels the night before. Homes along the route to the festival featured Tomorrowland flags hanging from their windows. It was a sight that again demonstrated contrasting differences in attitudes toward large-scale events like Tomorrowland between the Americans and the Belgians.

Sixteen stages dotted Provinciaal Recreatiedomein De Schorre, the park that's hosted Tomorrowland since 2005.
(The dragon stage, one of sixteen stages at Tomorrowland, featured a dragon whose body went under water and breathed smoke through its nose. Photography by Andre Walker)

Unlike some American concerts, where performance areas possess little imagination, Tomorrowland's structures tell a story through their elaborate designs that utilize existing landscapes. The dragon stage (pictured right) is a prime example of the Belgians' attention to detail.

Each Tomorrowland carries a theme. The theme for 2017 was Amicorum Spectaculum. Amicorum Spectaculum brought the circus to town. Literally.
(Image courtesy Tomorrowland.)

An enormous stage sat at the center of Tomorrowland complete with tightrope walkers, a moving merry-go-round, popcorn, cotton candy and a ringmaster emceeing the show totally underneath the big top.

2017 was the year Tomorrowland proved they are the greatest EDM show on Earth.

More than 400,000 people came from 198 countries to Tomorrowland this year. That is only seven fewer than the number of countries represented at the 2016 Summer Olympic Games.

15 August 2017

Charlottesville Violence Prompts Renewed Interest in Renaming Savannah's Talmadge Bridge

The violent protests in Charlottesville, Virginia, last weekend, revived debate over the name of an iconic south Georgia landmark.

Span the Gap, a group of Chatham County activists and artists, say the two mile Savannah bridge honoring former Governor Eugene Talmadge serves as a painful reminder of the three-term Democrat's most controversial policies.

(Eugene Talmadge Memorial Bridge, dedicated in honor of the late three-term Democrat Governor, is at the center of a new debate regarding its name.)
"The Talmadge name on the bridge has distressed some Savannah residents, particularly most African Americans and whites that believed in racial equality, since 1954," Span the Gap spokesman Ron Christopher stated.

Eugene Talmadge Memorial Bridge was erected across the Savannah River in 1991 to replace an earlier incarnation built nearly four decades before. Talmadge, the structure's namesake, was one of Georgia's most polarizing elected officials. His twenty years in public service, first as state agriculture commissioner and then governor, were marked by accusations of corruption, the University System of Georgia losing its accreditation and an ardent defense of segregation.

Local Savannah officials support re-naming the bridge, passing a resolution as recent as 2013 urging state lawmakers to do so. A bill, however, was never introduced due to disagreements among the Savannah-Chatham legislative delegation.

State Representative Ron Stephens (R - Savannah) told WJCL-TV, in 2016, "We as a delegation couldn't come to a consensus on changing the name since it was a United States senator, and we left the bridge alone."

Christoper says Span the Gap's latest attempt to remove Talmadge's name from a popular Savannah backdrop is a continuation of the 2013 effort.

"For Savannah, this is an opportunity to make an affirmative statement that we do not support any notion of white supremacy," said Christopher. "Charlottesville showed, among other things, how important it is to clearly renounce an imperfect past."

Span the Gap is hosting a symposium, September 5th, to discuss re-naming the bridge. Former Savannah Mayor Otis Johnson will serve as moderator of a panel that includes former Georgia state NAACP President Francys Johnson.

14 August 2017

Sprint Giving Free Cell Phones and Tablets to 7,100 Georgia High School Students

7,100 high school students attending Atlanta Public Schools, DeKalb County Schools and Richmond County Schools will receive free mobile devices and high-speed wireless internet service from Sprint and the Sprint Foundation to help close the “Homework Gap” in the state.

Through Sprint’s 1Million Project, beginning with the 2017-2018 school year, participating high school students will receive either a free smartphone, tablet, or hotspot device and 3GB of high-speed LTE data per month for up to four years while they are in high school. Unlimited data is available at 2G speeds if usage exceeds 3GB in a month. Those who receive a smartphone can use it as a hotspot.

“We are excited to be able to support our students here in Georgia with the rollout of this program,” said Brian Miller, Sprint’s President for the Georgia, Tennessee and Alabama region. “High school is a critical time for students’ future success. It’s our hope that the 1Million Project provides them with the tools they need for academic success.”

Georgia will be one of 32 states for the nationwide rollout beginning this fall which includes, 118 school districts, over 1,300 districts and 180,000 students.

In the DeKalb County School District (DCSD), the wi-fi devices will support the district’s Digital Dreamers project, an effort to provide middle and high school students with a laptop that can be used off-campus in their studies. Sprint’s wi-fi connection will provide the gateway for the student’s devices to connect to the internet and the district’s online learning resources.

“Education today is digital and it’s key to college and career readiness,” said DeKalb County School District Superintendent Dr. Stephen Green. “We want our students in DeKalb County who need Internet access to have it beyond the classroom. Thankfully, these students will now have the tools they need for success.”