Ultra Music Festival: The Good, The Bad, and The Rad

Photo Credit: aLIVE Coverage

Ultra Music Festival celebrated its 21st year at a new location in the Historic Virginia Key Beach and Miami Marine Stadium. For those that have not been following along, the festival was forced to make a venue change when the city of Miami decided not to renew its permits in BayFront Park, its home for many years. In a matter of months, organizers found a new location and prepared to accommodate the massive crowds that would be ascending onto Virginia Key. They had to prepare not only for new transportation but also to be mindful of the environmental requirements that the area presented. While transportation proved to have some new difficulties, this year the festival felt more like a well-rounded festival with more ancillary experiences and art installations than in the past.

We now present you with The Good, The Bad, and The Rad of Ultra Music Festival. 

The Good

Ultra Music Festival, since it is one of the first major electronic festivals of the year, is known as THE place for DJs and producers to premiere new music and make a name for themselves. Ever since the Chainsmokers 2016 Worldwide Stage Set (which in my opinion was a major turning point for the duo), the festival has become a global stage for artists to make a splash in the new year. With hundreds of thousands in attendance from over 105 countries across three days and over 30 million watching around the globe on the live stream, this event is a huge opportunity to stand out. With this in mind, everyone brings the heat. This year, was no different. Spectacular performances by headliners Carl Cox, The Chainsmokers, Dubfire B3B Nicole Moudaber B3B Paco Osuna, Galantis, GRiZ, ILLENIUM, Jamie Jones B2B Joseph Capriati, Louis The Child, Marshmello, Martin Garrix, NGHTMRE + SLANDER present Gud Vibrations, ODESZA, REZZ, Richie Hawtin, Sasha | John Digweed, Testpilot, Zedd and the premiere of deadmau5’s Cube 3.0 did not disappoint.

Photo Credit: Drew Ressler/rukes.com

At the MainStage, at almost any spot, there was so much room to dance with a great view! As someone who is five foot nothing, this brought me great joy. The layout of the new venue made it optimal for MainStage viewing no matter what time you came in during a set. From my personal experience last year this was a great improvement. Now the crowds come from a large area from the back. As I get older, I really appreciate festivals that I don’t have to be directly in front of the sound stage to see or hear. The sound quality, lasers, and massive LED walled stage made this possible at the Ultra Mainstage. Also, even though it didn’t change much I have to profess my love for the Worldwide and Megastructure. There is just something about LED panels and moving lights/lasers on the ceiling that really makes me a happy dancer.

Photo Credit: aLIVE Coverage

Resistance Island presented a whole new experience for attendees. The festival collaborated with Lost Creations Art to create one of a kind installations and cool places to chill throughout the island. I spent a good amount of time exploring the area and taking the most Instagram worthy pictures. It also added two new stages, providing techno lovers with more music than ever. In a unique partnership, the Arrival stage was even provided by Burning Man’s PLAYGROUND sound camp. The other new stage, the Reflector featured an epic B3B featuring Dubfire, Nicole Moudaber, and Paco Osuna.

This year the festival launched an all-new sustainability initiative, Mission: Home. While this change was made necessary by the venue, who doesn’t love earth saving initiatives?!

“Through its new sustainability initiatives, event organizers maintained the event grounds in good condition throughout the weekend. All crews, patrons and volunteers observed the event’s Leave No Trace initiative by keeping dance floors clear throughout the event and even using pocket ashtrays provided by organizers to reduce cigarette litter. Cleaning crews worked tirelessly through the night following each event day and to ensure that Historic Virginia Key Beach Park and most of the surrounding perimeter areas were clean by 5:00AM.” – ULTRA Music Festival

The Bad

By now you have probably read about the shuttles. Attention grabbing headlines and click bait have been surfacing all over the Internet for days. We have all laughed at the “survived the Ultra 5k” merch and seen various complaints splashed throughout the inter webs. In my personal experience, while the transportation system was no where near perfect it was not the tragedy that many have made it out to be. As mentioned above, the festival had a matter of months to arrange transportation so some bumps along the road were to be expected. 

Transportation issues are also nothing new to the festival world. Other festivals (re: Coachella and EDCLV) have their fair share of long walks, wait times, and traffic jams. “Some of you have never waited in a parking lot for four hours and it shows”. Perhaps improving the waiting experience, like one of ride share activations at Coachella that provide some entertainment and openly display wait times so that expectations are set. Better organized queues with a little more staffing would also alleviate the chaos of actually getting onto the bus.  While there were lines inside the festival it became a free for all at the shuttle doors with many people pushing others to get on the bus.

As a seasoned festival goer my plan each night was to find the best option for getting off the island aka avoid the mob. The first night I left at 1:55am. The shuttle with the shortest line was the Arts & Entertainment District. We pretty much walked right on and sat for about an hour in traffic. I relaxed, charged my phone, and even took a little cat nap. Once we were dropped off a shared ride to a lot of places (including my hotel that was all the way up in North Bay) was around $10 (#blessed for the new shared supersaver options). The main problem seemed to be that everyone was waiting in line for the same shuttle or saw that huge line and decided to walk the bridge rather than walk a few minutes in the other direction to a different shuttle. Another night 5 of us paid an SUV $100 (so $20 a piece) to take us where we needed to go. We stayed until about 2:15am at the festival and were off the island in 20 minutes.

New venues are tough. With so many factors at play, there are bound to be some not so perfect parts. For next year, I hope that the sound bleeding is lessened. There were many times at the Live Stage, pending where I was standing, that I could hear other stages. The same went for the UMF Radio Stage. Hopefully with some adjustments this can be solved next year.

My final pain point was how far Resistance Island was for someone like me who has a wide variety of music tastes. For the most part, if you like techno you are probably going to camp out  there and have no desire to leave at any time. However, if you are like me and would like to only catch a set or two there, this proved rather difficult. As with any major festival, sometimes sacrifices have to be made and with a little bit of planning it is possible to make it to all the sets you want to see (and get some killer calf muscles while at it).

photo credit: aLIVE Coverage

The Rad

As mentioned in the beginning, Ultra Music Festival is one of the largest stages for electronic music that kicks off the year. What really sets this weekend apart were the surprise guests, secret sets, and gorgeous views.

The beloved NBA Hall of Fame member turned DJ Shaquille O’Neal joined NGHTMRE and Slander during their MainStage set. Armin van Buren brought out Van Halen frontman David Lee Roth to debut a remix of the band’s iconic song ‘Jump’. ILLENIUM joined the Chainsmokers on stage during their closing set Sunday night to premiere their latest collaboration.

Photo Credit: Drew Ressler/rukes.com

Martin Garrix had the surprise of the weekend by filling in the TBA slot Sunday night at the UMF Radion stage hosted by STMPD Records. He also brought several members of the takeover on stage with him, creating some epic b2b2b2b. Afrojack also played an unannounced set on that stage Saturday night from 2am-3am.

While it was a forced move, the new venue does have some pretty amazing natural backdrops. Resistance Island is a beautiful tropical techno oasis with palm trees and views of the ocean as far as the eye can see. The sunsets every day were absolutely breathtaking. As Ultra continues to settle into its new home I think that festival goers will enjoy improvements in the future and in the long run really come to love the natural beauty of Historic Virginia Key.  

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