In Defense of Ultra Music Festival
Photo by George Martinez
Ultra's most unique feature has also been the one giving it the most problems: it's location.
While most major music festivals happen at remote sites, where camping or other accommodations are required, Ultra is among the few large-scale fests that actually takes place in a city's downtown core. (The only other festivals that come to mind is Lollapalooza in Chicago's Grant Park, and Outside Lands in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park, but both of those parks dwarf Bayfront Park in size.) However, because of Ultra's central location, the economic impact in felt through the city -- in the hotels, restaurants, and nightclubs that festival-goers visit throughout their stay.
"It shouldn't move from downtown to another location because there isn't anywhere else with suitable hotels and transportation," argues Lorie.
Of course, for several years, the biggest opponents of Ultra have been the new residents in downtown. But complaining about noise in downtown is like complaining that water is too wet. You live in the city's core. Noise, even coming from major events like Ultra, is to be expected.
Then there are the drugs -- or DRUGS!!! if you believe Sarnoff's assertion that everyone is high at Ultra. That's simply not true. Are drugs a problem at Ultra? Yes. But they are a problem at Coachella, Bonarroo, and every other major music festival in the world. Drugs are a music festival problem, not an EDM one. Most festival-goers aren't what I'd consider heavy drug users, but perhaps recreational ones, who, because they shelled out a couple hundred bucks for a ticket, want to party to the fullest. These are weekend warriors who do a bit of molly and then go back to school or work on Monday.
Could EDM acts lay off a bit when it comes to the drug references in their songs? Definitely. But so could hip-hop and even pop musicians. EDM's bad wrap comes from its long -- and not so subtle -- drug culture. Combine that with music that parents just don't understand and you've got a recipe for an 11-o'clock news segment on the dangers of dance music and drugs.
It's necessary for an organization like DanceSafe, which provides non-biased literature and drug testing services, to be present at Ultra. That way, concert-goers might feel comfortable testing the "molly" that they're thinking of taking and perhaps finding out it's actually methylone, AKA bath salts, without fear of legal repercussions.
"There's just too much ignorance and people who don't know what they're doing," says Lady Casa, one of Miami's most influential ravers, when asked if an organization like DanceSafe could help. "I don't like to deny, like, 'No, no one is on drugs. It's not about the drug.' Of course, there are people for whom it isn't about the drugs. For some, it's about bonding with other people, about expressing themselves, enjoying the music, showing off their costume, and interacting. I know plenty of people who don't do drugs, but you can't deny it's part of the culture."
Lady Casa agrees, though, that drugs play a role at any music festival, saying that "drug culture is very much involved," even at the non-EDM focused events like Coachella and Bonnaroo.
That being said: Ultra organizers, before you let politicians like Regalado and Sarnoff (who will get behind any cause as long as it gets them reelected) push you around -- there are some things to consider.
People trying to break into Ultra isn't a new phenomenon. From my days of covering the festival at Bicentennial Park, I would frequently get news that the main gate had been breached by would-be concert-goers who had mobbed the security detail. It's probably time to dump the amateur security guards, at least at the front entrance and around the perimeter, and replace them with local police or professionally trained security.