In Defense of Ultra Music Festival
Photo by George Martinez
The fact is, the festival has operated with a mostly clean record -- not counting drugs and overdoses, because there's only so much that can be done when it comes to personal responsibility.
It still amazes that Ultra can have that many people party relatively safely in a space as small as Bayfront Park. It should be considered the gold standard of large-scale events in Miami. There are less traffic problems going to Ultra than around the automobile clusterfuck known as the Sony Open or along the streets of Wynwood and Design District during Art Basel Miami Beach.
Another thing that should be addressed is Ultra's all-ages policy. It's time to end it. Make the festival 18 and over. Or even better, make it 21 and over. (Tomorrowworld held a successful inaugural U.S. event with only 21-and-over attendess.) Ultra would probably win back some fans who have written the festival off as a kiddie rave. Perception is paramount, and having underage kids attend the festival isn't helping.
"I don't know if that's the answer," says Diego Martinelli, local nightclub promoter and founder of Safe, when asked about putting an age restriction on Ultra. "But in order to get themselves out of hot water, that might have to be compromise they may have to make."
And let's talk about that ticket price: I've defended the festival's right -- and still do -- to charge $399 plus fees for a general admission ticket. Space at Bayfront is tight and the amount of people that the park can hold is a lot less than other music festival grounds. Production and artists costs are much higher today than when Ultra started. However, had organizers introduced the ticket layaway plan from the very beginning, more people might have felt like they could manage the bill -- instead of resorting to jumping the fences. (Not that I'm saying that's the reason why the security breach occurred, but I'm sure some of the gatecrashers felt like they couldn't afford to go.)
Still, Ultra organizers may decide it's time to move from downtown Miami and I wouldn't blame them. At this point, it makes sense. Far from the reach of the city of Miami, they could expand again to two weekends. If they had to move somewhere else in Florida, Big Cypress Indian Reservation seems like the logical choice. Langerado's 2008 edition already proved it could handle a music festival. It has 360 acres of land available, compared to Bayfront Park's 32. That's more than enough room to put on a massive festival and include on-site camping. The move might also bring down ticket prices and the cost of accommodations for festival-goers. (Have you tried booking a room during Ultra weekend? My advice, don't, unless you are ready to take out a bank loan.)
The only downside? It's located about 79 miles and over an hour's drive away from Miami, on the northwestern fringes of what's barely Broward County. You can forget about tourists staying in our hotels or partying at our nightclubs. The move would hurt those in the service industry who rely on the amount of people that Ultra and WMC bring into the city. Also, Ultra's relocation would hurt the conference, turning it into a much more muted experience that could fall into irrelevancy.
"I think if Ultra didn't coincide with WMC, it would definitely hurt [the conference]," asserts Martinelli. "It might affect the corporate clubs that rely on the David Guettas and Hardwells more than it would the [underground] stuff. I can see why [the city] wants to do away with it, but I don't think it's a good thing."
But if we are also going to spread the blame, some responsibly must fall on the City of Miami's shoulders, because it has failed time and time again to provide residents with a sizable park space comparable to New York's Central Park, Chicago's Grant Park, or San Francisco's Golden Gate Park. (I love the new Perez Art Museum Miami, but it cost us a park that should have been renovated and opened to the community.)
It's embarrassing that Miami continues to tout itself as a metropolitan city, but puts so little value on green space. If Miami had a signature park, Ultra and other events like it would have an adequate space where they could be staged. Instead of turning city- and county-owned land over to developers, politicians should consider creating a proper "backyard" for residents and visitors.
Miami is in no position to shoo away Ultra just yet, and Regalado and Sarnoff should consider the downsides. Ultra exposed not only its own shortcomings, but those of the city as well. Miami needs to work better with the festival, instead of acting like the hostile landlord that it's been the past few years.
(And dammit, never again do I want to have to take issue with something and have to be on same fighting side as the Herald's Fabiola Santiago.)
Crossfade's Top Blogs
-50 Things You See at Ultra Music Festival
-Get in Trouble at Ultra? Call Chad Piotrowski for Free Legal Help
-The Virgins and Veterans of Ultra Music Festival: A Video Interview