Ultra Music Festival Miami returns to Bayfront Park for the first time since 2018
Before you continue reading, please note that this is the wrong article for people who are itching for a piece that will bash and rant about all the negative experiences during Ultra Music Festival at Bayfront Park on March 25-28. Please turn around now and exit because this festival review will be full of trust, truth, and transparency of Ultra Music Festival 2022 and circling the million-dollar question, “does the festival truly belong at Bayfront Park?”
The last time Ultranauts said goodbye to Bayfront Park was in 2018, during the 20th anniversary edition of the festival. That specific year is known worldwide because Swedish House Mafia saved the world by reuniting on the same stage they performed their last performance in 2013 at Bayfront Park.
After over a decade of the Ultra Music Festival taking shape at Bayfront Park, the world’s premier electronic music festival was forced out of the venue due to the downtown Miami resident’s continuous efforts of gathering signatures and forming a petition complaining about noise levels from large-scale events such as Ultra and Rolling Loud (Diaz, 2017). On September 27, 2018, The city of Miami held a council meeting to vote on whether or not the festival should return to Bayfront Park in 2019. The vote ended with Ultra losing the rights to host the annual festival at the venue, and the hunt for a new location began.
If anyone knows the size and scale of the Ultra Music Festival, you know it is a colossal financial loss for any local jurisdiction when Ultra gets booted. To put this in numbers, According to a study conducted by the Washington Economics Group and commissioned by Ultra Music Festival, the EDM fest’s annual economic impact on Miami-Dade County is an astounding $79 million, including $32 in labor income and $50 million in GDP contributions. Granted, this is a report that is from OVER TEN YEARS AGO.
Let that sink in for a moment, so we are now projecting numbers double that amount with how popular electronic dance music has become in the United States. Local business owners can make a month’s worth of rent in just these three days alone while creating substantial jobs simultaneously.
With several local cities pushing bids to claim the music festival, the fate of the future of Ultra was indeed up in the air and could have gone in several different directions. However, on November 15, 2018, the city of Miami reached a final agreement on where the 21st edition would take place.
“We are excited to announce that the City of Miami has agreed to a deal to relocate Ultra Music Festival to the beautiful and historic Virginia Key. The new venue will allow the festival to evolve into its new, larger home, ultimately creating a more enjoyable experience for all festival attendees. We look forward to a long-term and mutually beneficial relationship with our partners at the City of Miami and Historic Virginia Key Beach Park as we commemorate keeping Ultra in the City of Miami.”Ultra Music Festival
I had the honor of attending the music festival at the new location, and let me say, with the short period they had to plan 2019 Ultra Music Festival is one of my all-time favorites in the history of my Ultra attendances. I am going to explain the why behind it. My Ultra attendances were in 2013 and then every year since 2015, so I would consider myself a veteran of the Ultra Music Festival at Bayfront Park; I can identify the festival’s strengths and weaknesses.
From the top of my head Ultra produces the best talent, music, and production your eyes and ears will ever witness, and the weather is prime. Negatives would be the lines, venue size, and crowds. It is evident that when something or someone embraces success, growth molds into place. The success of Ultra because of its strengths indeed has caused its size of it to outgrow Bayfront Park. Virginia Key brought so much joy to me because of the room it offered its attendees and its techno island called Resistance Island. High key, I am still biting myself in the foot that I did not spend more time at the glorious holy land of a place. The Carl Cox Megastructure was even more extensive than Bayfront Park.
However, the event suffered some noise complaints, slight sound bleed, and transportation logistic challenges, but this was the first year at a new venue. I genuinely believe these could have been corrected and filled because Virginia Key brought a contemporary vibe, environment, and the overall facelift Ultra Music Festival has needed for years.
Four months after the music festival, on July 25, 2019, Ultra announced it would move back to Bayfront Park, but there was a catch in the agreement. Several new terms had to be followed for the festival to return to Bayfront Park. For instance, the festival would have to end at 10:00 p.m. on Sunday and reduce the decibels from the stages; the two million dollar fee stays along with paying out the fire and police department and more (Lombardo, 2019). All signs pointed towards a beautiful reunion at Bayfront Park for 2020. Or so we thought.
Ultra Music Festival could not catch a break because it was the first festival to announce a complete cancellation of the festival due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Ultra canceled caused a domino effect in the live event space signifying the music industry was about to get rocked and not in a positive direction. The music festival was out of commission from 2020-to 2021, with the reunion back to Bayfront scheduled and confirmed for March 25-27, 2022.
Bayfront Park, without question, carries a certain ambiance you can feel the moment you walk into the festival, hell, even when you are walking blocks to or from the festival. The announcement of its return had me excited but also sad. Ultra Music Festival grows every year, and you can only fit so many people in that park, which, if you stop to think about it, is not that large of a park once you build the muscle memory of the layout.
The venue has always had an ongoing issue of long lines because they have one entrance for GA, especially on Friday since the festival does not open up until 4:00 p.m. EST. Virginia Key never had an issue with this because there were several different entrances to the venue. I never waited more than 10 minutes to get in. (Bayfront Park needs to adopt this policy and follow it)
Since Ultra Music Festival did not offer refunds for their tickets, some ticket holders had the chance to upgrade to PGA with no charge because of the delay from COVID-19 as well as purchase this option when they released more tickets in 2022. PGA is Ultra’s version of GA+. Something worth noting is that this was Ultra Music Festival’s first time navigating the festival at Bayfront Park with PGA, so there is leeway on that side of the fence. Still, each ticket option should not overshadow the GA experience or clash with the PGA experience.
For example, when we showed up Friday, I already knew and prepped everyone and warned all listeners on my podcast episode that Friday at Ultra has the most extended lines. The implemented systems are not ideal and need to be revised to provide a better experience.
Essentially, each GA and PGA line took both ticket options on Friday; I cannot confirm if that was the case for Saturday and Sunday because I did go through the GA line on day two and three just in case they were finally enforcing it. After more than an hour of waiting in line on Friday, it was my turn to stand up to the plate, scan my ticket, and await the green light of freedom into Ultra Music Festival. Honey, we are home and back.
Once you walk through the festival entrance through GA and PGA, attendees instantly absorb the energy from the infamous Worldwide stage. My eyes contacted the Worldwide stage and felt the music flowing through my body, causing goosebumps to form from head to toe. The smiling faces of everyone around me were radiating off the buildings that surround Bayfront Park helping amplify the sounds and lights of each stage. The vibes right off the bat were pointing in the right direction, signaling that the weekend would be unforgettable.
Unfortunately, one of the most outstanding issues all weekend long quickly came to the surface besides the long entrance lines, which some of my friends waited 2+ hours on day one to get in, would be the lack of bathrooms offered to GA guests. Usually, there are bathrooms right when you walk in and when you walk past the Ultra merch store, and there were none to be found except for a total of two. Yes, two restrooms. Honestly, this is a slap in the face to all GA attendees who spend over $500 for a ticket, and it goes without stating that bathrooms are a basic necessity at any large-scale event. They even closed the middle portion of the park, where there are usually more bathrooms under there as well. The main GA bathroom area was over past the Main Stage and to the right of the UMF radio stage. There were a couple to the left of the Carl Cox Megastructure, and by The Cove, there were more in previous years.
Now look, I get it. We live in a completely different world than when we last said our last goodbyes to Bayfront Park, where everyone faces supply chain shortages and a lack of staffing. Still, bathrooms need to be prioritized at music festivals, especially an event that charges $350-$500+ for a ticket and hosts hundreds of thousands of guests. I believe adding in the PGA option is now taking precedence over the GA attendee experience. From the beginning of time, GA has been the majority ticket option for people who have attended the festival.
The long wait times to get into the festival and the bathrooms did not stop there; the lines for the bars, food, and everything else were just as long, if not longer. Again, this could be the cause of budget cuts, staffing shortages, etc. however, if this was the case, a simple social media post explaining to the attendees the experience may look a little different because of the current social and economic trends taking place in the world would have lightened the blow. Transparency goes a long way and is something Ultra Music Festival has lacked over the years, but it is never too late to change the narrative.
Now, let’s move to the positives of the first day of Ultra, and it starts with four words and four words only A STATE OF TRANCE (ASOT). Usually, A State of Trance is held on Sunday and takes place inside the Carl Cox Megastructure, but this year it was on Friday at the Worldwide stage, which indeed that stage proves time and time again that it can withhold any genre of music or artist. The visual boards were as bright as the sun, and the vibes were nothing short of pure love and happiness all day/night long. The Worldwide possesses its brilliant overhang shape design where both the left and right sides open up, where to the left offers the views of Miami buildings, and then to the right, more of the park scenery appeals to the eye.
The lineup for ASOT was beyond stacked with no room to catch a breath! The ASOT lineup for Friday consisted of AVIRA, Sander Van Doorn, Aly & Fila, Andrew Rayel, Gareth Emery, Vini Vici, Armin Van Buuren B2B Reiner Zonneveld. Then Armin Van Buuren, of course, closed out the ASOT 10th anniversary on the Worldwide stage. This was one of the first times I got to experience ASOT fully, and the concept truly is unlike any other. No matter who was playing, when you closed your eyes, your mind immediately shifted into A State of Trance, and it was genuinely uplifting and something else. I believe moving ASOT from Sunday to Friday was a massive win for Ultra because Sunday usually has heavy hitters playing all day, so it’s hard to embrace the ASOT lineup fully. Especially for people working on Monday, this opens up the chance for more individuals to enjoy this opportunity at the festival.
Hands down, Andrew Rayel stole the show out of the lineup, then Vini Vici, along with the king of trance, shutting down the festival on Friday, Mr. Armin Van Buuren. I finally got to check out Aly & Fila and was quite impressed with that duo. All and all, besides the atrocious lines, the kickoff to Ultra was a complete success. I got to fill my body with trance, dance with my friends, and meet tons of trance lovers worldwide, and I could not be more ready for day two. Saturday is always one of my favorite days because it’s the day we were stage hoping and exploring the festival grounds.
One of the best parts about having Ultra at Bayfront is that friends from all over come to this festival and so it’s easy to meet up at other hotels and Airbnbs in downtown Miami and walk together to the festival. This is a major plus of having the festival at Bayfront Park, and I will commend the location for this reason. Being able to save money on an Uber or Taxi and take in the scenery of Miami is fun while you are walking with your squad building up the anticipation and sharing prefestival jitters together, discussing each and everyone’s favorite memories of the previous day. Saturday quickly had the most anticipated lineup for each of the seven stages offered at the festival, so there was no time to waste in line. Luckily, the lines were in a much better position, and it only took about 10-20 minutes to get in, and quickly, we booked it to the Main Stage for Sam Feldt.
Whoever booked Sam Feldt for the Main Stage for Ultra Music Festival in Miami deserves a raise because tropical house plus the ocean breeze and party shirts galore was a complete VIBE and the perfect kickoff for day two of Ultra. I truly got to examine the Main Stage during the day, and I will see it was a little bleak compared to past years, but this is to be expected with the amount of money that has been lost, but the Main Stage was still GINORMOUS. I cried a couple of tears of joy walking up to it because it is a reunion at the end of the day. As I stated previously, Bayfront Park is a beautiful venue when they don’t oversell it. Sam Feldt truly stole the show for the whole weekend with his set by bringing out live singers, performers, shufflers, and plenty of pyros to roast the perfect s’more or kabob. There was a part where he played his song “Home Sweet Home,” and more tears fell from my face because the past couple of years has been, let’s face it, not the best for many people and to be back at a music festival of that size was an unreal sentimental feeling.
From the Main Stage, we tried to get our techno and house on at The Cove, but sadly some complications led us down a different path which ended us inside the Carl Cox Megastructure for ANNA and the Tale of Us, which were mind-blowing. The difficulties with The Cove stage were both the low sound and not enough space to hold the capacity level for high-level artists such as John Summit, Boris Brejcha, and Dom Dolla. However, I am glad those difficulties happened because the Megastructure is a work of art. There are no words to describe it until you are under that stage, soaking in all of the moving LED panels and sounds from techno legends. Tale of Us was a duo that I kept hearing more and more about and was a must-see for me, and honestly, the hype for them is real.
It was then time to make our way back to Main Stage to catch Tiesto and Afrojack, which you never miss at Ultra Music Festival. It’s always a promised good time full of intense energy and people on their feet going wild. During Afrojack’s set, I witnessed that PLUR is not dead, and a couple from California found someone’s wallet and returned it to the owner in the middle of the set. It was a beautiful moment, and we all introduced ourselves and just raged together. Right here is where I have to pause and take a minute to talk about the vibes at Ultra this year. Bayfront Park vibes are not all that great and are a hit or a miss, but this year’s love for the people and music was well and alive. There is a saying that your vibe attracts your tribe so remember that.
Once Afrojack was over, it was time to catch Carl Cox’s debut Hybrid live show, and just like that, we were back under the Megastructure, full of a crowd that was again considerate and loving. From there, Madeon called us over to the LIVE stage, and the LIVE stage lit up the park in its unique way with an array of people sitting down in the grass, guests standing in front of the stage, and of course, sitting in chairs by the LIVE stage. While Madeon was playing, there was also a JAUZ B2B NGHTMRE on the Worldwide stage; Saturday was nonstop at every stage from open to close.
ILLENIUM was the closing Main Stage act, and I have to be transparent here. I honestly was nervous about having him close out Ultra because it is a huge responsibility. Still, he blew past my worries and expectations out of the water. Again, the vibes for this set were immaculate. I got to trade kandi with a raver who was part of an Illenial squad from Canada, which huge shoutout Canada you showed up that weekend, and I got to party and dance with a lot of you, and nothing but good vibes from you all so thank you. ILLENIUM also added these moving vertical ceiling visual boards to the stage, adding an extra pizzaz layer. He grabbed my body and made me fully present during his closing set that I only took one video, which is how you close down the Main Stage at Ultra Music Festival.
In the blink of an eye, the last day of Ultra was here but day three was another day packed full of artists. The lines were again more accessible on Sunday, which got us in the perfect spot to get our hardstyle on at the first ever-sponsored Hardstyle stage at Ultra Music Festival at the UMF Radio stage hosted by Dirty Workz. Dr Phunk had the crowd off of their feet, jumping all over, and even had guests forming a conga line. There was a tad of sound bleed at times from the Main Stage while at the UMF Radio stage, but it was nonexistent if you inched close enough away from the Main Stage.
However, my favorite of the last day of Ultra shockingly was not Hardwell, even though I dig the new direction he has decided to go in but was Krewella on the Worldwide stage. Let me break down their set here; picture 2013 electronic dance music meets new Krewella full of drum and bass plus hardstyle. They had a packed house on the stage, and it was phenomenal to see that large of a crowd show up and show out for them. Their first time playing at Ultra Music Festival was back in 2013, and then it has been seven whole years since they have been back at Ultra Music Festival. It was a symbolic moment because it shows anyone and everyone to never give up on your dreams, and even when it gets tough, there is a light at the end of the tunnel.
We spent the last three hours of the festival were camped at Main Stage to get a good spot for the surprise guest, which rumored to be Hardwell. During Armin Van Buuren and David Guetta, we were immersed in the 2022 stage, the design came more to life and was mesmerizing. The Main Stage excelled better at night, with the square boxes looking like individual Rubik cubes with screens on the left and the right. Once David Guetta finished his set, the Miami air shifted, and the question of who was closing out the festival was soon revealed. Suddenly, three white circles appeared on the middle screen, and the name Swedish House Mafia popped on the left and right LED boards, and the crowd instantly started booing. No one knew it at the time, but Ultra was pulling off one of the most prominent trolls because later, it was an ad for their new album, “Paradise Again.”
The stage lights went dim, and suddenly, a ticking noise started, and the anticipation built about whether or not the surprise guest was Hardwell. The tension was so tight a knife could cut it. Music started playing, but a name on the screen was still nowhere to be found until a bit of way into the set, where Hardwell finally got on the mic to show the world that REBELS NEVER DIE, and he is back with a brand new sound. The sound sounded like electro/techno/big room trance, but I guess he classifies it as big room techno. I danced my whole body to his new music and enjoyed it but would have loved to see more of his drops go harder because, hello, his name is Hardwell. Still, it would have been nice if he threw in some more of his originals. He only played two of his originals “Spaceman” and “Apollo.” However, kudos to Hardwell for following his heart and starting a new chapter in his music career. Welcome back, legend; we missed you.
As I come to a close with this festival review, I am still buzzing with a natural high from my weekend at Ultra Music Festival. The lineup for their 22nd edition was probably the best in Ultra history. The vibes were pure, on the whole, another level that radiated positive and the love for dance music all weekend long. Reunions from iconic dance music activities such as Knife Party, Krewella, and Hardwell returned to the dance music scene, bringing a sense of nostalgia and new sounds to the stage. The production and sound, of course, were spectacular, with the Miami skyline in the background hugging the guests reflecting the lights off of the windows back down the crowds’ faces. However, a question still has to be answered does Ultra Music Festival belong at Bayfront.
If we rewind a little and remember when Ultra Music Festival moved to Virginia Key, the main objective was to “allow the festival to evolve into its new, larger home, ultimately creating a more enjoyable experience for all festival attendees.” The new home for Ultra accomplished all of this because of the space provided to its guests. Look, I get it the shuttle situation was a nightmare, but no one allowed the festival to fix it, which came from the city and attendees.
Let’s go down the list of complaints from attendees from this year’s Ultra. It contains the following:
- Longer lines
- Lack of bathrooms
- Festival ending earlier than previous years
- Smaller Carl Cox stage
- The low sound quality on several steps
- Sound bleed
When the festival was on Virginia Key, the only complaints truly were:
- The transportation/ shuttle system
- Sound bleed
- Long walk over to the holy land called Resistance Island.
Does this beg the question, is the grass greener on the other side? Because it goes without stating that music festival lovers still flock to Electric Daisy Carnival Las Vegas, where their shuttle system is still trying to figure out, but people keep going back because of the venue size. That is the key. Ultra Music Festival does belong in Miami; that goes without hesitation. Winter Music Conference, Miami Music Week, and Ultra Music Festival go hand in hand. Still, for Ultra Music Festival to belong to Bayfront Park, I would have to say no. Music festivals are all about the experience. Ultra Music Festival delivers a genuinely unmatched experience when they are at a venue that fits the size of the crowd they are catering to during that year.
If anyone knows me, you will see that I deeply care about this dance music scene. I live for the community and must festivals. Inflation is real and is something we are all navigating, including the music industry. With the prices rising from all fronts, everyone deserves the best experience, especially when spending close to almost $500 on a GA ticket. I believe it is time for Ultra Music Festival to find a prominent new home that is not Bayfront Park or sell fewer tickets and raise the prices of the tickets because that venue is magical when you can move around and not be stuck in line after line. I will end it on this note by saying that it is still good to see artists, international music lovers, and everyone come back together to unite back home, showing the world that global peace can happen. That was the reminder all weekend long, buildings were even lit up with the colors of Ukraine to show solidarity and support.
Thank you to everyone who organized a memorable weekend that created memories for everyone that will last a lifetime. From the festival organizers, Miami police and fire department, medical personnel, security, marketing and PR team (shoutout Jaime Sloane), artists, and everyone else who made this event possible and created a safe space for us to dance the day and night away.
The dates for the 23rd edition have been announced; it is set to take place March 24-26, 2023, and the ticket options and pricing is listed on their website; and heads up looks like PGA is an option so pray to the rave Gods and Goddesses hopefully next year is better on that front. Until next time Ultra.
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Photo Credit: Ultra’s Facebook