Disco Donnie Presents and Sunset Events celebrate 10 years of Sunset Music Festival
Sunset Music Festival, commonly known as SMF, completed its 10-year installment on May 27 – 29 at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla. SMF is put on every Memorial Day weekend in the sunshine state by Disco Donnie Presents and Sunset Events. Through their 10-year journey, SMF exemplifies to the music festival world why they continue to be a defining staple in the dance music festival space for the concentration on adaptability, perseverance, and deep love for passing down the torch to a new generation of ravers and local talent. Not only was this SMF’s extensive 10th anniversary, but this marked the first time in history the event was three days in a row at Raymond James Stadium (Front Lot), which has been on the wish list for both fans and organizers of the event forever.
The birth year of Sunset Music Festival was 2012 when the dance music scene was planting its roots in the United States and specifically in Tampa. At the time, there was not a big following or demand for the electronic dance music scene in Tampa, but that would soon change once the announcement of the Sunset Music Festival hit the internet and media outlets. The information shared that the one-day electronic dance music event will explicitly target all dance music subgenres fans. For instance, Pretty Lights, Alesso, Crizzly, Gabriel & Dresden, Nicky Romero, Funtcase, NERVO, Paul van Dyk, and Tommy Trash, specifically, SMF has also been known to shed light and love on a wide variety of local/regional talent as well like DOCO, Dan Winta and more.
The first inaugural Sunset Music Festival was a defining moment for Tampa’s evolution of dance music and myself personally. It is where I began my journey toward music festivals, love for the culture, and desire to pursue a career in the industry. Soon to follow my high school graduation, my brother and his girlfriend at the time decided to take me to my first music festival, which happened to be Sunset Music Festival. Truthfully, no expectations were going through my brain except the festival anxiety, which made sense since this would be the first. The moment I walked my first steps into the sunset at SMF, it was as if all of the thoughts, questions, and unknowns in my life finally connected, and I found my home and people.
Since my first time attending SMF in 2012, I moved up to Tampa for college in 2013 and made SMF my hometown music festival, and became involved in many aspects of the festival. The festival became a home away from home, where I learned so much about the community, culture, and artists; and got to dip my feet into festival promotions. I even helped get my best friend at the time (Christian Alexander) to play the festival not only on the more miniature stages but on the main stage. Sunset Music Festival is where it started for me, so it only made sense that returning home for the big 10th anniversary and the first three-day event was a no-brainer.
The journey to Sunset Music Festival is quite the beautiful coming of age story. Let’s be honest, to carry on a large-scale event in the modern age where thousands of people from all different walks of life come together is challenging, and then add on top of that the Florida heat index, and some would say it’s near impossible, but not for SMF. The rise of dance music and the popularity of SMF in Tampa quickly sparked with the third year of the festival moving from one day to two days. In 2014, SMF expanded to two days and brought in more acts such as Hardwell, ZEDD, Krewella, Benny Benassi as headliners, etc.
Press the fast forward button, and I would have never pictured that I would be returning to the music festival covering it for my dance music publication and company that I started; real pinch-me moment.
Upon driving to the stadium for day one, the gloomy and ominous clouds released a downpour of rain droplets, which for anyone who is an SMF veteran, you know, it would not be an SMF unless rain happens. Thankfully, the rain let up and kept a good amount of overcast during the day to keep the temperatures down. Water bottles were being handed out before the entrances, staff directing everyone where to go, and plenty of lines to choose from for GA, GA+, and VIP. Right off the bat, I could tell how organized the event was, and it made for an easy process to get into.
Every year Sunset Music Festival hosts four stages, which are the Sunset Stage (Main Stage), Horizon Stage (House Stage), Eclipse Stage (Bass Stage), and they also have the Cooldown Tent (local + surprise sets). The stages are not moved around and are in the exact spot from the previous year, so everyone can pick up right where they left off, making it easier for attendees not to have to learn a whole new festival map each year. SMF has morphed into a festival where each stage has its vibe and presents attendees with a different experience. The designs for each year also change and evolve to adapt for an immersive vibe.
Since SMF has to combat the rising Florida heat, the festival scatters shaded areas throughout the festival, cool down tents and mazes, free water bottles by Zephyrhills, water refill stations, and misters at each stage. Any ticket holder can enjoy all these enhancements, and it shows everybody the lengths the festival organizers will go to create a better and more safe time for festival-goers. Florida ravers are resilient and truthfully will wether the storm to go and support their favorite artists, and those vibes and dedication are contagious.
Let’s dive into the next topic, which is the vibes. Sunset Music Festival caters to a younger demographic of music lovers, but this should not deter anyone from attending or experiencing the festival. We all started somewhere and the vibes all weekend long were on point!
Here is the thing, our community, and culture make up of all different races, social classes, ethnicities, religions, sexual orientations, and ages! We need to stop looking at younger generations as the enemy and vice versa and start coming together because we are responsible for the next generations of ravers to carry our culture and core values for generations to come. For example, SMF was my first music festival, and because people were there to show me the way and enhance my experience, I grasped the outlook for dance music that I have today. Everyone at SMF was there to enjoy each other’s company, connect, and spread the PLUR vibes. Every year I have attended SMF, I always meet up with old friends but leave with brand new ones, and this is a reason why I continue to return because it is up to us to guide our new ravers in the right direction and if we aren’t then what are we doing as a community?
Each artist at Sunset Music Festival understood the assignment and brought bangers, feelings, emotion, and energy to fans in the crowd. My home for the weekend was traveling back and forth between the Sunset Stage and Horizon Stage, with an occasional drop-in to the Eclipse Stage to get some bass in the face. Another beautiful selling point for SMF is that the festival grounds are not significantly extensive, so taking a quick 5-10 minute walk to the other side of the festival to split sets is so appreciative and relaxing. Since most festivals are oversold, it was refreshing to take a beat and enjoy a minor festival’s environment and vibe and not feel squished in like sardines.
The Sunset Stage had massive vertical LED screens that truly sucked people in, especially at night; the Horizon stage took a more horizontal/square LED approach while providing a shaded area in the middle of the stage, which came in clutch during the day, and then the Eclipse Stage had two overhang structures. The cooldown tent creates a more intimate vibe where each person is closer to the djs decks and is the most cooled-down stage offered at SMF. Trivecta was one of the best ways to kick off the weekend on day one at the Sunset Stage, along with MitiS, Gordo (Carnage’s house alias), Malaa, Gryffin, and ILLENIUM. The Eclipse Stage came to life because of Blanke. Over at the Horizon Stage, Walker & Royce added their personal touch and sound to ignite the crowd for SIDEPIECE, who quickly stole the show on Friday.
Moving into the second day of SMF, the music kept getting even better. For the first time, I finally got to see a John Summit set from start to finish, and it was the only set all weekend long where all of a sudden, he announced on the mic it was his last song, and I looked at my phone, and I was like wow quickest hour of my life. Tchami picked up where John Summit left off and took everyone to church, and then it was time to get a spot for Dom Dolla, but before Dom Dolla, Noizu brought the house down at the Horizon Stage. In the blink of an eye, SMF was approaching the much anticipated third and last day of the festival.
Day three of SMF presented us with the start of some bass at the Eclipse Stage, watching Tampa native Evalution perform and bring the Florida bass vibes to all in the crowd. Evalution surprised everyone by bringing Chris Sgammato (Sgammato) out to close his set with a live saxophone. Evalution played the guitar portion of their track “Beatbox 2” to bless the crowd’s presence. Once that set ended, we explored all of the VIP amenities, including the Sunset Oasis area over by the Sunset Stage. If you are reading this and have been on the fence about doing VIP at SMF, I am quick to assure you your answer; YES, DO IT. Once you walk into the Oasis, private bars, food, water, and several different shaded areas put you in the perfect position to watch the stage. You can enter the bottle service area as long as it’s not at capacity, where you are in a beautiful standing area so immersed with the stage, absorbing the VIP vibe, and more misters.
The most anticipated set of day three was quickly Alesso because he has not returned to play Sunset Music Festival since the very first one in 2012. Without question, we removed ourselves from VIP to get a good spot for Alesso to soak in all of the energy Alesso froze time the minute he opened, and oh, did he not disappoint. At that very moment in time, I felt like I was reliving my 2012 SMF experience, and it made me see not only SMF’s journey but my personal growth as a human and with music. The crowd energy was infectious at each progressive house drop. Everyone around me had smiles on their faces that could go on for miles as they were dancing the night away, and that is was Sunset Music Festival is all about.
Overall, Sunset Music Festival deserves positive recognition from everyone because holding a festival for ten years in a row is a significant accomplishment, no matter the genre of music. Still, I feel like dance music is explicitly challenged more because of its stigma. The organization and logistics of the festival made sense this year, and the levels of safety and concern that SMF puts forward for their events are comforting. For example, there was plenty of security and police everywhere, which added comfort, knowing they were prepared and ready to go if anything were to happen. The world is upside down with so much hate and uncertainty, but SMF continues to bring reassurance each year of love and music to Tampa.
However, there is always room for improvement, and I believe SMF can fill these gaps for next year. With how fluid the music industry continues to be, SMF needs to have backups for artists pulling out or canceling last minute. This is a new challenge SMF will have to overcome because Insomniac now hosts a festival the same weekend at SMF and EDC Las Vegas usually happens the week before now, so confirming a replacement can be difficult. I also noticed the will-call pickup line for Saturday was massive and more tents could have been added, but staffing shortages could affect that. Then my last one is that the VIP viewing deck for the Eclipse stage needs to have shade if someone is purchasing VIP tickets; I believe some parts of the deck need to have more shaded areas at all VIP viewing decks. Other than that, SMF did everything correctly.
Sunset Music Festival is home, and it will always be home for me. My experience at Sunset Music Festival’s 10th anniversary showed me that SMF held close to its values and mission since day one. The mission is to promote a safe and loving environment for Florida dance music lovers who are veterans or just getting started in their raving careers. I believe everyone should come and experience SMF at least once and give back to the community that gives so much. Branch out of the standard and more prominent festivals and visit a celebration where our next generation of ravers are coming from and walk a mile in their shoes, and you will be surprised just at what you will take away from them and what you will leave behind.
Thank you, Sunset Music Festival, for putting perspective on my plate and letting me indulge in it all weekend. Congratulations to Disco Donnie and Sunset Events on a special 10th anniversary. It was a magical weekend and see you next year!
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Photo Credit: Sunset Music Festival’s Facebook
Cover Photo: @ohdagyophoto