Ultra and the Music Festival Experience

main stage

There are many types of Ultra Haters… Some view Ultra as a money hungry institution that is hurting “EDM” by making it mainstream, while others just don’t understand the electronic music culture… But there is a reason why Ultra Music Festival remains successful. There is a reason why even after my 8th Ultra, I still get butterflies when talking about it. There is a reason why I will probably continue to attend Ultra, dressed as a fool, until my hairs are gray. That reason is “The Festival Experience”. And while Ultra haters can keep blaming Ultra for shit they are not responsible for and complaining that it cost too much or that it is filled with high school kids, I contend that Ultra is worth every penny if your mind is in the right place. So ….

Dear Ultra Haters:

1. “Ugh EDM has become so mainstream”: The industry has been fighting forever to not be seen as Tiki Tiki music only good for when you want to have a less than intimate night with your friend Molly. It’s those DJ’s that you praise that sold their songs to Coca Cola & T-Mobile commercials. It’s those VIP clubs that take DJ’s off the decks if they get “too experimental.” Hell, it’s you who all of a sudden want Kaskade played at your graduation. YOU, WE, and Swedish House Mafia made it mainstream not Ultra. Yes a lot of crappy EDM has resulted from this but a few good things are worth mentioning.

  • Respect from other genres of music. The kind of respect that has brought about some of the best musical collaborations of our time.
  • The hipster’s need to remain “Underground” has paved the way for some very good DJs to enter the scene who would otherwise struggle under the shadow of mainstream EDM.
  • I can publicly listen to all the EDM I want and not be labeled a pookie head. Yes it crosses everyone’s mind from time to time, but Abuelita is no longer giving me the stink eye!

2. “But Ultra is so expensive. They are ripping people off”: I remember my first Ultra in 2005. The stages were no more than what you would see at county fairs for the local jazz band to jam out. The visuals were no better than letting Winamp ride on your laptop; there were no high-rise sized projections; there were no lights decorating the trees and the eco village was no more than a raised pedestal with cheap stage lighting. There was no 3 days and certainly no 2 weekends. It was ONE day. Where am I getting at??? FUCKIN’ INFLATION doesn’t even begin to cover why Ultra cost so much more now than it did back then. The amount of money that goes into just one of the stages today could possibly pay for your mortgage 3 times over.

3. “But I don’t want to party with little kids”: Although, I wouldn’t mind if Ultra were an 18 + event,  if in the midst of great music all you’re thinking about is how old the candy kid next to you is, then you’ve missed the point! For a true lover of music, no fucks are given.

But about this festival experience:  From a very young age I was intrigued by the musical movement of the 60’s. I am indeed an old soul. My heart dances when records from The Doors, The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Jefferson Airplane, The Kinks, The Supremes and many more come on. But what I never understood was why Woodstock was so impactful and characteristic of that decade.  Then Ultra came along and through the years opened my mind to the beauty of “The Festival Experience”; an experience understood only by living it and almost impossible to grasp through just words; an experience often enhanced by psychoactive drugs but certainly not dependent on it. An experience that has coated my soul with the sweet melodic molasses that brings people together in ways no other art can.

Even as I write this I have trouble finding the verbiage that will do it justice but helplessly I try. Imagine for a moment what happens on a typical Miami night if you step on someone’s foot at the club. The likely response is to throw some bows and stare in pure disdain. But what can be expected of this same incident at Ultra? A hug, a smile, a piece of gum, and maybe a passing of candy.  The festival goer is too preoccupied with the music to create animosity with the energy around them. They are filled with the utopian energy that so effortlessly spills through the pores of artists like Fatboy Slim and Carl Cox. The festival goer dances with no regard for who is watching or taking pictures. They meet people from all over the world and become instant friends because MUSIC is all they need in common. The festival goer holds hands with their friends as every frequency carries them into a new wave of pure bliss. They adopt strays into their wolf pack only to let them disappear into a beautiful memory and leave Ultra at its conclusion forever changed and instantly nostalgic.

Ultra, like no other has allowed me to understand why music has always been my refuge. In the presence of happiness and pain and all other emotions in between, Ultra understands that music alone can stop time even at 135 beats per minute. They understand it and live it by pushing standards and limits every year and becoming the iconic music festival they are today.  And if gathering a bunch of my favorite Djs in one place wasn’t enough, Ultra continues to own my heart with the aggressive inclusion of other genres.  Where else can I fist bump one minute and then light up to Snoop the next? Where else can I hear Hip Hop Is Dead and an Etta James tribute? Where else can I make history with Slash and then let my body sway to the sounds of Thievery Corporation? It is beautiful. It is Music. It is Alive.

Mark your calendars, music junkies. I invite you to celebrate my quarter-century birthday (3/29/2014) at Ultra with 300,000 of my closest friends!!!!! May the Music Festival Experience soon enter your heart!


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