I’ve been to Tomorrowland, TomorrowWorld (even the bad year), smaller festivals, and of course Ultra Music Festival at Bayfront Park. I’ve gone to Bayfront Park every year since 2012 and to me, the formula had gotten a tad bit old even before 2019. Ultra had become a well-oiled machine, and sure it was impressive but it was also so predictable. In many ways I was thrilled that Ultra was gonna change it up at a new bigger venue. I had also experienced my fair share of long walks, festival mishaps *coughcoughMudWorldcoughcough* and also festivals like SMF in Tampa that routinely had to stop the festivities for hours at a time due to torrential downpours. Now that’s not to say I didn’t have amazing times at Bayfront, because of course I did. However Ultra was dealt the cards that it was dealt and so there’s no use whining about it for things that aren’t going to happen, and plus Bayfront wasn’t perfect either.

Ultra’s move to Virginia Key gave the festival the opportunity to show an entirely new side of itself. That new side is Resistance Island – the “new” Ultra. With the added space, Ultra could add amenities that festivals like Tomorrowland and EDC had, all while keeping its bleeding edge advantage in terms of lineup exclusives and new music. I went in knowing there would be bumps. Companies budget and plan things out about a year (or more). Now imagine that halfway through the year your expenses and overhead double, entirely new departments need to be created to handle entirely new problems, you need to rework your event from scratch, and you can’t raise ticket prices. Well that’s what happened to Ultra in 2019. Ultra had only a few months to create (from scratch) entirely new stages, a transportation and parking plan, an environmental plan, and an entirely new layout. It was a gargantuan feat, and despite a tough start the festival actually did pull it off.

It wasn’t perfect obviously – it was a good ways off from perfect. Even Armin van Buuren expected it might be an awkward first year, but he predicted the festival would find its groove by year 2. There are things you can’t predict on paper, you have to just do it and see what happens. You can see the seeds of something awesome at Virginia Key, and once the logistical aspects get hammered down, the festival can really start growing into something leaps and bounds beyond what it was before.

Every change is going to have its pros and its cons. There are some things that are better than Bayfront and some that are worse. I’m gonna break it down below and let you know what was great about Ultra 2019, what needs some work, and two things that were really awful and will hopefully never happen again.

The bottom line though is that Ultra was dealt its hand, and it made the best of it. It managed to pull it off relatively well considering how much worse it wouldve’ been at some po-dunk Speedway in Homestead. The festival even got better in some ways as a result, so be constructive in how they can improve but trust that Ultra will make the changes to optimize this new space over time.

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View of Tchami’s set from enlarged VIP area

Pros

Plenty of Space

One review from another blog noted that Ultra felt empty this year. Hallelujah! That’s amazing!! Seriously – Ultra added capacity for 5,000 additional attendees per day and yet it felt empty to some. Ultra had just as many people as before, if not more but now Ultra finally has some space to stretch out. The mainstage enters facing the stage now so it’s much easier for people to file in and find their spot without everybody flooding in at the very front corner of the stag like before. There was enough space that the VIP section was expanded to something like what you find at EDC and, for the first time in my memory, media were granted access. However the bulk of the added space went towards the next item on the list.

Resistance Island

You could almost say it was all worth it just for this. Resistance Island is a gem – just the perfect techno oasis right on the beach. While the Marine Stadium area still felt distinctly like the Ultra you already know with lots of bright-eyed “first-festies” who can’t wait to see David Guetta and Zedd in the concrete jungle, Resistance Island felt completely different. It felt like Electric Forest or Okeechobee, but featured an A++ techno lineup you won’t find at basically any other US festival.

The three stages were spread out but not far enough apart that you couldn’t easily roam among them. There were hammocks setup near the beach area which was within 50 feet of of the megastructure. Of course the Megastructure remains the best festival stage outside of Europe if not anywhere in the world. In fact, the Megastructure costs more than the mainstage, and you can see why. The best way to sum up Resistance Island is that you could catch deadmau5′ testpilot techno alias close out the festival Sunday Night without feeling even a little bit crowded in a pretty cool warehouse-vibe enclosed stage (Reflector). If you were feeling tired from 5 3 days of raving, you could lay down on the grass right outside the stage and watch from there without taking away from the vibe one bit.

If you’re a veteran festivalgoer or a techno fan you might not even want to leave Resistance Island and many are wondering how ASOT could somehow slot its way in there.

The Lineup

This isn’t really a change for Ultra but it shouldn’t be taken for granted. While other festivals try to focus on gimmicky themes and platitudes to PLUR to hide the fact that their lineup contains nothing special, Ultra is still laser-focused on having the most cutting edge badass lineup in electronic dance music and enough LED screens to make your head spin. Resistance Island only kicked it up a notch because there an entirely new stage plus an additional megastructure day to fill with the best names in techno. There were only a handful of names you could say were missing from the techno lineup, and we will surely see Cirez D return soon enough.

Over at the Marine Stadium area you had the Cube 3.0 debut, Gigantic NGHTMRE, and plenty of other exclusives along with the biggest headliners you come to expect. Ultra is when the DJs premiere their new music for the year and none of that is going to change.

The Little Things Perfected

In such a momentous year its easy to overlook the simple things that Ultra has nailed down over the years. We finally got wristbands that worked pretty flawlessly and nobody had to worry about losing their ticket or having it stolen out of their bag. The water stations were plentiful, easy to use, and with almost no lines. There used to be a time when the line was a mile long and even a year when the water station was basically a hose. In case of bugs they had free bug spray stations. The food vendors were generally pretty solid and most of them took credit cards or even Apple Pay. They had lockers which had been long requested. The app worked relatively well for scheduling and also for rewards points, which people finally starting accumulating enough of to attain Gold status this year.  The little things seem easy but when they go wrong they get noticed.

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Think how many people could fit in the space where that divider is. Credit: Bart Heemskerk

Cons

ASOT

As trance suffered a setback across the US in the past few years and lost real estate at other festivals, Ultra remained the one festival that still had the guts to put trance on the biggest stages and give it the respect it deserves. Many felt that this year ASOT got short-changed on the new Live Arena stage. Part of what made ASOT so magical was the amazing megastructure and the same type of vibes that now live permanently over at Resistance Island.

The Live Arena stage was actually the same width and length of the old megastructure, but without any of the ceiling panels that brought it to the next level. It also blocked off the left side for production/artist and stuck a giant mainstage divider in the center. This really kills the vibe for trance and also lead to the entire stage feeling extremely crowded. There was no way you were gonna make your way up to the front from the back this year. Also the power tripped during deadmau5 and Armin van Buuren’s set. There was some curse over there. If they could take out those dividers and slap some LED screens on the ceiling we’d be more or less in business. Although, some of us wish that somehow ASOT could make its way over to Resistance Island because it would fit right in over there.

Marine Stadium Stage Arrangements/Soundbleed

Worldwide Stage crowd overflowing into Live Arena.

While the Miami Marine Stadium area had plenty of open space, it’s a fairly simple rectangle setup and it wasn’t easy fitting 4 stages in there. The stages need room for overflow, room for other concessions, bathrooms, and the stages can’t blast music in a way that might harm those fish in captivity across the street, or whatever.

So you had 3 stages all right up against eachother (Live, Worldwide, and Radio) with crowds overflowing into eachother and situations where you might hear all 3 stages at once. As deadmau5 began wrapping up his Cube 3.0 show with a gorgeous new ID track, you could hear drops from the UMF Radio stage. This annoyed people to varying degrees, but there must be a better way to arrange those stages or design them differently. Perhaps one of the 3 stages needs to adopt a 360 structure and take over the position of that massive circular bar in the dead center of the festival.

Also the Worldwide stage does not work at all where it was placed. It was meant for huge overflow on both sides, but now one side is blocked off by water. In 2013 the Worldwide stage had a similar issue when, incredibly, a gate was put up on the side of the stage near the street. The overcrowding and pushing became very dangerous over there and it was never seen again. Now we don’t know how Ultra plans to tackle this admittedly complicated issue, but there must be plenty of options and we’re sure it’ll be remedied next year.

The Walk

This is one issue that really can’t be fixed, but only dealt with. It sucks in one way or another for everybody. For some they just cant stand walking (despite dancing/jumping for 5+ hours a day for 3+ days consecutively). For others it just means you need to leave a set 20-30 minutes early to switch areas, and that can be a bummer when you’re forced to leave a magical Armin set to catch testpilot for the first time (only slightly bitter about it).

The thing that sucks the most about the walk is that there are largely no bathrooms, concessions, or distractions along the way. Tomorrowland and TomorrowWorld featured similarly long walks, but there were things along the way so it wasn’t just a simple walk from A to B. If UMF Radio stage could be stuck somewhere in between that would be amazing and solve possibly 2 problems in one. Beyond that maybe a few porta-potties or drink vendors along the way might be good.

More space means more space to walk so it’s a trade off, but it isn’t the worst thing in the world. That being said, I’m all for selling Golf Cart passes next year too.

Shuttles & The Death of the Ultra Pregame

The shuttle system is a pain – but anything is a pain compared to how easy it used to be. The festival was right at the intersections of all public transport and you could just walk there from Downtown and Brickell. But hey, all those nearby condos are what forced the festival out so it is what it is now. Shuttling itself is less convenient than walking it, but the real loss here hat nobody is taking about is the loss of the Ultra pregame.

No matter where you lived, you were gonna ride into Downtown or Brickell to pregame with your squad and ride into Ultra all together. Sure there were stragglers, but they showed up eventually before you made the walk over. People from South Beach, Coral Gables, Downtown, Ft. Lauderdale, or whever all came in to meet up. Now that’s sorta over because the most convenient Shuttle Stop is C over in Vizcaya and everyody is spread out among the 3 shuttle stops and the Ferry. Beyond that, the extra time involved in Shuttling or ubering over takes up time that would have been spent at the pregame. I stayed in Coral Gables, so there was no reason to uber 25 minutes over to Downtown or Brickell only to hop in a Shuttle or uber all the way back. For the first time in years, I went to Ultra without any Ultra pregame and it was sad.

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The skyline view while walking the bridge at 3am.

The Ugly

Fyre Friday

There’s no way to sugarcoat it, Friday was a mess. It wasn’t TomorrowWorld bad, and it certainly wasn’t Fyre Festival bad – but the complete lack of information combined with a long walk made it pretty sh*ty to say the least. At the outset there was a nice plan I had in my head to go find my Shuttle C stop, but when things ended and I was at Resistance everybody said “keep walking” far past where the C stop was. Shuttle A? Keep walking, Shuttle B? Keep walking, Shuttle C? Yep, keep walking. The lack of knowledge or the purposeful concealing of knowledge by the police and other transport organizers on Friday is what really kicked off the chaos.

I made the long walk from the front of the Megastructure all the way back to the Vizcaya metro station almost 3 miles away, but to honest I still got home by like 4:15. There were times when I stayed in Coconut Grove and didn’t get back from Bayfront until 3 (and that was with 2 less hours of festival). I’d be in favor of a Ferry escape pass that only allows you to use the Ferry on the way out. Although by Sunday night the shuttling system seemed to be smoothed out.

Colonel Sanders

Gotta pay those bills, but this was a weird way to do it. At least 7UP earned itself some EDM cred and did some interesting collaborations with artists when it made a huge push into the scene. It was corny and cringey in all of the worst ways, and everybody knew it. When they raise ticket prices next year (just a guess) you’ll probably wish Colonel Sanders played b2b with Wendy to keep those ticket prices low though.


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