It’s officially 2016 and with a new year comes a new festival season and you know what that means: new stages, new lineups, and new experiences! This year marks Ultra Music Festival‘s eighteenth year as the festival continues to grow all while getting better and better. Held in the heart of downtown Miami at Bayfront Park, this is a festival unlike any other. Even before you approach the gates on Day 1, the energy in the air of Miami is almost electrifying with the feelings of excitement and happiness of the music loving attendees that now inhabit the entire city. And once you’re inside, there’s no way to explain how cool it is to have the Miami skyline surrounding you as thousands of other people and yourself are dancing together into the night.
Last year, in an effort to work with the city, Ultra officially changed from an all ages music festival to an 18+ festival. Being from California (where a majority of the events have an 18+ restriction) I could tell a difference from the previous year when it was all ages. It’s somewhat disconcerting to see drunk adults dancing next to kids that are in middle school and I was personally happy to see the age restriction put into place. The vibe of the entire festival felt more cohesive and laidback with everyone being responsible for themselves.
Ultra continues to impress the masses year after year with not only their ability to book top talent DJs from around the world but also because of the diversity within the lineup. This year will include a variety of top notch LIVE performances such as Nero, Purity Ring, and Tycho but what will probably have the crowd mostly talking is the return of Pendulum (the first time since 2011) and The Prodigy also known as “The Godfathers of Rave.” If this wasn’t enough to entice festival-goers, the headline act for Ultra’s very first year, the Rabbit In The Moon, will be returning to create something special for Ultranaut veterans and newbies.
Along with their insane LIVE programming, Ultra has also booked some of the most in-demand DJs in the world such as Armin Van Buuren, Alunageorge, Carl Cox, The Chainsmokers, Eric Prydz, Hardwell, Jauz, Kaskade, Kygo, Marshmello, Martin Garrix, DJ Snake, Tiesto, W&W, and Zedd. Along with including these heavy hitters, Ultra is also having Carl Cox return to host an Ultra signature curated stage: Carl Cox & Friends. Armin Van Buuren will also be returning to host another year of his famous show ‘A State of Trance.’
And this is only the Phase 1 lineup. There is still plenty of time for Ultra to book more mind-blowing talent for the sold out crowd. And these are all expected acts. Last year Usher, Justin Bieber, and Diplo showed up during the festival and that was only during Skrillex‘s closing set on the last day. Ultra has already started planning these surprises for fans and took a second to tweet this earlier in January:
so many surprises in store for you guys at #Ultra2016…
only two months until you find out what they are 🙃
— Ultra Music Festival (@ultra) January 19, 2016
One of attendees’ favorite moments of Ultra is to walk up to the grounds and see what the festival has created for the Ultranauts at the main stage. Every year is pretty different and it just increases the excitement of what is to come for the rest of the weekend. Ultra has eight stages going at any time of the festival so there is never an excuse to not find great music. Take your pick between the Main Stage, the Ultra Worldwide Stage, the Megastructure (Carl Cox, ASOT, etc.), the Live Stage, the Resistance Stage, the UMF Radio Stage, Stage 7, and the Oasis Stage. If you don’t know anyone that’s playing, go explore! It’s a fun way to make festival friends that you can meet up with throughout the weekend or even at festivals/events beyond Ultra. I would defintiely recommend trying to catch at least one act on each stage throughout the weekend. They each bring their own unique music, crowd, vibe, and interaction with the DJ. Who knows, you might find your next favorite artist!
One of the best parts about Ultra is that no two stages are that far apart from each other. You can get from your favorite sets pretty easily and without having to really sacrifice an entire set just to get to the next stage, unlike other festivals such as TomorrowWorld. Even with the close proximity of the stages, there is little to no sound bleeding which allows you to fully immerse yourself into the set that you’re dancing at with your friends.
Many people forget before they arrive to Ultra that Florida is extremely humid and that means it is even easier to get dehydrated because you are going to be sweating. A lot. Luckily Ultra has been getting better the last couple of years about giving free water to their patrons being able to get it to them quickly. The first year I went, the faucet/spicket broke and was basically flooding everywhere but last year they had workers helping attendees at a booth which allowed for a more streamlined process and kept our shoes dry. In addition, the announcer is constantly reminding everyone to keep an eye out for each other and to help one another out if they see someone in trouble. I think that also adds another dimension to the festival that people do not really think about. When you have that sense of security at the festival when you feel like you can trust the people around you it makes you feel that much closer to everyone and you can really enjoy yourself knowing you’re in good hands.
Often times many people wonder what they should wear to the festival they are planning to attend. As far as Ultra goes, anything goes! There is no real common theme for the festival and you will see everything from girls wearing fluffies to guys dressed up as superheroes to entire squads dressed head-to-toe in neon. This is your chance to be who you want to be. You don’t know anyone else and you can make new friends wherever you go!
ARRIVING TO MIAMI, WHERE TO STAY, AND GETTING TO THE FESTIVAL GROUNDS
When arriving to Miami: I personally like to arrive to my festival destination the day before so I’m not exhausted at the festival from traveling; however, if you do not have this option, Ultra starts later in the afternoon on Day 1 to accommodate those Ultranauts coming into Miami that day.
As for accommodations: Ultra does not have camping available to attendees and you have to find a place to stay for the weekend. Luckily, Miami has decent public transportation and you do not have to stay in downtown (but I would highly recommend this option if you can afford it). I have done both and being able to wake up, get something to eat, and walk straight into the festival each day definitely made my Ultra experience that much better. As for those attendees that don’t want the party to stop at midnight, staying in downtown gives you the option to go back to your hotel, get cleaned up, and then go out to many of the clubs and afterparties that happen each night.
When getting to the festival: On Day 1, expect a long delay to get in if you are there near the opening time. Because of the later entrance time, many people are able to get there to wait for the gates to officially open and since it is the first day the festival has not really gotten into the groove of quickly moving the line through the multiple checkpoints of ID check, security, and festival ticket scanning. But just know that all that waiting will be well worth it!
ULTRA IS OVER, NOW WHAT? (That’s where WMC comes in!)
One thing to know about Ultra Music Festival is that it is not solely a music festival. As far as fests go, the typical ones provide a venue, whether indoor or out, comprised of various merch vendors, the elaborate stages that seem to get better as the years pass, and at some festivals, there are even campsites. For Ultra, however, you want to carry around as little as possible, and definitely should leave the tent and camping gear at home! In the case of Ultra, there is a three-day pass allowing you to witness legendary musicians on each of its carefully curated stages. What this particular festival, on the other hand, has that most other large music festivals have yet to emulate, is its strategically planned dates–always happen to fall around or during the time of Winter Music Conference (WMC) AND Miami Music Week (MMW). This year specifically, the dates of each are as follows:
WINTER MUSIC CONFERENCE – MARCH 21-24, 2016 – SOUTH BEACH, MIAMI
MIAMI MUSIC WEEK – MARCH 15-20, 2015 – SOUTH BEACH, MIAMI
*ULTRA MUSIC FESTIVAL – MARCH 18-20, 2016 -BAYFRONT PARK
So, what’s the difference between Ultra and WMC? Winter Music Conference originated as an electronic music “conference” comprised of various events and parties drawing industry professionals, producers, artists, promoters, record labels, and enthusiasts alike to sunny Miami, Florida. Spanning a couple of days, WMC is filled with seminars, workshops, panels, and parties alike, the official ones being arranged by The Winter Music Conference Organization. The International Dance Music Awards (or IDMA) ceremony is also held during WMC.
WMC remains as a widely anticipated annual gathering for those in the dance music industry, or those lucky enough to rub arms with the right people. Simply put, Winter Music Conference draws in a crowd of people from over 70 countries to participate in more than 400 events, parties, seminars and workshops to serve as a platform for electronic music and culture. The full affair is referred to as Miami Music Week and it is internationally recognized as one of the best places to see what has happened, what is happening, and what is going to happen in the dance music industry.
This year, WMC will be taking place from March 21-24 in Miami Beach. One of the notable aspects about WMC is that DJs take this opportunity to tell press about upcoming projects and often times release new tracks at parties throughout the week. These parties, being either pool parties or clubwear parties at night, are more intimate than the massive festival crowd. One example of these tracks that dominated Miami Music Week was Lean On by Major Lazer & DJ Snake feat. MØ and it is apparent how well that turned out for the collaboration in 2015.
Officially, WMC, despite being full of unforgettable parties and other organized events, essentially serves as a networking gathering for those involved in, interested in, or generally enthusiastic about the music industry–with badges that allow entry to most WMC events, including the ceremony. Additional information regarding badges, DJ Spin-offs, seminars, workshops, and more can be found on the WMC Events Page
Unofficially, however, WMC is simply another reason to party in Miami, whether you’re a local or traveling internationally. The days bring endless debauchery and call for serious down time when it’s all over. The drinks are flowing, attendees are dancing, and the music goes all night. There is no telling what to expect.
While some Miami Music Week events are more exclusive than others, here’s a list of some of the year’s top parties not to be missed:
3/15: Miami Massive 2016 @ Nikki Beach
3/15: Favela Beach w/ Reid Waters + TBA @ Wall Lounge Miami Beach
3/16: Lee Burridge Sunset Cruise @ BISCAYNE LADY
3/17: All Gone Pete Tong Pool Party @ The Surfcomber Hotel
3/17: Dim Mak 20th Anniversary Miami Beach w/ Steve Aoki + more @ Nikki Beach
3/18: No Sugar Added Miami Beach 2016 @ Nikki Beach
3/19: Cosmic Gate & Friends Sunset Cruise @ Biscayne Lady
3/20: DogEatDog Records Pool Party @ The Congress Hotel Miami Beach
Whether you’re setting sail with your favorite DJ’s, pool-party hopping with friends, or dancing the night away at one of Miami’s world famous clubs, WMC is sure to be one for the books. With countless events occurring, it gets difficult to choose. So, while the list above highlights events ranging from pool, beach, and yacht parties, as well as nightlong club performances, a longer list can be found here.
Regardless of why you are in Miami–whether it’s to attend Ultra, to check out WMC, or to enjoy the entirety of all that is Miami Music Week, you are guaranteed to have a blast. Great vibes, beautiful weather, gorgeous people, and incredible music make Miami the go-to destination for your festival needs in March. I’ll see you there!
If you want to relive last year’s festival, see below:
By FestPop Staff Writer
Contributions from FestPop Senior Editor & Director of Social Media