For the 16th year in a row, downtown Miami transformed into EDM HQ as furry-booted, body-painted thrill seekers danced their way through the gates of Ultra Music Festival at Bayfront Park.
Day One on Friday (March 27) was a success, but not without its trials. Hours of on-again, off-again drizzles and downpour disrupted set schedules and shut down four out of seven stages, canceling performances on the Live, Radio, Resistance and 7 Stages for Odesza, Chromeo, Michael Brun and more. It was the second rainiest day of the month, but even with the hiccups, it wasn’t enough to dampen the party spirit.
Billboard was there, wet shoes and all, to capture the most magical moments.
4:05 p.m.: All systems go as the crowd of early birds snake through the line and into the longest-running dance music festival in the U.S. For the first time in Ultra history, everyone coming through the gate is 18 years old, or older. One local attendee confides he only bought a ticket when he heard the news. Crowds expect a more mature experience inside but come with attitudes and outfits as bright and playful as ever.
5:43 p.m.: This year, Ultra’s main stage is a dizzying array of giant screens stacked and layered one on top of the other. 3LAU whipped the growing audience into a frenzy that young Dutch favorite Oliver Heldens now steers toward mania. Fireworks explode into the still-sunny sky as revelers jump and throw their hands up, snapping selfies that will make the folks back home jealous for sure.
6:12 p.m.: The Resistance stage has been getting a lot of attention as Ultra’s perceived attempt to move “underground.” Mano Le Tough works inside the spire-shaped booth as house heads mingle on the hill or groove on one of the stage’s four catwalks jutting from the central base. In the light of day, it doesn’t seem all that exciting. This is an area that will heat up after the sun goes down. Dancers start to feel the first drops of rain, but it’s nothing a rave veteran can’t handle.
6:45 p.m.: Some techno fiends will fly around the world just to get a glimpse of the Carl Cox & Friends Megastructure. In its 11th year, it’s truly a wonder that pits a full-on high-tech warehouse party in the middle of UMF’s insanity. Walking inside is like being transported. It’s easy to lose track of time. Adam Beyer earns his rising-star status while mixing back-to-back with Ida Engberg. Official Ultra dancers flank the DJs on either side looking characteristically unattainable.
7:02 p.m.: Just behind the Megastructure sits another main attraction, the UMF World stage, today representing the Ultra Korea brand. As it has for the last few years, the world stage shields dancers from the light rain with its giant arch. American dubstep king 12th Planet has booties twerkin’ to remixes of 2 Live Crew and original earth-shakers like “Reason.” His bass drowns out of the sound of the Beyer and Engberg, even though the Carl Cox arena is only a hop, skip, and jump away.
7:33 p.m.: There’s a storm warning over Miami but the light shower doesn’t stop critically-acclaimed Todd Terje from tearing up the Live Stage amphitheater. Loyal fans capture favorite songs on their camera phones in spite of worsening weather. The sun is setting and clouds cover the sky, but the darkness only adds to Ultra’s allure.
8:14 p.m.: Scratch that last part. A full-on downpour has thrown a wrench in the festival’s plans. Party people run for shelter wherever they can find it. That UMF banner clinging to the fence? That’s a turn-up teepee. Hundreds of bodies huddle under the covered walkway of the amphitheater while even more find a dry bit of dance floor under the Carl Cox Megastructure where Marco Carola leads the rain-weary on an aural adventure.
8:58 p.m.: The only stages left running are Carl Cox, UMF World, and Main. After keeping hope alive, Odesza takes to Twitter to announce they won’t be appearing back at the Live amphitheater. Afrojack keeps the energy high for those brave enough to keep shuffling to his thrashing electro sound. It’s better to have gotten wet and danced than to have never danced at all.
9:20 p.m.: Good news for those who stuck around to see the UMF Radio stage stars as Don Diablo gets the OK to let loose his arsenal of future house feels. A small crowd is gathering, peeking their heads out of whatever nook or cranny they huddled into. No such luck at the Live Stage as Chromeo announces they won’t be making their Ultra debut.
10:17 p.m.: It’s a triumphant moment for Avicii as he makes his return to the UMF Main Stage. Last year, his scheduled set was cancelled due to sudden health issues, forcing Deadmau5 to make a quick fill-in performance (though he made headlines for dropping “Le7els” in the Swedish crossover-king’s stead). Everything seems to be fine from here as the masses move together to hit after hit.
10:56 p.m.: Stage 7 is back with a vengeance, glowing with the energy of a five year old who just hammered down three sugary 7-Ups in 30 minutes. Moti is letting loose a violent barrage of bangers to make up for time lost before handing the reigns to collaborator Alvaro who’s set to close out the show.
11:15 p.m.: Carl Cox rides steady in the middle of a two-hour techno marathon. He works a mix of old school flavor with cutting edge noise. Somewhere in there, he hits the crowd with a taste of his upcoming collaboration with disco legend and Chic guitarist Nile Rodgers. There’s more where that came from, so stay tuned.
11:34 p.m.: Faces are smiling for those who looked forward to a special farewell-tour performance from Norwegian electro dup Royksopp. The Live Stage pulled itself together in time to give the guys their official Miami goodbye. Robyn isn’t around to sing “Girl and the Robot,” but it still makes the front row squeal.
11:58 p.m.: Tiesto caps a star-studded set at the Main Stage with a barrage of fireworks. He was joined on stage by a host of friends, including recent collaborator KSHMR who helped announce the debut of new single “Secrets,” a festival-size Dutch electro anthem audiences are sure to hear over and over this summer. Red flares pierce the sky as the giant Ultra U shimmers like a space-age diamond. Friends hold each other and wish it never had to end.
12:15 a.m.: Biscayne Blvd. is overrun with rage-faced hoards as the wet and haggard trudge on to bed, or more likely, the next party. In another 12 hours, the festival will come back to life bigger, better, and sunnier, though much chillier after the evening storm. Day one was a soggy success, but a success nonetheless.