Tampa Bay’s very own Sunset Music Festival (held in the north lot of Raymond James Stadium) has come and gone with, what I feel, is a better respect from the city that it can run smoothly without any major incidents. Keep in mind that this was a festival that almost didn’t return in 2017, due to Mayor Bob Buckhorn’s concerns of heavy drug and alcohol use. See, in 2016, two individuals actually died due to drug related incidents, which is an unfortunate tragedy that will haunt this festival’s name until its demise. That didn’t stop the festival, though. Sunset had something to prove and it came back with a vengeance, stating that yes, we can be successful, we can run this tight-knit ship, and we can keep everyone safe.
This year’s electronic music festival showcased some of the biggest names in EDM, with the likes of Major Lazer, Above & Beyond, RL Grime, Zeds Dead, Yellow Claw, Snails, and Slushii, just to name a slight few.
Some of the sets ran together and were somewhat repetitive, with artists dropping the same hook as everyone else; Eurhythimics’ “Sweet Dreams,” D.R.A.M.’s “Broccoli,” and even Darude’s classic “Sandstorm” could be heard in a couple of different performances. Major Lazer had their typical extremely mixed-up set, which was kind of refreshing actually, and included anything from salsa to ska. Blurting out commands to clap here and clap there, run this way, then run that way, get low and then jump really high, take your shirt off and throw it in the air–this is all stuff that I, and I’m sure others, have seen before.
RL Grime, Yellow Claw, and Zeds Dead brought the ferociously heavy trap and drum n’ bass, while acts like Crywolf incorporated more euphoric moments, with ambient sounds and the use of live instruments. Above & Beyond was slightly too chill for my liking, so I headed over to see Snails, who was playing at the exact same time and wow, what a difference that was. A full-on metal show was howling in the air, with intense thrashing and headbanging around massive mosh pits as the nonstop hype kept building and building. There wasn’t a chill moment in his entire set; the energy was constant and the crowd was loving it. I’ll have to admit that I’m not a huge fan of Snails’ signature sound, but it was very vague in his live set, which was definitely the most intense show at the festival, in my opinion, and one hell of a way to close it out.
Safety obviously seemed to be the main priority with the festival organizers. Constant signs throughout the venue stating to stay cool and hydrated fell alongside the many alerts from the festival’s app telling you to do the same, and to look out for each other and to say something if you see something.
When you mix alcohol and drugs with at least 90 degree heat and no water, something bad is bound to happen. They wanted to make sure that everyone was full of water and cooled off under the cloudless Florida sky. Free water bottles were being handed out like candy and the plethora of water fill-up stations that were throughout the festival grounds moved like clockwork. They even had giant fans misting water upon everyone, as well as security guards spraying water all over the festival goers. Cool-down mazes filled with AC and shade tents were also laced throughout the grounds to ensure that you didn’t die of heat exhaustion. Usually at festivals, it’s either $4 for a water or the water station lines are miles long, making people question whether it’s more important to fill up or to catch the next big set. So kudos to the festival for their hard work in keeping people cooled off and full of one of the only essential things that is vital to life, water.
Also, adding to this safety agenda was the increased security and police presence. Drug dogs weaved through people as they entered and the TSA-style searches resulted in 46 arrests, which is 13 more than last year. The number of people hospitalized with non-life-threatening illnesses reached 49, which is 8 less people than in 2016, so one could say that the increased safety protocol and police presence definitely worked.
Now for the cons; they are minimal, but here you go. No f*cking pyrotechnics? Last year, I saw videos of 20-foot-tall flames blazing in front of the stage and fireworks blasting off in the background. Everything is way more badass with fire, right? The only reasoning I can think of for this is that Florida is in a heavy drought right now, and there are burn bans across a lot of counties because of the extreme lack of rain that is usually prevalent this time of year. Also, no lasers? All we had were the typical CO2 cannons, confetti, and beam lights. Yes, there were a million of them, but freaking laser beams, man. They could span the entire crowd, giving you a true essence of the depth of the participants–now that’ll make things truly everlasting. The costumed dancers though, now they were really cool, with the most memorable one being a giant winged woman with beautiful wings that stretched at least 15 feet across. Like I said, these are super minimal cons, but I feel like with anything in life, it’s about the small details, the fine little things that may go missed but make such a difference.
All in all, the intensity was there, but I’m sure the city, and some concerned citizens, still have wary thoughts about the festival’s return in 2018. However, I don’t see it stopping anytime soon. 20,000+ scantily clad attendees went home with memories that will fill their hearts and minds for years to come. New lifetime friends were made and people danced like they’ve never danced before–this, I feel, outweighs a couple of Negative Nancys’ concerns. If you’re a fan of EDM and you’re in the area during next year’s Memorial Day Weekend, I highly recommend that you check it out. Just be sure to drink your water!