The one good thing about the pandemic (if you can even call it a good thing) is that now that events are back for the first time in several years, people are ready to really celebrate. The return of Ultra Music Festival's 2022 event marked two returns for the festival—a post-COVID celebration and a return to its iconic Bayfront Park location. After the 2020 event was canceled just days before its start, Ultra's return to Bayfront after three years felt extra sweet (I'm assuming, at least, since this was my first time attending).
Set against the backdrop of Downtown Miami's glittery skyline on one side and the tropical paradise of Biscayne Bay on the other, Ultra Music Festival is a spring breaker's dream. This year the event was headlined by Kygo, David Guetta, Tiesto and a surprise special guest to close out the event on Sunday—Hardwell.
Hardwell's return to the stage was met with excitement and enthusiasm from just about everyone. Other headlining acts included names like Illenium, Knife Party, Pendulum, Armin Van Buuren and, of course, Carl Cox who headlined the closing set at the Resistance megastructure three nights in a row.
With such a wide genre variety represented at the festival, fans of electronic music are more than getting their money's worth with top-tier performances from superstars and music legends in every scene. And when the festival ended every night around 11, fans could head to any one of the many iconic Miami clubs to keep the party going with a whole new lineup of dance music favorites.
On Friday, Kygo closed out the festival mainstage with a memorable performance that strayed far from the tropical house sounds he's known for. Instead the Norwegian DJ seemingly paid homage to his late friend and inspiration Avicii, who passed away in 2018.
It's no secret that Avicii's influence on both the electronic and pop industries continues to live on. Kygo played a set filled with EDM hits and that unmistakable dance-pop vibe that Avicii was famed for. With special guests like DNCE (including Joe Jonas) and 50 Cent, along with a special orchestral version of "Firestone," Kygo's Ultra set will likely catapult him from niche favorite to EDM superstar.
There was a time in the mid-2010s when admitting you enjoyed mainstage artists like Avicii and Hardwell was a sort of faux pas in the rave scene. This was when house and techno gained newfound traction in the underground scene, bass music expanded into new frontiers, and major acts like Tiesto and Avicii were straying from the rave and into the Top 40 charts.
Dance music was suddenly more accessible than ever, but that also made it less approachable and painfully serious. I'm not sure if it was the fact that COVID-19 has made us all desperate to feel joy, or the fact that everyone has realized it just doesn't matter, but dance music is fun again and Ultra 2022 proved that. The vibe shift (this one) clearly brought with it a new era for dance music fans—one that appreciates the fun of dance music and leaves the rest behind. No bad vibes 2022.
As a crowd of 150,000 poured into the gates at Ultra Music Festival over the course of three days, ravers came ready to enjoy all that the festival had to offer. From the techno at the Resistance stage to Tiesto's grand performance on the mainstage on Saturday night, festival attendees seemed to enjoy every part of it, eating up every last crumb that Ultra had to offer.
With dozens of electronic acts across six stages over three days, Ultra Music Festival has a little something for everyone. Bayfront Park is an iconic location for the event, and although it isn't the festival's original home (that would be the beach) it wouldn't feel right being anywhere else. Miami's downtown area is the perfect location for a festival of this size, with dozens of hotels within walking distance and easy access to public transportation that can get you anywhere in the area in minutes.
The festival itself is smaller than you would expect, especially for ravers that have been watching the Ultra livestream for years. The venue and stages definitely look bigger on screen, but that isn't to say they were small by any means. Walking distance between the stages was pretty short, and you could walk from one end of the festival to another in just a few minutes before the crowds got packed later in the night. Once that happened, though, the smaller venue felt overcrowded at times and it could get difficult to walk around without getting caught in a bottle-necked crowd. That being said, there really wasn't any pushing or shoving when that did happen.
Navigating the grounds felt confusing at times which kind of made it feel like you were exploring when you found a new area. A second, smaller Resistance stage in the back of the festival offered Burning Man-esque art installments to interact with, a photo-worthy lounge area and some killer views of Biscayne Bay.
The VIP experience offered a lot of perks, including upgraded bathrooms, great viewing decks and even a private bar area off to the side of the mainstage in the TAO VIP pop up. The TAO Group, which brought its luxury bottle service experience, TAO dancers and plenty of pheromones to Ultra, made the VIP experience feel truly VIP—for those who were willing to pay an additional premium. If you were going to see any celebrities at Ultra, that was the spot.
I'm not one that ever really goes to festivals for the food. Festival food has, admittedly, gotten better in recent years but will likely never be something that makes or breaks my experience. But I go to Burning Man where it's not uncommon to eat a quesadilla made out of Easy Cheese, so maybe my standards are just really low.
That being said, the food at Ultra had a lot to offer. Food trucks lined the street from the mainstage to the Resistance stage across the west side of the festival grounds, and additional food stands toward the back side of the festival offered different options and even more variety. Lines at the alcohol stands got pretty long and chaotic, especially in GA, but the wait times for food never seemed to exceed a couple of minutes.
In VIP, additional food options added to the experience. Stalls like Pub Belly Sushi in the mainstage VIP area were a clear favorite (though they were closed on Saturday), and a special tableside sushi service from the swanky Miami favorite, Komodo, offered a pretty mouthwatering presentation in the bottle service section.
There's no mistaking that the production value of Ultra Music Festival is among the top tier in the festival circuit. The event was well-staffed and functional throughout the entire experience, and attendees always seemed happy and entertained. What stood out in particular was the attention paid to smaller details, like added staff and plenty of security that was eager to help in case of any emergency.
I would recommend to anyone considering attending in 2023 to splurge on VIP tickets just because the bathroom, entry line and overall experience was much more enjoyable in a less crowded space, but it's not mandatory to pay for VIP in order to have a good time. With Swedish House Mafia set to headline the 2023 event, it's clear dance music fans are ready to celebrate the fun of the genre once again.
All photos courtesy of Ultra Music Festival