Memorial Day Weekend packs dozens upon dozens of events over the span of four days, posing challenges for event organizers to create lineups with both appealing headliners and unique undercard talent. Despite that competition, Sunset Music Festival in Tampa, FL managed to craft a formidable event for its fourth outing when it hit the North Lot of the Raymond James Stadium on May 23-24. The music behind the festival only gets better, with diverse DJs playing memorable sets and elaborate production giving their music a welcome visual component. Yet, the logistics and organization of SMF still encounter problems, some which really detriment the event as a whole.
Read our "Pros and Cons" list for SMF 2015 below:
Pro #1: SMF Brought Its Most Diverse Lineup Yet
Mid-size EDM festivals often suffer when attempting to bring a wide range of acts, given that many attendees pay for the big names. This year, Sunset walked the fine line between slotting marketable acts with choosing a fine crop of emerging talent, and the diversity of the lineup drew parallels to a smaller version of Florida mainstay Ultra Music Festival. Sunset picked headliners Tiësto, Skrillex, and Armin van Buuren to spur ticket sales, and that group of headliners remains one of the best for EDM fans looking for inspired sets. Undercard appearances from The Chainsmokers, Cedric Gervais, Showtek, and Robin Schulz also gave SMF a crop of recognizable names to draw people to the event.
SMF truly excelled with its smaller-font acts, which highlighted many artists who rarely play in the United States. For example, psy-trance heavy-hitter Astrix not only performed a rare U.S. show, but closed out the first night of the Eclipse Stage that was themed around trance acts. House maniac Claptone performed on the festival favorite Horizon Stage at sunset, giving proper credence to the festival's name. Porter Robinson played against Armin van Buuren and Flosstradamus, performing his Worlds Tour show amid a crowd of eager fans. And that's not even mentioning the tech house assault from Route 94, the groovy, tropical set from Thomas Jack, or the non-stop drum and bass onslaught from Sub Focus. Keep this going, SMF, and you'll have one of the best EDM festivals in the nation.
Pro #2: Production Took SMF To The Next Level
The festival production game advances each year, with bigger budgets securing elaborate stage set-ups and production rigs. SMF wowed attendees in 2014 with its main stage, the Sunset Stage, and this year the festival gave proper love to all three of its stages. The Sunset Stage dazzled with massive LED screens and a flurry of lights, the Eclipse Stage's lighting and sound gave weight to the performers' trance breakdowns and bass drops, and the Horizon Stage amplified every hi-hat and drum beat behind the house music dominating the stage's lineup over the two days.
Pro #3: SMF Picked Up The Pace With Its Lines
Despite some organizational issues this review will discuss later, SMF succeeded in proliferating waiting times in its entry lines. From gate opening to peak arrival time, SMF security and line employees worked wonderfully in quickly and efficiently guiding guests through ticket and security lines. This allowed attendees to arrive thirty minute before their first must-see set and still have ample time to check out that act's full performance. While many other festivals get stuck with never-ending entry lines, SMF never had guests wait longer than necessary to enter the festival.
Con #1: SMF Needs Serious Logistical Improvement
As much as we loved the music behind SMF, we cannot say the same for the festival's organization and logistics. The venue, while not the biggest space for a music festival, still left ample room for guests to explore and get some breathing room. Yet, the mere task of getting water and food proved to be a terrible exercise in patience. The free water lines sprawled far from the water dispensers, and having only two water refill stations caused lines to often exceed an hour wait. When the stations broke on the first night, drink vendors were slammed by immense crowds. With only two people manning a drink tent at a time, lines muddled and attendees were left to wait excessive amounts of time for water.
The line problem only persisted at food vendors, where crowds huddled around vendors and created situations where food took hours to purchase. Pizza ran out hours before the festival ended on Saturday night, routing more crowds to understaffed food tents. When the festival was forced to evacuate to the stadium on Saturday due to an impending thunderstorm, an opening big enough for fifteen to twenty people suddenly had to funnel 25,000 guests through its limited space. Hordes of attendees were left to struggle in the rain as the crowd surge exceeded the space available at the stadium for refuge. Given that the same exact situation occurred in 2014, this failure to secure everyone safely was inexcusable. SMF desperately needs improvement in its logistics and organization, and those fixes could upgrade SMF from a fun local festival to a must-attend event.
Con #2: Stage Emcees Broke Up The Flow
We understand the value of a stage emcee. As an act ends and the next act sets up his or her gear, guests need some excitement to keep them involved during the downtime. However, the gratuitous use of a stage emcee on each of SMF's stages represented a severe misallocation of resources. We get having an emcee on the main stage, but putting an emcee on a stage such as the Horizon Stage, where most of the DJs would simply play into each other to keep the flow of music going, only takes away from the music. This was only exacerbated when an emcee would ask guests to hashtag their photos or social media posts, a very cringeworthy request for activity that should happen organically.
Con #3: Sound Bleed Continued To Plague Stages
This con really comes as a fault on the location, but the sound bleed prevalence during SMF persisted as an annual problem. The sound bleed is not noticed much when one journeys deep into the crowd, but it becomes a problem for attendees who hang back in the wings of the crowd. Sound bleed really affected a stage when a performer turned down the bass to revel in a quiet moment, which was often ruined due to another stage's booming bass. Given the limited room of the North Lot of the stadium, it seems as if sound bleed will always remain an issue as long as Sunset sticks to the venue's confines.