Music & Nightlife

Miami’s Ultra Fest gets ultra expensive for 2014

Next year’s Ultra Music Festival — the crowning event of Miami’s annual March madness of electronic dance — is going to seem ultra expensive to all but the fastest-moving ticket buyers.

Early-bird $149.95 tickets for Ultra 2014, currently scheduled for March 28-30, sold out online in four minutes when they were released in May. Advanced tickets priced at $274.95, which went on sale immediately afterward, were gone 20 minutes later. That means anyone wanting entry to the three-day Bayfront Park orgy of flashing lights, glowsticks and superstar DJs will have to pay $399.95 a ticket, a $100 increase over this year. Tack on service charges and shipping and it’s $504.95. VIP tickets are $849.95.

The ticket prices are burning up fans as well as social media.

“I’ve been to UMF Miami five times,” said Matthew Agramonte, of Kendall. “Next year, I won’t be going. Ultra is isolating its fan base that simply can’t afford outrageous prices. What was once a great experience is a ripoff and a great shame.”

Another fan Tweeted: “I would rather rent a house with all my friends and go to EDC [Electric Daisy Carnival, $155 plus fees, Nov. 8-9] in Orlando than spend $500 on an Ultra ticket.”

Other fans will grudgingly fork over the case. “You pay for what you get,” said Florida A&M senior Christina Taylor. “It’s a lot, but the experience is also amazing.”

Preparation for the festival involves construction of massive stages with towering banks of lights and loudspeakers that can be heard from across Biscayne Bay. Organizers don’t publicize details on production costs and fees paid to international DJ stars such as Armin van Buuren, Tiesto, Avicii and David Guetta, who can demand multiple thousands of dollars for a two- or three-hour set.

Though Ultra representatives did not respond to repeated email queries about the prices, they did issue an official statement pointing out that ticket costs have remained stable for two years and citing city fees as a key driver for the price increase.

“To ensure the premium quality and evolution of Ultra’s groundbreaking stage productions and artist lineups, while continuing to meet the ever increasing financial demands of city related expenses associated with producing this massive festival in the heart of an urban metropolis, this price increase was unfortunately necessary,” the statement read.

According to the Bayfront Park Management Trust, Ultra paid the city about $1.3 million in 2012 for the venue and $3.4 million for 2013, the first year Ultra grew to six days of music.

“We had to charge them more because it was two weekends,” said Timonthy Schmand, the trust’s executive director. “It’s as simple as that.”

No second weekend for the 2014 festival has been scheduled as of yet.

Other major electronica festivals have expensive tickets, too. But a payment plan system used by the Coachella festival in California ($399 for 2013) and the Bonaroo event in Tennessee ($235 for 2013) allow fans to pay in five or six installments over time instead of all at once.

“It’s one thing to blatantly price gouge the hell out of your fan base,” said Derrick Adams of Miami Beach. “At least events like Coachella help their fans out.

“Bonaroo even makes their prices all inclusive,” Adams said. “No extra charges, no service charge additions, nothing. With Ultra you got the base price, a $90 service charge and $15 shipping.”

In most years, Ultra coincides with the Winter Music Conference, a Miami Beach-based electronica trade convention that will mark its 29th year in 2014. The conference features club and pool parties, vendor exhibits, panels and seminars and an awards show. For several years, a WMC pass (in the $200-$350 range) included an Ultra ticket, although that’s no longer the case. WMC dates for 2014 are not yet set.

Ultra, which now has editions in Europe, Asia and South America, began in Miami Beach in 1999 as a small one-day WMC closing party in the sand with a nominal ticket price. To accommodate larger crowds, the festival moved to downtown Miami for its third year and has mushroomed into an international phenomenon that draws hundreds of thousands of fans and nearly every significant electronic dance act.

Sam Oropesa of Plantation attended the second Ultra Music Festival back in 2000 and says he paid about $50 for his ticket. “It wasn’t as commercial as it is now,” Oropesa said. “Now it’s just enormous, way too many people and the $500 is just ridiculous — I don’t know anyone who would justify spending that.”

Organizers are offering a consolation prize for those unwilling to part with the cash: “For our fans that will not be able to experience Ultra Music Festival in person, we invite you to watch the ULTRA LIVE festival global live stream [in HD] for FREE.”