A Miami ‘Coachella’? New music festival is eyeing South Beach

The proposed Miami Beach Pop Festival would take place in the same place as the city’s centennial celebration in 2015.
The proposed Miami Beach Pop Festival would take place in the same place as the city’s centennial celebration in 2015.

South Beach could play host to a three-day music festival that producers envision as Miami’s version of Coachella, with a diverse lineup of artists that attracts up to 30,000 people a day during the weekend after Art Basel.

Billed as “Miami Beach Pop Festival” — reminiscent of the name from a 1968 concert at Gulfstream Park where the main headliner was the Jimi Hendrix Experience — the three-day event would be staged Dec. 14-16 on the beach between Fifth and 10th streets. The producers’ wish list for headliners includes a wide-ranging array of acts such as Bruno Mars, Elton John, Kendrick Lamar, Jimmy Buffett, Justin Timberlake, Luis Fonsi and Nicki Minaj.

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Nothing has been decided. The city of Miami Beach wants to get public input on the idea before approving any permits. The proposal immediately raises questions about staging such a festival in a city where some residents loudly resist large crowds that cause traffic snarls, bring increased litter and lead to an intense police presence on other weekends throughout the year.

Heavy police presence, including motorcycle cops, is stationed on Ocean Drive during Urban Beach Week.
Gregory Castillo Miami Herald Staff

The team behind the pitch consists of Steve Sybesma and Paul Peck, the pair who co-founded the annual Okeechobee Music & Arts Festival. Sybesma, a Beach resident, has four decades of experience in entertainment marketing and production in the United States and abroad. Peck worked for 12 years in production, booking and management for Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival.

The pair approached Beach-based ACT Productions to develop a proposal for Miami Beach Pop. When they went to the city to discuss the festival, the tourism, culture and economic development department decided that elected officials needed to weigh in because of the size of the event. Department director Eva Silverstein told the Miami Herald that a subcommittee of commissioners in December decided they wanted to seek public input before the plan moves forward.

“The direction from that committee was to work through a community outreach process to solicit feedback, again due to the significant impact of the event,” Silverstein said

A member of that committee, Commissioner Michael Góngora, said Thursday that he hadn’t made up his mind on the proposal yet, and that he wanted to hear from residents. He said while he sees economic and cultural benefits to hosting such a festival, he acknowledges that residents get tired of big events that clog the streets.

“We’ll see how this event unfolds,” he said.

Many South Beach residents complain about big event weekends that attract thousands of visitors and all that comes with them — traffic jams, drunken behavior, beefed-up police presence, more trash. The concerns reflect one of the chief issues of living on an island city that is a major tourist attraction.

During Spring Break season, the city enforces its rules against drinking on the sand and loud music more forcefully. Urban Beach Week, a loosely affiliated set of hip-hop concerts held each year during Memorial Day weekend that attract mostly people of color, has for years inspired city leaders to deploy hundreds of cops on South Beach and create special traffic patterns. Some high-profile crimes have occurred on this weekend in the past, further fueling the friction between visitors and residents.

In April 2016, when Floatopia revelers left behind heaps of discarded plastic flotation devices, bottles and cans on the beach, elected officials moved to create strict policing procedures to ensure the event would never happen again. It hasn’t since.

Gloria Estefan performs with daughter, Emily, right, on stage at the Hard Rock Rising Miami Beach concert celebrating the city’s centennial in 2015.

Bruce Orosz, CEO of ACT Productions, said that he’s aware of the sensitivity to big events and the headaches they can induce. He pointed to the Miami Beach Centennial, which his company produced in the same area being proposed for Miami Beach Pop, as an example of how to execute a festival without logistical nightmares. During that concert, shuttles carried attendees from as far as Haulover Park to minimize congestion in South Beach.

Miami Beach Commissioner Michael Grieco called the aftermath of Floatopia 2016 on South beach an “absolute travesty” in a video posted on his Facebook feed. The video shows a trashed beach covered in discarded rafts, bottles and cans.

“We would use that knowledge going into this event,” he said.

Orosz said the goal is to mount a festival that has a range of genres and artists from different eras so that there’s something for everyone.

“We would love to see the grandfather bring his grandson to the show. That’s the goal. A show for all the various age profiles,” he said, adding that the festival would also be an opportunity to showcase South Florida’s Latin American and Caribbean artists.

Góngora said the city wants to begin seeking public input on the concept in February, including a public meeting to discuss the idea.