To the bejeweled, begowned ballet patrons strolling to the Arsht Center and the foam finger-waving Heat fans heading for the Triple A, it was a startling vision: thousands of outrageously dressed young people, like some Day-Glo alien tribe, surging toward Bicentennial Park.
There, amid the bubble-top tents, thousands more waved glow-sticks and gyrated to the thump-thump-THUMP! of a dance beat so loud that windshields on passing cars shook as if about to explode.Rock ‘n’ Roll generation, these are your children. And this is their Woodstock.The sold-out Ultra Music Festival, the biggest gathering of electronic music devotees anywhere, is back, ending its three-day run on Sunday. If you haven’t seen it, there’s a good chance you at least heard it. The park and its surroundings have been overrun by young, wild-eyed party people, 100,000 strong and from all over the world, some in neon wigs, fairy wings, space boots and anything else bright enough to blow your mind. The annual Ultra weekend has become such a draw that Saturday’s one-day spillover event, Swedish House Mafia’s Masquerade Motel, sold out thousands of tickets for its nine-hour party featuring Pete Tong, Dirty South and the host DJ trio in a tent on the sands of Miami Beach. At Bicentennial Park, where most of the action was, they came to hear DJs Tiesto, Carl Cox and Deadmau5, the dance music generation’s equivalent of Santana, Hendrix and the Who. But it’s not just DJs at Ultra. Past festivals have featured such rock groups as The Cure, The Killers and Prodigy — and this year’s Ultra offers ’80s new-wave and synth-pop icons Duran Duran and Erasure.“These are the bands from the ’80s that DJs grow up listening to,’’ Ultra co-founder Charlie Faibisch, 30, said from his VIP balcony spot on the side of the stage where Erasure was performing. “They inspire us to do what we do.”Miami-based disco-house and funk duo Afrobeta – consisting of Cristina Garcia, also known as Cuci Amador, and Tony Laurencio, aka Smurphio – were elated to see Erasure.“This fusion of the classic and the new wizards of electronica make this the first great music festival of the year,’’ said Laurencio. “In the last couple of years, the artists are more and more diverse,’’ Garcia added. “And I love that.’’ Not all Ultra fans are young. Mark L. Gentry, a photographer from Dallas and self-described “hippie,’’ attended all three days of the festival, but was particularly drawn by DJ Tiesto’s trance beats.“I’m 60 years old, and I’ve been partying all my life,’’ he said. “I just can’t stop. I’m just soaking this in and feeling the vibe. I met people from all over the world, and everyone is just partying. It’s trippy. I love it.’’One trippy feature at festivals like Ultra is fans giving each other personal light shows, or “gloving.’’ Derek Bahr, a 19-year-old from Orlando wearing gloves with colorful blinking lights on the tips of his fingers, had a steady line of strangers approach him to take turns to stare at his hands moving.“It looks easy to do, but it’s not,’’ he said. “It requires finger control, and the technique can be difficult, but it’s fun to do.’’ If all this sounds designed to stimulate people on drugs, that’s because many of them are – particularly the party drug Ecstasy, which induces euphoria and intensifies bodily senses.“We deal mostly with kids getting dehydrated and drug overdoses,’’ said Miami Fire Rescue Lt. Will Savoy. “Some of them are taking Ecstasy, which raises their body temperature, and then standing under the sun for hours.’’To deal with the inevitable, Miami Fire Rescue provides seven scooters, seven foot-patrol firefighters, three rescue units and about 45 paramedics. “We give out Band-Aids, directions and wait for something to go wrong,’’ said Miami firefighter Sean Hapgood. A few minutes later, a woman fainted near the front of the stage, and Hapgood rushed to her aid. As he kneeled in front of her, she abruptly opened her eyes in shock. A man who was with her breathed a sigh of relief. According to authorities, only three people were transported to the hospital as of 10 p.m. on Friday’s first night. A few dozen arrests took place, police said.But for the most part, the thousands of partiers enjoyed the show incident-free.“The bright lights, the beats – this whole thing is a sensory experience,” said Natalia Rodriguez, 21, of Puerto Rico, who was decked out in a sparkly, purple bathing suit and black sneakers, an outfit she said wasn’t something she would want her mother to see her wear unless she was on the beach. Inside her black bag were sunglasses, Vicks VapoRub, eucalyptus-flavored Halls cough drops, strawberry lollipops, grape-flavored Pedialyte, a box of menthol cigarettes and a Hello Kitty lighter. “It all has a purpose,’’ said Rodriguez, who has been coming to Ultra since she was 18. “It’s all to make me feel good and happy.’’Kevin Christ Penya, 18, said he first came to Ultra last year and fell in love with the music and the people. “Just the entire environment is beautiful,’’ he said. “The lights, the lights – there’s nothing like the lights. You don’t see anything like this in the world. Only in Miami, baby.’’