Among a throng of people standing in line Friday afternoon under the hot Miami sun, Kenya Solomon wore a string of pink flowers on her head, a black tank top and tie-dyed shorts as she spoke of her love of electronic dance music.
“It just lets you be free and be yourself,” she said. “You feel it run through your whole body. You release all your stress.”
The 19-year-old college student from North Carolina came to Bayfront Park for the Ultra Music Festival, which opened its gates Friday afternoon for the 17th edition of the three-day, internationally known event.
Scores of revelers — wearing bright get-ups, from bathing suits to elaborate, feathered, frilly, flourescent outfits — flooded the park. The steady beat of the music boomed along Biscayne Boulevard as fans jumped and gyrated. Outside the maze of barricades and gates set up to guide festival goers to the entrances, police directed traffic. Downtown streets were clogged following the festival’s 4 p.m. start.
The afternoon heat gave way to a stormy evening as wind and rain sent crowds of revelers scrambling for cover under trees, covered walkways, stages and tents. Still, hundreds threw their hands up and jumped to the pulse of the music in the face of the downpour.
By about 9 p.m., however, the rain grew so intense that organizers closed five of seven stages.
Chuck Caracozza, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service, said the rain is a result of a strong cold front hitting South Florida this weekend. Caracozza said the weather should be much drier with temperatures in the mid-70s during the day and in the 50s overnight on Saturday.
“It’s going to be a big change from what we’ve been experiencing in the past few weeks,” Caracozza said.
Earlier Friday, with the weather not an issue, Marlon Chacon, 18, draped a Costa Rican flag over his back with the festival’s logo on it as he and two friends, who traveled from the Central American nation, walked up Biscayne Boulevard.
“It’s our first time,” he said. “I want to see a bunch of DJs, Tiesto and Porter Robinson.”
Early birds in line chanted, sang and took selfies as they stood in line.
Organizers hope for an incident-free weekend, not a repeat of last year when security guard Erica Mack was trampled underneath a chain link-fence that toppled over after people crashed the gate to get into the opening day of the festival. Mack was hospitalized for 11 days.
Changes have been made to security and safety for the 165,000-ticket festival. The increased police presence could be seen all around the entrance Friday, and sturdier fencing encased Bayfront Park.
Rene Pimentel, spokesman for the Miami Police Department, said several undercover narcotics officers are roaming the grounds of the festival, which has a reputation for drug use.
Pimentel said several arrests had been made early Friday night, but exact numbers were not available.
“We want to keep people safe, and we want to send a message to those coming to the festival looking to buy drugs,” he said. “You might be buying from an officer, and your party’s getting cut short.”
Several fans came from afar for the weekend. Kristy Darbishire, 25, donned a white bikini with red maple leaves to show her Toronto pride. With red and white streamers flowing from her crimson hair, she said she was most excited about hearing Skrillex and David Guetta.
This weekend is her first time at Ultra, and she rattled off the reasons why she loves electronic music festivals:
“The costumes, the environment, the people, the love, no hatred, no judgment.”
Kim Kowalski, 23, lives across the street from the park in downtown. Where she’s heard — and felt — Ultra from her apartment in the past, she crossed the street Friday for her first experience inside the gates.
Even NFL star Rob Gronkowski came out for the festivities. A fan captured the New England Patriots tight end twerking on stage.
Miami Herald staff writer Lance Dixon contributed to this report. Follow @joeflech on Twitter for continuing coverage this weekend of Ultra Music Festival.