Don’t ignore upside of Miami music festivals

PARTY TIME: Thousands of revelers packed this year’s Ultra Music Festival in downtown Miami.
PARTY TIME: Thousands of revelers packed this year’s Ultra Music Festival in downtown Miami. MIAMI HERALD STAFF

There are few events that take place in Miami quite as divisive as Miami Music Week, which encompasses the three-day Ultra Music Festival in Bayfront Park and the 10-day club-centric Winter Music Conference.

The event recently wrapped up, and for many young local and international music lovers it was once again a highlight of their year.

However, it’s also reviled by a specific subset of Miami residents who voice their grievances through town hall meetings, sensationalistic blogs and social media.

These dissenters condemn the event for many reasons: too loud, too traffic-clogging, too hedonistic — the list goes on and on.

Often times these groups make hyperbolic claims that it’s ruining our city and corrupting our youth (if you don’t believe me, try searching on the city of Miami’s website for commission meeting minutes that mention Ultra).

Those detractors ate their words this year as tens of thousands of festival and party-goers descended on the city and things went largely without a hitch, as they do nearly every year.

Largely because of its association with electronic music and clubbing, Miami Music Week has held an image of being a drug-filled, debaucherous orgy. While there’s some truth to that, concerns around the festivities are often overblown by critics.

Miami Music Week gets unfairly singled out for problems that other events also create.

Traffic congestion? Nearly every major festival and event produces that. Closures of public spaces for private events? Fairly common practice for major events in Miami. Drunk visitors? Drinking is Miami’s favorite pastime, so much so that we have an entire festival dedicated to it, the South Beach Wine & Food Festival.

Is Miami Music Week without fault? Absolutely not. This was an especially critical year for Ultra in particular. After a security guard was nearly trampled to death by gatecrashers last year, city officials considered pulling the plug on the annual event. Dissenters came out with pitchforks hoping to quash Ultra for good.

To quell fears, Ultra executives promised reforms in the way of increased security and other safeguards such as amnesty boxes for people to dispose of drugs without repercussions (or risk getting caught and charged), and higher age restrictions.

The result? A safer, more pleasant experience for festivalgoers and the community. The Herald reported earlier this week that arrests were down and satisfaction was up for attendees. Ultra promised to clean up its act, and, by most accounts, succeeded.

Drawing from my experience and the experience of colleagues attending a multitude of events, I can also conclude that this year’s festivities went more smoothly than in any previous year.

Traffic jams were kept to a minimum, drugs were hardly an issue and there were no specific incidents of unsafe conditions that colleagues and I could recall.

I feel that many of those who are the loudest critics of Miami Music Week are from an older generation who haven’t participated in the events themselves and use sensational headlines and anecdotal evidence to draw conclusions that are mostly uninformed.

Their resolute opposition closely resembles Clint Eastwood’s “get off my lawn” attitude in his 2008 film Gran Torino.

There are undoubtedly far more positives to Miami Music Week than negatives. The events draw primarily international visitors (as much as 60 percent, according to one study), including talents from all over the world, making it a truly global event.

In addition, many local talents are featured prominently in these events, giving them the chance to gain followings in other parts of the world.

For some businesses, Miami Music Week is one of the most important weekends of the year, generating a critical source of revenue that helps create jobs. While many jobs related to the week are temporary, the week has undoubtedly solidified Miami’s nightlife and music scene, which in turn has led to creating year-round jobs.

In addition, many Miami Music visitors are younger, primarily in their 20s. They are choosing to spend a significant amount of their disposable income in Miami.

Many major events cater to an older, wealthier demographic, undoubtedly a desirable group to attract. But this young, international audience is perhaps even more important, as their experiences today may influence them to return to Miami more often or even move here.

Despite these positives, there will undoubtedly continue to be vocal opposition to the party. These voices will likely try again, year after year, to quash the festivities.

Perhaps they would be better served letting loose and attending a party or two themselves. As they say, if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.