After discovering house music in 2010, I dabbled in the different sects of electronica and found myself in love. In March of 2011, I made my official crossover from rap-enthusiast to househead when I attended Ultra Music Festival. Nearly a year later, I cannot wait to return to my stomping grounds and once again bask in the harmonious music and beating sunshine.
Last year’s festival was an incredible experience, but as a newbie, I had a lot to learn. The low-point of my weekend was when my ticket was ripped off of the lanyard strewn around my neck by a drunken fool. The maniac grabbed the ticket that was hanging above my chest, and ran. Luckily, my mother had always instilled within me the importance of self-defense, so I lunged at the crazy kid who attempted to steal the $275 ticket and returned the item to its rightful owner... me.
After the battle I was shocked, wasn’t this festival a modern-day Woodstock where hippies run around loving on each other? Instead of peace and unity, I found pickpocketing criminals and over-dosing teens.
Ultra Music Festival is amazing, but for all of you first-timers, allow me to arm you with a survival guide to making it out of the weekend alive.
Using your cellphone
The bad news: Last year the festival was at Bicentennial Park, a significantly smaller venue than this year’s Bayfront Park. There was little to no cellphone connection available, probably because I was sandwiched in a mass of 100,000+ people. I can’t speak for the new venue’s cellphone abilities, but with an additional 50,000 people, I’m assuming the same problem will present itself. Your best bet is to set up sporadic meeting spots amongst your friends throughout the day, in case someone in your group gets separated.
The good news: If you have a smartphone, you’re in luck. Ultra doesn’t allow any recording devices (cameras, videocameras, flipcams etc) into the park, but you can most certainly take pictures and videos on your phone. I saw many cameras confiscated by security last year, so do yourselves a favor by skipping the part where you try to sneak your point-and-shoot in and just leave it at home.
The best news: iPhone owners will love this one - the Ultra Music Festival App! The free app helps you form a schedule of who you want to see when. With multiple sets happening simultaneously, it’s easy to lose track of time and miss your favorite DJ. But the app provides maps with lineups organized by time and stage. This is a must-download before entering the park.
Trade out your plastic for paper
Leave your credit cards at home and fill your pockets with cash.
Water bottles will be your sustenance during the long and sweaty days, but these babies cost $5 a pop. It’s a ridiculously expensive item, but trust me when I say this will be your lifeblood for the weekend. You should also factor food and other drinks into your budget, since Ultra prohibits attendees from bringing in either of the items.
Transportation is another cost to consider. Whether you travel by MetroRail or taxi, make sure you have enough money to get you home safely.
This isn’t fashion week
When searching NastyGal and Urban Outfitters for the trendiest concert gear, keep in mind what you’ll be doing - running around for 12-hour days in a park where dust and dirt will fill your nose by nightfall. I agree that it’s important to look cute, but recognize the fact that your clothes will take a serious beating.
For girls, I suggest a flowy crop-top and knock-around shorts. For guys, try board shorts or any other loose-fitting bottom and a cool t-shirt. And of course, make sure to rock the converse sneakers for the most comfortable experience. Sandals may match your outfit better, but after a day of jumping, dancing and all-around raging, your feet will be very angry with you.
Ladies, if you’re bringing a bag try to stick with the essentials - you will not want to be carrying your entire make-up bag by the end of the day. Cross-body bags are my suggestion because they don’t get in the way when dancing and they’re easier to defend from thieves.
So as you perfect your wardrobe, leave your Rayban sunglasses at home and opt for the plastic ones that wont cause you tears if they’re stepped on or lost.
There are a few items which every Ultra attendee should have in their ammunition.
As a germaphobe, my personal favorite is hand-sanitizer. As I mentioned early, music festivals are a dirty dirty place, and when you factor in porta-potties as your only cleansing solace, things can get pretty hairy. Travel-sized hand-sanitizers are usually about $2 each at your local convenience store.
A small towel can also come in handy when you’re amidst a crowd of sweaty people and you just cant pull yourself away from the music for a bathroom break.
This one may go without saying, but bring sunscreen. Keep applying throughout the day if you don’t want to leave the venue with an embarrassing sunglasses tan like I did last year.
And last but certainly not least is your neon. From glowsticks to headbands, being decked out in neon is the only way to experience electronic music. Stop by your local dollar store for crazy (and cheap) glowstick bracelets and necklaces. Lollipops are also synonymous with the EDM scene, so stock up on blow pops and get ready for a wild ride.
Let go of your personal space bubble and embrace friendship
Ultra crowds are the biggest I’ve ever encountered. You will be buried within seas of thousands of people at almost all times. You will be bumped, shoved, knocked into, spilled on, stepped on... the works. Just breathe and embrace it. Hug your neighbors and make friends with the people you’re surrounded by. You’re all here for the same reason - the love of the music. And when nighttime rolls around, you’ll be grateful for your surrounding body warmth blocking you from the cold. You will meet some of the most beautiful and interesting people at this festival, so let go of your judgmental views and just go for it!
I hope any Ultra virgins reading found this guide helpful. Be safe and wary of your surroundings, but most importantly have fun! Ultra only comes around once a year, and if done right, the memories you make can last a lifetime.