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Arts & Culture

Ultra Music Festival For Beginners: A Five-Step Guide

Sammy Mack

This Friday marks the beginning of a nearly two-week sprawl of events surrounding Winter Music Conference, and what's come to be known unofficially as "Miami Music Week." It's a time when the entire world of electronic music descends on Miami in a frenzy of industry palm-greasing and parties.

A decided crowning jewel of the week's events is Ultra Music Festival, running since 1999 and, for the first time ever this year, taking place on two separate weekends. The first weekend of the festival starts this Friday, March 16, running through the following Sunday. Then the whole thing picks back up again on Friday, March 22 and runs through Friday, March 24.

Each promises pretty much the same lineup and, organizers say, as identical an experience as possible. That experience, of course, means a who's-who of dance and electronic acts over the span of five days, and a crowd that swells to the size of a small city.

Ultra Music Festival is a true homegrown success story -- see this week's cover story in the Miami New Times, for instance, for proof -- and it's a bona fide international destination for revelers. It's one of the annual events that truly puts Miami on a global map, and is something that, if you're energetic and curious, is worth experiencing at least once. Its massive size and sweep, though, can also seem a little intimidating. But don't fear. It's entirely possible to dip your toes in and have a great time your first time around. Here are seven basic essential tips for Ultra newbies.

1) Reduce parking and traffic headaches -- don't try to bring your car anywhere near the festival. Consider parking and riding public transit.

Is this any surprise? Thousands of cars jamming up the few lanes on Biscayne Boulevard means insane traffic headaches in which you'll get stuck, even if you take a cab. Once you do get within range of the festival's entrance at Bayfront Park, just try parking, especially for less than $30. The good news: The often-ignored Metro Mover leaves you right in front of the park, and will run late through the festival's end. Either take the Metro-Rail from your point of origin, and connect to the free Metro Mover, or park your car at government center and hop on the Metro Mover from there. Either method eliminates a bunch of stress -- and stress is the last thing you want to feel when you're going to an event for fun, right?

2) Once inside, set a meeting point and time with your friends in the likely case that you get separated.

Jam tens of thousands of people in a park also filled with electronics, and you get pretty nonexistent data service in many points, and terrible voice service. (It's loud in there anyways). Batteries drain fast in this environment, too, so don't think you will be able to rely on the phone to figure out where everyone went. Take a page from the pre-cell-phone days and set a meeting time and place. There will be a number of easy-to-find landmarks within the festival site.

3) Pick a few main acts you want to see, then go with the flow.

Artists' sets overlap, special guests appear unannounced, and crowds can make it hard to navigate quickly from stage to stage. Don't try to plan your time at Ultra like a military outing, because it won't work. Pick a few must-see acts, and leave yourself plenty of time to get to them, to avoid disappointment. Keep your expectations moderate and everything else will seem like a pleasant surprise.

4) When in doubt, think of genres you like and just park yourself at the appropriate stages.

While the main stage at Ultra represents the titans of electronic music and spans several genres, many of the smaller stages focus on one or two related genres. If you're new to the scene, and know you really like one artist, consider hanging around before and after his or her set at the same stage. You'll likely hear more that you like and discover a few new favorites.

5) Be nice and open to people.

This is a festival for a people person. It's pretty much a sure bet that strangers will approach you and possibly want to hug you, but it's almost always meant in a friendly way. Smile back -- don't be a curmudgeon and ruin the vibe.