As a Chicago native I had not ventured to as many smaller music festivals in different states as I would have liked, however life recently brought me to Tampa, Florida, and with that to Sunset Music Festival. A staple in the Tampa music community, SMF has been around for over a decade and it shows thanks to its diverse lineup and the carefully planned organization put into the festival.
Location, Accessibility, Set-up
Sunset Music Festival returned to Raymond James Stadium this year, home of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Just a few miles outside Downtown Tampa, the festival venue is an easy Uber/Lyft ride away and is also situated near TPA (Tampa International Airport), also making it easily accessible for out-of-towners who may be flying in. For those driving parking is plentiful, although not free, around the stadium grounds.
Arriving around 4-6pm each day, security was a breeze to go through while remaining thorough and separating males from females to speed up the process. The festival layout was quite great to be honest. All of the stages, three in total, had their own distinct style and were situated on opposite ends of the festival to provide an optimal atmosphere for each independent set on the schedule.
Water stations, bar stations, cool off areas, food stations, and medical tents were scattered nicely, plentiful and easy to reach, yet the lines were never too long. It’s not everyday that I offer this level of praise, however the festival organizers did a terrific job with logistics and general event set-up. This was the case especially with the level of detail in the stages, the security, the amount of food options, first aid and water stations available, sound quality and attention to detail for sound bleed provided for an excellent experience. Also the amount of free water given out is a forward thinking concept that more and more festivals are starting to adopt and is greatly appreciated in hot festival locations such as Tampa.
SMF is in Florida and the only word you can use to describe the weather for a festival in Tampa at the end of May is “hot”. It was hot and humid and it felt fantastic. I never felt that it was too hot to enjoy the festival or the music, and even as the sun went down the temperature still remained fairly high which meant I never felt the chills you can so often feel in the Midwest when the sun goes down at the end of a long festival day.
Crowd & Atmosphere
SMF Tampa’s crowd was a very pleasant and polite one, something that is sometimes hard to see at music festivals these days. Throughout the weekend people were friendly, polite, and respectful to each other, especially so with the older crowd that were present to enjoy the festival.
As the festival continues to grow I’d like to see the range in music expand with it. I feel that SMF has reached the highest it can go without having labels or other brands run entire stages for a day. Likewise it would be nice to see more depth added to the lineup. Artists like Aly & Fila, Dusky, and Spag Heddy are nice touches for their each individual genres but it would be extremely fitting and beneficial for the festival to see more acts showcased from genres such as psytrance, techno, deep house, and riddim (as well as other more underground dubstep styles). Doing so would further underscore SMF’s individuality and identity, as well as attract a larger crowd from out of state.
I must also point out that the staff was the friendliest staff I have ever come across at a music festival. They were always smiling, happy, and eager to be of service with a genuine interest in the crowd and their well being which was a very welcome thing to see.
Episode 1. The first day brought several artists I’m not used to seeing so it was a fun experience. I began the day at Slushii, blending mainstream tracks and lesser known bass pieces in a way that came across as hit or miss, depending on his track selection. Drezo and G Jones both performed spectacularly by performing their signature styles of music in a way that kept the crowd, and myself, dancing throughout the afternoon. As the day went on I became more and more anxious to catch RL Grime and Major Lazer, the two most anticipated sets of the day.
Unfortunately this anxiety led to bitter disappointment. I’m not sure if it was because we were in Tampa rather than a gritty city such as Chicago or New York City, where I have seen him perform before, but it definitely reflected in RL Grime’s set. I wasn’t seeing the trap and rap maestro that I’ve come to expect from Henry. Instead he played a very soft and more mainstream set to cater to the type of crowd that was in the audience, leaving me utterly disappointed in the process. Then came Major Lazer. Instead of the Reggaeton masters I was expecting I found myself listening to mainstream bangers, sing-along tracks, calls for the crowd to “put (their) hands up”, and a myriad of other DJ set no-no’s.
Thankfully Egyptian Trance duo Aly & Fila saved the night with their closing set at the Eclipse stage. Their elegant and enthralling brand of Trance was a welcome breath of fresh air and the ideal way to to end the day.
Day 2 was an entirely different story. From Buku and his bass music to Yotto and his deep and melodic set, nearly every artist today brought their A-game to the table — a pleasant surprise given the disappointment from the lackluster sets of the day prior.
The two standout sets of the entire festival came on Day 2, the first by London’s world class-duo Dusky, and the second from magisterial Spaniard and dubstep innovator Spag Heddy. Both brought everything they had and more to deliver fantastic musical experiences that capped off what was overall a fun first time SMF experience for me.
Music – 3.5 out of 5
Despite featuring a lineup with decent diversity, SMF remains a festival in need of taking the next step in its progressive expansion. There’s no denying that this year’s lineup including some serious bookings, but some acts unfortunately did not leave up to their full potential.
Nonetheless, the performances of those who exceeded expectations allowed this to be a very exciting festival and one with continued great prospective for the future.
Experience – 4.2 out of 5
The experience was excellent, the stages were well designed and the sound was very solid. The friendly staff and well rounded support around the entire festival for your every need. Themed and/or label stages are the next logical step to keep expanding the SMF brand.
Value – 3.5 out of 5
For a two day festival the cost of a ticket was fairly high. An average three day fest should be about $200 nowadays, but a 2 day festival costing this much has no excuses. When there are major festivals in the US charging as low as $110-150 for a 3 day experience it would be safe to say that prices for SMF should be lower, around $140-150 at most.
This on top of rather expensive drinks (although inexpensive food and free water were both a big plus) made it a pricey weekend.
Overall – 3.74 out of 5
Excellent service and plentiful resources does not make up for the shortcomings the festival had. It was a wonderful experience as far as logistic and the organization behind the festival, which is expected consider its ten tear run, but lacked for something extra when it came to lineup.
Throughout the weekend it simply felt that SMF was ready to take the next step but hadn’t yet. That it could become something truly special in an oversaturated market but simply hadn’t decided to make that leap. Here’s to hoping that they do in 2018, for it could become a true festival destination for thousands of out-of-state electronic music fans.