MIAMI (CBSMiami/AP) — Electronic music fans are hoping Ultra returns in 2022 after another year brings another delay.
Alex Wu had hoped he could escape a dormant live music scene in Washington, D.C. next month for Ultra Music Festival in Miami, especially after the COVID-19 pandemic forced the cancellation of the 2020 event.
As the world started to grind to a halt a year ago, the 30-year-old music promoter told the Miami Herald he was disappointed he and his girlfriend wouldn't get to show off their flashy new outfits at Bayfront Park. He argued with a Miami hotel manager over a refund. He eventually got his money back, and the $200 worth of festival-wear would have to wait at least another year.
In January, festival organizers formally asked the city to cancel this year's festival due to the pandemic. City officials agreed. Over the weekend, to no one's surprise, Ultra was officially canceled again.
Seeing the state of the pandemic, Wu said he just wishes the announcement would've come sooner so no one would have a reason to get their hopes up.
"I do think how long it took them to make a decision was untimely," he said.
The decision to cancel this year's installment of the colorful, loud and hotly debated electronic dance music event has been received with a mix of relief and disappointment. The novel coronavirus is still spreading in the community, vaccines are not yet widely available and large-scale events are still considered too risky by local governments. Even some fans who long for concerts and criticized the 2020 cancellation are now content with this year's decision, especially after witnessing the impact of the pandemic.
"Given the current status of the COVID-19 pandemic, in relation to mass gatherings and public health consideration, we're deeply saddened to be forced to reschedule Ultra Music Festival to March 25, 26, and 27, 2022," read a press statement. "We understand the the disappointment and frustration that come with reading this and share it as well."
A PRESCIENT DECISION
Ultra was among the first major gatherings to be canceled in March 2020 — an announcement that boomed through the pre-pandemic landscape and drew criticism from the Miami-Dade mayor at the time, Carlos Gimenez. The decision turned out to be a bellwether that preceded widespread commercial closures weeks later meant to curb the unbridled spread of the virus. Even as economic activity has largely resumed in Florida, large in-person events are still not happening. Calle Ocho Festival, recently announced it would not come back until 2022. The Miami-Dade Youth Fair was pushed back to late November.
That prescient Ultra decision last year still angered some skeptical fans at the time. Athena Haight, 27, was angry and told the Herald she thought COVID-19 was being used as scapegoat for other problems between the festival and the city.
Live music is an escape from everyday life for Haight, and Ultra also meant a trip to Miami's beaches. For a time, she hoped to still fly down for a South Florida getaway. A year later, she's glad there was no festival, and she ultimately stayed in New York. She's only traveled by car for a year, and she's not buying tickets to any live music events anytime soon. After losing a nanny job in September, she recently found new work.
Seeing the toll of the pandemic, Haight said that she was happy to be wrong about Ultra last year. Now she's relieved Ultra didn't happen, "because who knows how many more people would've gotten sick if they hadn't canceled.
"I'm not sick, and I'm not dead, so that's all that really matters," she said.
This year's cancellation surprised few after festival organizers asked the city to nix this year's festival. Like last year, organizers described the move as a one-year postponement.
City administrators agreed and confirmed they deem the pandemic an emergency event that allows the festival to be pushed back another year, according to terms of the revocable license agreement that allows Ultra to use Bayfront Park. Ultra later confirmed it plans to use the park from March 9 through April 5 in 2022. Bayfront Park would be completely closed from March 21 through March 31.
Through the years, the event has drawn staunch opposition from many residents of downtown condos and apartments who say the event occupies the waterfront park too long and the noise is a nuisance that disturbs their lives at home and could cause hearing damage. The opposition, juxtaposed with the support from live music industry professionals and fans, has underscored political disagreements in Miami City Hall.
Miami commissioners have not had any serious public discussions about Ultra since the start of the pandemic.
WHAT'S NEXT FOR TICKETHOLDERS?
Wu, whose 2020 ticket would have been good for this year's festival, said he received a follow-up email that outlined a similar benefit package for ticket holders as what was offered last year, with discounted merchandise, an extra hour of access at the start of the festival next year and a free ticket to an overseas Ultra event.
For the second year in a row, the email did not offer refunds. In 2020, angry ticket holders filed a class-action lawsuit against Ultra over the no-refund policy. The lawsuit is pending in federal court.
Even though Wu said he plans to hold onto his ticket again, he thinks it's time for Ultra to offer other options.
"At this point it's the second cancellation," he said. "They should offer refunds."
Haight said she doesn't think she'll feel comfortable going to concerts for several more months. She hopes that 2022 will mark Ultra's return, and she'd like to be there.
"I would buy tickets next year," she said. "God willing, everything will get a little bit more figured out by then."
(© Copyright 2021 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)
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