There are few topics in the Tampa Bay area's music scene that are as polarizing as Sunset Music FestivalSince it's inception in 2006, SMF has grown from a one day festival harboring a little over 6,000 fans in Vinoy Park to the behemoth it is today, where each May over 50,000 fans pack the north lot of Raymond James Stadium to see some of the top acts in the electronic music industry.
As it's popularity has grown among fans, it has also seen an increase in scrutiny. Last years event — headlined by The Chainsmokers, Jack U, and Hardwell — saw two attendees die after being rushed from the festival to the hospital. Both deaths would later be ruled overdoses of MDMA, or ecstasy.
This sparked a public outcry, with Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn going as far as saying that, "[SMF] is not the type of event that Tampa wants to be known for."
While the concerns about public safety were warranted, an investigation by TSA (Tampa Sports Authority) deemed the festival safe enough to return to Tampa for this year's Memorial Day weekend, and it did not disappoint.
When we previewed the leaked lineup back in March, we talked about the depth it had for its two day run. Headliners Major Lazer, RL Grime, Zeds Dead, and Above & Beyond were more than enough to carry the torch for SMF's proud history of strong headliners. It was just a bonus to have an under card stacked with club/festival fixtures such as Yellow Claw, Illenium, and Getter, paired with promising young talent like Slushii, Ghastly and Louis the Child, who also performed at last years festival.
Not only did SMF promoters nail the lineup, they also learned their lesson from last year and did their due diligence on fan safety.
As you entered the festival, you were immediately greeted with "Hydrate Here" stands which passed out free water bottles so fans could get hydrated prior to shuffling into the overzealous security check point.
Fans' pockets, hats and bags were thoroughly checked upon entry, with some fans even being turned away for simply forgetting their ID.
When you entered the festival, it was immediately apparent that festival organizers took these health concerns seriously.
The heart of the north lot was overpopulated with concession stands, offering a laundry list of refreshments for fans. In addition to the attention to hydration, the festival had several 'cool down tents' spread out throughout the lot. These consisted of large tents with misting fans and calming light displays, offering fans a chance to hide from the overbearing heat and humidity.
Fans withstanding the worst of the heat at the front of the stages were not left out to dry either. Throughout each set security continuously hosed fans down with water and passed out water bottles. At the Eclipse stage they had water spraying continuously throughout the later sets, never missing a chance to cool off fans.
After witnessing the extra precautions taken by the festival over the weekend, it gave more perspective on the outlandish criticism the festival has endured over this past year. After all, poor choices made by fans shouldn't be projected on the festival or its organizers. Overall they met the safety standards asked of them and then some, and in our book they did a fantastic job.
As far as the music, the anticipated lineup did not disappoint. From top to bottom, headliners to openers, the DJs of SMF 2017 seemed to understand the importance of a strong weekend.
Saturday's performances were as hot as the mid-90s temperatures. Strong performances from San Holo and Ganja White Night were only to be upstaged by a surprise collaboration from Slushii and Ghastly during the latter's set.
Headliners RL Grime and Major Lazer didn't disappoint either. RL Grime, the trap heavy DJ based out of LA, spun fan favorites like "Core" while also dishing out remixes from artists like Flume. Shortly after, Major Lazer took the stage and sent the crowd into a tropical frenzy. Diplo, who makes up a third of the trio, made his second SMF appearance in as many years (he played alongside Skrillex as Jack U last year.)
By Sunday, the once grassy parking lot had turned into a dust bowl. This did little to slow down fans eager to see the arguably more stacked day of the two.
Ookay, responsible for the viral hit "Thief", played one of the more energetic sets early on in the day, especially when Slushii made an appearance at his set too. After him was the hyped South Carolina duo Louis the Child. Last year they were relative unknowns playing the small stage at SMF, but with Soundcloud hits like "Blase" and "It's Strange" they have become one of the more popular electronic acts in the country, booking sets at Okeechobee, Bonnaroo, and EDC.
They got the crowd going for the night sets, which were stacked. Back to back, fans were treated to the high energy sets of Yellow Claw, Illenium, Zeds Dead, Above & Beyond and Snails.
Whether or not you finished out your night with Above & Beyond or Snails, it was hard for fans to be disappointed with the job done by Disco Donnie and Jon Santoro, the festival's promoters.
From concession stands to stage set up, from meeting human safety obligations to booking top tier talent, organizers did an amazing job at giving festival goers the best experience possible. While roughly 50 people were transported to the hospital during this years festival, the Florida sun and intoxication were mostly to blame.
After such a rewarding weekend, it will be hard for the city of Tampa to keep SMF from returning to our area in 2018.