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Review / photos: Sunset Music Festival brings Pretty Lights, great vibes to Raymond James Stadium in Tampa

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(Click here for a gallery of photos from the Sunset Music Festival.)

Finally! It’s about time Tampa got its very own electronic music festival. Saturday was the much-anticipated Sunset Music Festival — a day dedicated to electronic dance music and its adoring fans.

As a veteran of Miami’s Ultra Music Festival, I was skeptical of this event for many reasons. Planning a large-scale concert is not as easy as it seems. But the second I stepped out of my car and onto the soggy grass fields of Raymond James Stadium’s north parking lot, I had a spine-tingling feeling that this would be one of those days that I would remember for the rest of my life. And I was right.

My experience at Ultra this year was … not great, to say the least. The layout was awful, the crowd was mean, and the staff seemed bitter. Sunset Music Festival turned out to be the exact opposite: The layout was simple and spacious, the crowd was happy and friendly, and the staff cared more about the attendees then themselves. Oh, and let’s not forget about the mind-blowing music performances from some of the world’s best DJs. I get chills just thinking about it!

If I go to a concert, and it isn’t an easygoing experience, it is really hard for me to enjoy myself, no matter how great the music is. Sunset was smooth from the start. Security was tight, and maybe a little overbearing (making my friend throw out his tube of sunscreen seemed a little over the top), but for the most part it was understandable. The event website stated zero tolerance for drug use, or possession, but then ended with, “Please come with a smile and be prepared to enjoy an evening full of music, dancing, and the full festival experience of Sunset Music Festival.” I love that they’re serious, but still end on a positive note.

The Raymond James parking lot was a large area, with two smaller stages in the back and the main stage closer to the stadium. There were plenty of portable toilets and booths for food and drink. The layout was basically a big circle and flowed smoothly. There were never long waits or huge groups of people making it difficult to get around.

After a night of Florida rain, the soggy grass dried up fairly quickly, giving concertgoers a comfy spot to sit and relax in the shade of  a tree. And with the sun beating down on us for 12 hours, the shade was a paradise all its own. Event staff roamed the grounds, acting as security and a helpful hand for questions or concerns. They were on a mission to make sure that every person attending had a great time, and more importantly, stayed safe. Free water could be found at all stages, being handed out whenever needed. Yes, you read correctly ... FREE water. I didn’t believe it at first. Water was $6 a bottle at UMF, so seeing ice cold water being handed out for free blew my mind. It’s the little things in life that make me happy.

It’s always nice to have a good experience, but let’s get real, festivals are all about the music. We put up with obnoxious drunk people and overbearing security guards because we crave the vibrations of the bass pulsing through our bodies and the energy of the crowd jumping to the beat. Music brings us together on a level that no other thing can.

Sunset featured a purely electronic lineup. There were local favorites like Mr. Saturn and Nerd Rage, as well as big-name acts like Datsik, Crizzly, R3volvr and more. The earlier sets were pretty dead, which wasn’t surprising due to the intense heat. I arrived just as twin sisters Miriam and Olivia, a.k.a. Nervo, took charge of the Main Stage. They are absolutely gorgeous, and prove to the world that DJing isn’t just for boys.

By the time Tommy Trash took control of the main stage, the audience had doubled in size. The crowd was a sea of brightly colored and sweaty fans creating one big dance floor. Paul Van Dyk took the stage at sunset and brought the party to a new level. Alesso kept the party rolling into the dark of night, but the show-stealer was Pretty Lights.

Derek Vincent Smith, better known as Pretty Lights, is a mixmaster DJ from Fort Collins, Colo. whose style of music combines glitchy hip-hop beats, fuzzy synth lines, in-your-face bass drops, and vintage funk digital samples to create one unique and incredible sound. But his music’s not the only thing creating a buzz for this performer — his light shows add even more spunk and energy, and electrify the crowd. The entire stage is engulfed with the colors of the rainbow and tiny little lights that look like a beautiful Colorado night sky.

The things I love the most about Derek though, are his personality, originality and stage presence. He is the biggest goofball, with a constant smile from ear to ear. It is easy to see how much he loves to make music. While mixing, he is constantly grooving to the music and interacting with the crowd. Everything he plays, he makes — and I love that. Don’t get me wrong, all the other DJs that played threw in their own songs here and there. But I heard some songs by Skrillex and Swedish House Mafia 3 or 4 times each throughout the day. Pretty Lights kept to his own music, adding new twists here and there. His rendition of Pink Floyd’s Time took the fans to another dimension. Other crowd favorites were Hot Like Sauce, I Know The Truth, and We Must Go On.

When 11 p.m. rolled around, and the festival came to an end, no one wanted to leave. For some avid fans, the party continued at the after parties. Others hung out in the parking lot waiting for the traffic to clear out. But for those of us that got to experience the revived Sunset Music Festival, its memory will live on in our hearts forever.

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— Kate Cillian, tbt*. Photos: Luis Santana, tbt*

[Last modified: Monday, May 28, 2012 11:05am]

    

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