Sunset Music Festival to transform Raymond James Stadium lot into massive nightclub

The last time John Santoro staged an outdoor electronic music festival, in 2007 at St. Petersburg's Vinoy Park, it drew about 5,000 people.

"It was a very localized community," he said of his audience. "I thought it was a good give-back, and I just wanted to do something. I wanted to do festivals."

Oh, how times have changed. When a revived Sunset Music Festival hits Raymond James Stadium on Saturday, organizers are hoping for a crowd of 15,000 — and not just from Tampa Bay, but from Miami, Orlando, Jacksonville, even Georgia and the Carolinas.

"Doing an electronic festival two years ago compared to right now is just two different worlds," said Santoro, an electronic music promoter and owner of the Amphitheatre nightclub in Ybor City.

Indeed, just as the timing of the last Sunset Music Festival may have been less than ideal, the decision to revive it couldn't be savvier. Every major festival in America, from Coachella to Bonnaroo to Lollapalooza, lists at least one DJ among its headliners, such as Skrillex, Justice, Calvin Harris or Avicii. Pretty Lights, the top-billed name at Saturday's event, is coming straight to Tampa from the Sasquatch Festival in Washington.

The ravelike nature of electronic festivals calls for large, unconventional venues, and Santoro said that Raymond James Stadium and the Tampa Sports Authority were eager to work with him. City and Sports Authority officials had some questions — first aid, noise attenuation, keeping festivalgoers hydrated — but on the whole, "they got it right off the bat," Santoro said.

Organized in conjunction with Disco Donnie, which has produced huge festivals like Orlando's Electric Daisy Carnival and the Nocturnal Wonderland in Texas, the festival will have continuous music on three stages in the North lot of RayJay — a mainstage for house, trance and progressive (Pretty Lights, Paul van Dyk); a stage for dubstep and electro (Datsik, Dirtyphonics); and a stage for Florida artists.

Among the artists on that last one: DJ Junior, a.k.a. Santoro's 6-year-old son John Jr.

"The kid is smooth — he has the rhythm," Santoro says. "He practices a couple of hours a day, at least two to three times a week." He even spins at the Amphitheatre.

With kids that young getting into electronic music, it's no wonder Santoro believes the genre will be going strong for the next decade.

"I think we're catching it at the right time, because electronic is blowing up more than any other music segmentation right now," he said. "And we're feeling it. Every single show we're doing is, if not sold out, almost sold out. The kids are very excited about this music."

Sunset Music Festival

Pretty Lights, Paul van Dyk, Alesso and Datsik are among the headliners at the electronic music festival, noon to 11 p.m. Saturday in the North Lot of Raymond James Stadium in Tampa. Advance tickets are $55 (the price will increase at the gate), $109 VIP. Parking will be available on the east side of Raymond James Stadium (Himes Avenue) and One Buc Place. For maps, set times and details, see smftampa.com.

Who to watch?

To help newbies understand electronic music, John Santoro likens it to wine. The subtle differences in style and variation make it difficult to know what you like until after you've sampled a little bit of everything. Santoro says the Sunset Music Festival will offer just that, so he suggests sampling DJs on all three stages. But if you're still not sure where to start, he offers five suggestions.

Pretty Lights: Expect a dazzling stage show from this Colorado DJ, born Derek Vincent Smith. "Google it, and just see one of his shows, and you'll see," Santoro said. "We don't want to let it out of the bag, but it's going to be impressive. There's not going to be one person looking away from the stage when he goes on."

Paul van Dyk: The iconic trance DJ reaches deep for large crowds. "The music that he lays down for festivals is on another level."

Krafty Kuts: Taking the wine analogy a bit further, Santoro likens this U.K. breaks DJ to a refreshing riesling that's unlike anything else on the menu. "You would definitely hear the difference when Krafty Kuts goes on."

Datsik: Fans of heavy bass and dubstep will pile in for this aggro DJ. "If you're here at the Amphitheatre on a Friday night with dubstep, you have to see Datsik," Santoro said.

Nerd Rage: Santoro is high on Tampa's Devin Spears, a.k.a. dubstep DJ Nerd Rage, a resident at the Amphitheatre's # (Pound) Fridays. Spears has inked a deal with the same talent agency that reps Datsik, Excision and Flux Pavilion. "He's probably going to headline festivals starting next year," Santoro said. "The kid is phenomenal. … I'd say he's on par with everybody in this lineup."

Sunset Music Festival to transform Raymond James Stadium lot into massive nightclub 05/24/12 [Last modified: Thursday, May 24, 2012 1:07pm]

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