Sunday, January 21, 2018
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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."

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