If a first-year music festival draws 8,000 people to an NFL stadium in the sweltering heat of late May in Tampa, how on earth does it grow? At that point, is there really any room to get bigger?
The organizers of Saturday's Sunset Music Festival believe so. In bringing some of the biggest names in electronic dance music (EDM) to Raymond James Stadium, the fest expects to double, maybe even triple its attendance in year two.
Festival spokesman Evan Bailey of Disco Donnie Presents said ticket sales have long since eclipsed last year's total, due in no small part to a lineup packed with big names, from A-list DJ/producers David Guetta and Steve Aoki to up-and-coming EDM acts like Krewella, Knife Party and Flosstradamus.
"What you'll find with festivals is they're sort of a brand-focused thing," Bailey said. "Year one, they cautiously optimistically may support you, but typically, year two, year three, you start to see it become part of the fabric of a community, in the sense that they anticipate it, they know about it, they know what to expect. There's a little bit of trust built there. That also allows us to do bigger and better things with the lineup and production."
The Sunset crew also looked at things that could have gone better in 2012 and will apply those lessons to 2013. To combat the heat, Bailey said they're adding a pair of water slides and more free water stations (though you do have to purchase a refillable bottle). They'll also boost security and add cell phone charging stations and other conveniences. "It becomes this little city, so you want to have amenities so they can keep themselves comfortable."
When the initial lineup was announced, some diehard EDM fans groused online that headliners Guetta and Aoki were too pop-oriented, and that Sunset 2013 — like electronic music in general — might be getting too mainstream. So two weeks ago, organizers diversified the lineup by adding a third stage dedicated entirely to trance music, featuring popular club DJs like Ferry Corsten and Markus Schulz.
Devin Spears, a Tampa DJ who goes by the handle Nerd Rage, said that for a festival like Sunset to grow, it's necessary to bring in names familiar to both hardcore and casual EDM fans.
"With David Guetta and Steve Aoki on the bill, we can kind of attract that mainstream crowd that hasn't been to a festival yet, or hasn't been to a nightclub, and it gives them an opportunity to have that experience," said Spears, who will take the stage on Saturday. "The people that listen to them are not always the kind of kids that want to go out and go to clubs. You can get the regular mainstream people, too, who just drive and listen to the radio. Then they come out and are like, 'Wow, this is actually really cool!' And hopefully do it again next year."