REVIEW: Ultra Miami Was An Exercise in Letting Expectations Go

Music festivals are disappointing. There, I said it.

Every few weeks or so, somewhere in the world, people spend a ton of money on plane tickets, festival tickets, and hotel rooms, then spend a ton of mental energy figuring out what to pack and what to wear for some festival that will probably disappoint them.

My recent trip to Ultra Miami epitomized this experience.

As usual, I lost a ton of sleep with the planning. I spent half an hour on the phone with my life coach discussing whether to go (I’m admittedly neurotic). I looked up hotels after I booked one just to reassure myself I got the best deal possible (I didn’t). I checked ticket resale sites every day as I anxiously waited for my press credentials to not be approved.

Then, the ticket I paid double the price on didn’t arrive when it was supposed to. I spent three mornings in a row on the phone with the company, eventually pulling the journalist card and threatening to ruin their reputation if they didn’t come through (hey, it worked). Exhausted the night before the festival, I slept through the Above & Beyond concert I’d gotten tickets for. Then, the friend who’d convinced me to come to Miami got out-of-his-mind high and disappeared, and the only other person there I knew didn’t have time to see me. The interviews I’d planned to do fell through. Almost nothing I went there for actually happened.

The festival itself didn’t live up to the hype. The grounds were small and the stages were basic — nowhere close to the gorgeous artwork of EDC or Tomorrowland. Even Armin van Buuren, who consistently kills it, fell flat. My friends and I agreed he lacked a certain energy.

Still, it had its magical moments. The highlight was Marshmello, who brought up Will Smith for “Welcome to Miami.” After him, The Chainsmokers also put on an entertaining show, and Jauz gave a high-energy performance as always with a set that incorporated the intro to Martin Garrix’s animals and Internet Friends’ “You Blocked Me on Facebook.”

When most people come to music festivals, they’re set on which artists they need to see, which friends they need to meet up with, and what parties they need to go to. The irony is, you can’t control your way toward losing control. Sticking to an agenda completely defeats the purpose of a festival: to let go of stress and have fun. Ultimately, many people leave festivals just feeling more stressed out.

I refused to leave Ultra this way. So, at around 7 p.m. on the last night, when my body was telling me it could not continue even though I was dying to see Above & Beyond at 9:30, I called a Lyft, headed back to my hotel, ate some tacos, and played Above and Beyond from my computer. And it was fucking fantastic. Above & Beyond may be what I came there for, but what you come somewhere for is not always what you stay for. Our desires change, and isn’t the whole point of a music festival to live in the moment?

“When I say ‘life doesn’t happen to you, it happens for you,’ I don’t really know if that’s true,” Jim Carey once said in a commencement speech at Maharishi University. “I’m making a conscious choice to see challenges as something beneficial so that I can deal with them in the most productive way.”

That’s exactly how we have to act when things don’t go our way: entertain the possibility that they did go our way; we just didn’t realize it. I didn’t get what I came to Miami for, but I did gain some valuable self-discovery. Perhaps that’s the best we can hope for, no matter where our journey leads.