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Of course the concert also generates revenue for the park. Schmand explains how this works: "The promoter controls their own vending, but, as a rental space, we get paid our fees, which were $217,000 [in 2004] from the promoters. This includes use of the park, loading dates, administration, police and fire department overtime, and off-duty officer compensation, solid waste, a private security company, ticket counters, and clean-up."
Despite the logistical challenges created by thousands of potentially hungry, thirsty, sunburned, or rained-on concertgoers; multiple stages; and tons of circuitry, Schmand is totally enamored of Ultra.
"We do 70 events throughout the year, including some other large music festivals, and there is nothing that comes close to Ultra," says Schmand. He compares Ultra to Woodstock, "and I mean the good, original Woodstock."
Ultra Music Festival's creators head a media mini-empire. Russell Faibisch was already a successful businessman, running an insurance and bail bonds company, before founding Ultra in 1998. Partner Alex Omes, the music director at crobar, is a veteran club manager, and has occasionally published D'VOXmagazine since 1997. (The most recent issue came out this past year, and he says he plans to put out another issue in the near future.)
Faibisch says his interest in the dance -music world blossomed organically, from his days as a fan of industrial music and acts such as Nine Inch Nails, Nitzer Ebb, and Front 242. "I've always been a fan of electronic music, since its existence," he says. But when he speaks of the growth and success of the festival, he speaks as the co-founder and primary force behind Ultra, Inc.
"Aside from Ultra becoming one of the top music festivals of its kind in the entire world, it has become a dance-related youth culture lifestyle," Faibisch proclaims, adding some notable notches in the festival's biography: "Some current projects include UMF6 being released on DVD nationwide. It was captured in high definition last year and broadcast to more than 55 million homes on pay-per-view systems across the U.S. for 45 days. The [Ultra Music Festival 01] compilation is being released nationwide March 22 on Ultra Records, and we are about to launch Ultra worldwide. We will be taking the festival to New York City in the late summer or early fall this year, as well as doing some club nights throughout the country and in Ibiza."
In 2003, however, when Ultra tried to present a second Labor Day festival on Miami Beach near 21st Street and Collins Avenue, the City of Miami Beach turned down its permit request, citing the many arrests Ultra often generates as a key issue. Faibisch and Omes managed to negotiate a last-minute location change to the Miami Beach Convention Center, but the resulting August 31 event was, by most accounts, a disaster, drawing only a few hundred people.
Faibisch, though, usually has a positive spin on Ultra's past woes. "There are a high number of drug-related arrests because of the direct action we take as an organization to enforce our zero-tolerance drug policy," he says. And of the occasional lawsuit filed by a vendor claiming to have gone unpaid (complaints in the "contract and indebtedness" category are filed with Miami-Dade County's Civil Court Clerk on behalf of Omnistage and Concert Solutions Inc.), all Faibisch will say is: "In any business there are going to be financial disputes. Some are valid, but most aren't."
Other dustups have blown up -- and out -- on the street. Earlier this year, Louis Puig, owner of Space, downtown Miami's cavernous superclub, seemingly spontaneously picked a fight with Ultra. (Space and Ultra have a connection via Omes, who was once the music director at Puig's place before moving to crobar.) In November, Puig sent out a series of widely circulated e-mails claiming that he would start his own rival festival, Spacefest, and steal away Paul Van Dyk, Tisto, and other top DJs with exclusive contracts, which would prevent them from playing at Ultra. But Spacefest never came to fruition. (Puig could not be reached for comment.)
Faibisch is gracious about the controversy -- to a point. "There is no rivalry between Space and Ultra. We are a music festival. They are a nightclub. There is really nothing more to it than that," he says, adding, "As you see, there is only one music festival occurring during WMC."
"Louis, he's a very knowledgeable club owner," sighs Omes, a friendly, fast-talking fellow. "But he knows nightclubs, and we know festivals. Running a club is hard enough, believe me, and I'm one of the best in the business; it's taken me ten years to get to the level I'm at. But putting on a festival like Ultra is another thing altogether."
New to Ultra this year is a huge after party/concert at American Airlines Arena featuring headliners Sasha and John Digweed and rising star Hernan Cattaneo. Last year it signed a co-sponsorship deal with Winter Music Conference, making it the official closing party of conference week. And the organizers continue to bring in influential financial backers such as Andrew Fox owner of clubplanet.com and a concert ticketing business, wantickets.com.
"We funded Ultra, we ticket Ultra through our ticketing company wantickets.com, and ... we are the production company handling all the logistics of the festival," Fox says. "Ultra needed our help on production and rather than having them bring in outside investors we decided to fund it and keep control of the money."