At 1 p.m. Saturday, February 1 — the day before Super Bowl LIV — a congregation of football celebrities, musical artists, and white people descended upon the sands behind the North Beach Bandshell to celebrate the life, times, and antics of Robert James Gronkowski.
Gronk Beach is an incredibly expensive one-day music festival organized to extract money from rich people. The artists — who are are all very talented — are in on the scam and clearly have no problem taking sweet, syrupy corporate cash to help orchestrate a day-drinking party in the sun.
Me — a sports fan, fatalist, and crafty bar veteran — attended on New Times' behalf to report on this elaborate transfer of capital from people to brands and Gronkowski’s friends, family, and business associates. What follows is an account of what I saw, occasionally who I spoke with, and all the things available to experience on the lapping shores of Gronk Beach.
I arrived a half-hour early, eager. I stopped at a nearby drugstore beforehand to buy earplugs and an electrolyte-heavy sports drink in anticipation of the open bar and six hours' worth of ear-damaging music festival decibels. An hours-long open bar should be approached only respectfully and with caution.
The event line was curling around the Bandshell. Gronkites were shrouded in the uneasy anticipation of the party. One man feebly tried to get a "Gronk! Gronk! Gronk!" chant going, but to no avail. The attendees were a surprising mix of old and young (all 21 or over), with a small percentage dressed how we all imagine festival-goers: clad in neon apparel, fishnets, and not much else.
The crowd could almost be described as eclectic if it weren't made up entirely of white people.
Standing next to the line was a man on a soapbox yelling into some sort of contraption about how “Tom Brady won all those Super Bowls because of witchcraft.” As an early and ardent adopter of the theory that Tom Brady did 9/11, I found myself happily in agreement with this insane street preacher. When I got a closer look at the guy on the megaphone, I saw he was holding a sign in scribbled caps that read, “ASK ME WHY YOU DESERVE HELL.”
I didn’t need to ask. I knew why. I was at Gronk Beach.
Initially, I wasn’t granted full press access because Miami New Times is, well, Miami New Times, but, eventually, a press sticker was passed through a chain-link fence that allowed me into the red-carpet area. This was when I learned one of the sponsors was a sex toy purveyor, and there was actually a sex toy vending machine onsite (free for VIPs). Someone was programming the machine, and I decided not to touch the beast, assuming there would be plenty more contractible germs over the next six hours.
It wasn't long before I got my first glimpse of Gronk.
Seeing Gronk in person needs to be described because one of the huge selling points of Gronk Beach is the athlete-turned-media-darling’s physical and visual presence. People often talk about the “aura” of famous people: the ability to light up a room or take the breath out of any situation by simply being alive. Gronk sort of has that aura, but it’s also imbued with a profoundly fun, dumb, and drunk ambiance. Seeing him in the wild is like running into a formidable party skunk ape. Needless to say, it was great. I was genuinely excited to see this man bouncing around Miami Beach, psyching himself up for his own party.
It might not need to be stated out loud, but there is a palpable energy that almost everyone at this party kinda wants to fuck Gronk.
The people began trickling into the festival. At the entrance, there was a grassy food area, which was dissected by a seawall and some stairs that led to a huge open area with a tented bar at one end and a loud (in both the aural and visual sense) stage at the other. Immediately east on the ocean side was where the VIPs were. I was not invited.
Gronk himself was pressing palms and running around the sandy area with a camera crew in tow to get press shots before the festivities. I decided to follow along.
I caught up to him next to a professionally sculpted sandcastle. The bust was molded to look like Gronk wearing a lei and sunglasses on top of a huge pair of sunglasses that said "Bose" on them. You know, because it was sponsored by Bose. The brands were relentless at Gronk Beach. The face of the sand sculpture kind of looked like him, but only if he had aged 25 years and actually been Howie Long.
Even though the sound check was taking place, Gronk was bouncing along to an imaginary beat for the cameras.
I yelled a slightly inappropriate question to Gronk.
“Why are the Dolphins so bad?”
It elicited absolutely no reaction whatsoever. It's possible he didn’t hear me. Either way, Gronk took off sprinting to another location, stopping along the way to smile and quickly shake hands with those Gronkites blessed.
This was the moment I belatedly realized Gronk is a through-and-through professional. It’s the kind of revelation that says more about me than Gronk, whose career 529 catches for 7,861 yards and 79 touchdowns — and almost sure-bet Hall of Fame ticket — has now seamlessly transitioned into a budding media and investment empire. Along for the ride were several businesses Gronk and his family have partnered with, including a CBD massage clinic and an ice-shaking cup that keeps your booze cold while you party in the sun. This event was equal parts brand hump, concert, and reality TV special enacted in real time. The TV had come to life, and we were all extras in a show celebrating Gronk’s greatness as transformed off the field and into a party-guy business mogul.
We the people were ready for baptism, and the Church of Gronk was open for tithes.
Around now is when I decided to start my own program of consumption. Everything inside Gronk Beach was free — booze, food, swag, sightseeing — but the notion of what's free is relative. Around the time the gates were opening, the ticket prices clocked in at $800. Some people were spending upward of $10K for the VIP section. So if you break down everything you eat and drink, the idea of “free” clearly begins to unravel. But being on assignment for a serious journalistic pursuit, my Bud Light Seltzer Mango was free as free can get, and it went down great.
The music cut out for a few minutes and everyone was forced to confront the existential paradox of silence at a music festival. A few people hooted and hollered. There were two, maybe three, ominous minutes of silence.
After the apparent technical difficulties were resolved and the sound returned, I noticed a large hippie screaming, "Red rum!" along to the music. He seemed to be antagonizing people and openly mocking everything around him. I knew I needed to figure out who this person was.
I passed off several pairs of earplugs to the Fox Sports video team. They were very grateful, but I almost created an inadvertent free-earplugs situation, as people they didn’t know began lining up for hearing protectors like I was some sort of swag jockey. I shoveled the earplugs back into my bag and hurried off with the haste of a drug dealer who spotted a narc.
I also saw Triple H running around.
Gronk ran out to subdued applause. Not quite a TD cheer, but it was like a Foxboro first down — expected and welcome. With the crowd still not completely filled in — security was very thorough — the party seemed to be off to a slow start. Nothing had really happened so far. There was a DJ playing some hits, and I’d had my second Bud Light Seltzer. There were rumors the rain held things up, and the crowd seemed to be getting antsy and liquored up. This is a sneaky good start to any worthwhile party when people are just pounding the free hooch and waiting for a sweet release.
Bud Light Seltzer had these massive beach balls that I walked up to and tried to spatially recognize because they seemed lethal. They had to be four feet in diameter and were confirmed to be heavy as hell. One minute later, I watched one violently bonk some poor guy in the middle of his head. The impact sent his phone flying out of his hand as he landed facedown on the dance floor.
Behind me, the Red Rum hippie guy was trying to sneak a bowl in. I walked over, and in two minutes I knew everything. He was a rigger who had helped build the stage. He wasn’t shy about the kind of music festival we were attending, describing it as “a frat party for the rich.” He was sure that if we stuck around long enough, people would be singing the N-word along with the talent. Red Rum seemed to think Gronk Beach lacked a certain authenticity other music festivals might have, which was a hard point to argue. Gesturing toward Gronk’s sleeveless denim vest, he claimed Gronk actually hates it and didn’t want to wear it earlier.
“But Gronk is a pro. He does everything asked of him, just like a pro,” Red Rum said. It was a succinct boil-down of what was in front of me, and it rang true. He kicked one of the massive Bud Light Seltzer beach balls and said it hurt his foot.
“This is bullshit. I’m gonna start clowning people,” he gleefully stated as we parted ways in the ever-growing sea of people.
I decided to have a Monster Energy drink. The pervasive nature of the brand at this event meant it was only a matter of time before the idea forcefully seeped into my brain. The final straw for my mostly numb curiosity was a pallet of the stuff going by me that was Gronk-flavored and -branded. If I am going to live the man’s day and pretend to get some of his shine along with the rest of the Gronkites, I might as well drink his offerings.
I couldn’t figure out if it was blue-raspberry-flavored or what, but it was fucking gross, and I gave up consuming it after several sips in disgust. He’ll most likely sell a shitload of the secretion.
I found a phone in the porta potty. The person in the shithouse before me had clearly put their phone down while doing their business well within the piss splatter area. Debating in my head whether to just walk away from it, I made a steadfast decision to try to make at least one Gronk Beach attendee’s life a little better: I would try to find this phone’s owner.
I asked the security guard nearby if there was a lost-and-found, and he appeared flummoxed by the question. Soon enough, a man made a beeline toward the toilets loudly asking if anyone found a phone. As it so happened, I did. Here you go, sir. I made sure his friends knew he put his phone down on an actual surface in the porta potty.
Afterward, I heard a young man clearly and admiringly say, “Gronk is just living his best life.” I walked away asking myself: What does that mean, like really mean? People say it all the time, that someone is living their best life. Gronk is, isn’t he? Maybe that’s the magnetism of Gronk. He is so obviously young, rich, having sex, and having fun. Who wouldn’t want that shine? Who wouldn’t want this as of their idols?
Robots onstage were shooting smoke onto the crowd in the front row. They looked like Fox Sports' football robot. It was a surreal touch, but the robots had human hands.
Local legend DJ Irie made an announcement that he’s pretty sure he could persuade Gronk to give away the jean jacket he hates. I wanted to yell he hates it — the Red Rum guy told me! But that would be insane. So I sat and contemplated the wizardry in creating a massive buzz around the act of giving away something you fucking hate.
I found the massive Bud Light Seltzer beach balls deflated in the sand.
I realized people were wasted. I was certainly getting there too. A quick inventory of my self-consumption to this point:
Three Bud Light seltzers: two mango, one black cherry
One Bud Light
One-quarter Gronk Monster Energy
The times notated and legibility of my handwriting became a little more erratic from this moment forward. I needed to eat.
After exiting the porta potty again, I noticed there was only like a foot and a half between the door and the landmark bronze plaque memorializing the 1915 Biscayne House of Refuge.
Before Florida was a place where anyone lived, the United States Life Saving Service — a precursor to the Coast Guard — built ten houses along the east coast of the state to aid shipwrecked sailors. A keeper (and usually his family) lived in a house in remote coastal Florida and woke up every day to walk the coast while looking for signs of a shipwreck. If he found any, the service's job turned to saving lives.
The Biscayne House was the first building in Miami Beach. One hundred five years later, for one day, the site was Gronk Fest. Its placard sat unread and unregarded next to the porta shitters.
This land was once a refuge and pristine tropical wilderness. Now it was chaos incarnate, covered in corporate brands and littered with signs of emotional and spiritual shipwreck as far as the eye could see.
Someone stomped a full orange-flavored Monster Energy can, and it fully exploded all over me and another journalist. I didn’t have time to see who was responsible through the mortified disgust of the sugary ooze covering my face. We were slimed in citrus, the smell irremediable. I wondered briefly if it would've been worse if it had been Gronk-flavored.
Given this new dejection (and the list of booze above), I finally went to eat something. While standing in line for a pork sandwich, I noticed a throng of out-of-towners taking pictures in awe of the full pig roast. "It’s Miami," I said to absolutely no one.
It was around now that someone in line for barbecue informed me New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick was on the scene. I searched up and down the VIP area and found nothing. After all of the consumption, I was beginning to feel like I needed someone to coach me up.
The sun was going down. The people were as well. A Chiefs fan, completely spent, was asleep on a bench.
I called my girlfriend to tell her I love her. My tone took the tenor of one of those calls a mountain climber makes to base camp as an insurmountable snowstorm moves in. No, sweetie, I do not know when I will be home: There is more weird seltzer to focus-group.
Flo Rida lit up the party. For the first four hours and 40 minutes, it was DJs spinning and the Gronkowski family jumping around and generally being large. As much as people rag on Flo Rida, he really does have some great tracks and he can put on a hell of a show. And the Midwest seems to love Flo Rida.
A note says I took a shot of rum.
I sighted an attractive, near-nude young woman wearing a faux Native American headdress while sitting on someone’s shoulders. I didn't think she was a Chiefs fan.
The number of feral sandals and even full-blown shoes left unclaimed in the sand was growing. I overheard some guy confidently saying, “I don’t care about anything in my life — the real or the Super Bowl bets.”
Roger Goodell had to have sacrificed enough to the rain gods after the last rained-out Miami Super Bowl to make Sunday breezy. Perhaps those gods chose to shit down precipitation wherever Bill Belichick was. The rain was now falling in sail-size sheets. The waterproof festivalgoers raged at the stage while Rick Ross shouted proudly for his hometown. For a moment, everything was absolutely beautiful.
Then everything was really fucking wet.
Diplo played his first track, and I decided I needed to get out of the rain. It was partially because I appeared to have jumped in the pool fully clothed, but also because I was incredibly drunk and no longer cared what happened. Huddled under the small tent that housed the Gronk/Howie Long sand sculpture, a soused New England gentleman and I laughed, and I suggested he kick it over. He told me: “Not yet.”
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Perhaps we Gronkites needed cleansing, this baptism. So it rained. Perhaps we all needed to know why we were going to Hell like the man outside predicted on his soapbox. Was it for the brands? Or for a brief glimpse of Gronk? Or how we have chosen right here, right now, to ignore the horrors of the world going on around us?
As Diplo manipulated the party, there were moments of pure happiness: the lights, the release, the feeling like I had completed a marathon certificate course and was now an accredited expert in CBD, sex toys, and hard seltzer. I found brief moments of joy, and I found brief moments of despair. This is, after all, what it means to be alive. And that is what Gronk is — alive — no matter how fucking stupid you or I think he or the whole thing is.
Sunday (all day)
I saw Gronk on TV several times: interviewing the two tight ends playing, giving analysis, receiving an honor on the field. I was hung-over on the couch. Counting my blessings, I resumed writing about what Gronk giveth and what Gronk taketh away.