“A lot of people are asking and sending angry messages, and we have to explain to them that’s it’s not in the cemetery," festival cofounder Melissa Meruelo says. She explains that the new Día de los Muertos-themed party set for Saturday, November 2, will happen next door, in an empty lot adjacent to the graveyard where Julia Tuttle, William Burdine, and other prominent deceased Miamians are buried.
Nevertheless, it's a fittingly spooky setting for a festival themed after Day of the Dead. The Mexican holiday known as Día de los Muertos is often compared to Halloween, but it's much more communal. Every year from October 31 through November 2, families visit the tombs of their ancestors, clean the graves, decorate them with colorful altars, and leave offerings such as flowers, food, sweets, and alcoholic spirits.
It's that spirit of giving back to the deceased, exhibited in the motto "As above, so below," that motivated the organizers. Raise the Dead isn't a souped-up take on another country's tradition: It aims to be completely sustainable.
One step Meruelo and her team have taken is a partial ban on plastics.
"It's nearly impossible to eliminate all plastic. Everything has plastic, including the credit cards we swipe," Meruelo points out. "Our goal is to eliminate single-use plastics."
Products such as plastic cups will be replaced with ones made of biodegradable cornstarch. Art installations will employ recycled plastic and other waste gathered from Miami's hotels and beaches, and stages will be constructed from shipping containers. Additionally, the organizers have discussed handing out garbage bags so attendees can pick up after themselves. (An incentive: Anyone who turns in trash will receive a ticket to next year's festival.)
"We're trying to target the Burning Man crowd," Meruelo says, referencing the Leave No Trace ethos of the annual desert fest.
In keeping with their target audience's demands, the main stage at the festival will be cut from Burning Man cloth — importing house and techno DJs such as Audiofly and Nico Stojan. Locals will be represented as well: A side stage will be curated by Electric Pickle, which has been hosting free pop-up events at the festival site throughout October.
The 12-hour fest will also include face painters, fire jugglers, tarot card readers, and other strolling performers. A haunted house — the House of Death — will stand amid a field of tombstones paying tribute to people and places likely to be destroyed by climate change. An outdoor movie theater will screen the animated Pixar film Coco. Plus, a costume contest will dangle a first-prize trip to Cancún; the runnerup will win a jaunt to Las Vegas, and third place will score four free VIP drinks at next year's festival. (Contestants should arrive at 8 p.m.)
Attendees less interested in Halloween frivolities can visit the Wellness Dome — essentially a chill-out zone offering yoga, meditation, sound-bowl sessions, reiki energy healing, and other new-age fitness activities.
“Most festivals have a business model where they overextend themselves," Meruelo says. “What we're selling is a boutique, intimate experience where music is an attraction, but everything else is what makes the event unique.”
Raise the Dead. With Audiofly, Nico Stojan, and others. 3 p.m. Saturday, November 2, at 1700 NE Second Ave., Miami. Tickets start at $29 via raisethedeadmiami.com.