Music Festivals

Organizer Steve Sybesma on His Aim for Miami Beach Pop Festival

Photo by George Martinez
Planners of the new three-day Miami Beach Pop Festival are now fighting for approval to hold the event on the 25 acres of beach between Fifth and Tenth Streets December 14 through 16.

As a concert promoter, Steve Sybesma has brought James Brown to China and helped start the Okeechobee Music & Arts Festival. But he says the cherry on top of his 45-year career would be to get the Miami Beach Pop Festival off the ground. "We want to create a community-inclusive event, like Jazz Fest is for New Orleans, with rock, classic rock, jazz, Latin, and electronic music," Sybesma says. "I want this to be an event the city is proud of that continues for the next 40 or 50 years."

Sybesma showed New Times the list of musicians whom organizers were targeting to play the event. It is a more versatile lineup than the pop and hip-hop stars originally reported. The Miami Beach Pop Festival's wish list had close to a hundred names, including basically every major act that still tours, including Björk, Frank Ocean, Paul Simon, and Pitbull.

But Sybesma and his partners have been dealing with pushback from concerned residents. Sybesma, a South Beach resident himself, hopes to allay those worries through careful planning drawn from his years of organizational experience. "One of my partners, Paul Peck, put together Outside Lands in Golden Gate Park," he says. "It's in a residential neighborhood in San Francisco, and they've been able to keep residents happy."

Sybesma hopes the inaugural festival can draw 30,000 people per day, which is equivalent to the Okeechobee fest. That sounds like an unsustainable population surge, but Sybesma points out that Art Deco Weekend, held every Martin Luther King Jr. weekend, attracts 50,000 people per day, according to Miami Beach estimates. He has been working with the city and various local organizations to ensure the festival benefits everyone. There will be discounts for Miami Beach residents on the estimated $250 to $300 weekend pass the event will charge, free tickets for Miami Beach senior citizens, music by local acts, and participation from Miami Beach High and local elementary schools.

Although Sybesma pledges the Miami Beach Pop Festival will leave the sand in top condition, a number of residents have doubts — they've set up the website to voice their concern. The City of Miami Beach held a public-input event at city hall Tuesday night. Willie Arpeaga is one of about 50 protesters who attended. He contends past events have ravaged his beloved volleyball courts in Lummus Park. "We want... the event to move," Arpeaga says. "We still find wooden planks in the sand that were left behind from events from two to three years ago."

At the meeting, organizers said they would change the parameters to exclude the volleyball courts. But a seemingly insolvable drawback is that the beach from Fifth to Tenth Streets would be closed to the public for a full week — during the three days of the festival plus two days before and two days after the event. And that's the minimum amount of closure; more time might be necessary to stage an event of this size.

The City of Miami Beach will have to decide soon whether the negatives outweigh the positives, which include an economic bonanza for the local hotels, shops, and restaurants over what is traditionally one of the slowest tourist weekends of the year. No firm date has yet been set for the decision.
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David Rolland is a freelance music writer for Miami New Times. His novels, The End of the Century and Yo-Yo, are available at many fine booksellers.
Contact: David Rolland

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