As many already know, last year's edition of the hip-hop extravaganza Rolling Loud almost didn't happen. Thanks to backlash from city officials and downtown Miami residents upset about yet another festival taking over Bayfront Park for an entire weekend, the event, which had moved from Wynwood, was nearly canceled.
This time around, it seems the organizers didn't want to take any chances. They moved the 2018 edition of Rolling Loud north to Hard Rock Stadium, and the change in venue has made a hell of a difference — emphasis on "hell."
Right away, one can tell by entering the grounds at Rolling Loud how much of a disorganized mess it is. Three stages, up from two last year, are set in a mirrored L-shape in the stadium's parking lot. Two smaller stages, named Audiomack and Monster Energy for their sponsors, face west toward the stadium, while the enormous High Hemp main stage faces north. The sound bleed is predictably horrible, to the point one can stand between High Hemp and Monster Energy and hear both equally well. West of the stages are the usual festival amenities: food trucks, merch booths, art installations, a huge Ferris wheel, etc. There are also food and drink stands with long queues and sponsor tents dividing each stage area, making paths between each area perilously narrow.
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Surprisingly, the festival's floor plan has made getting around extremely difficult, sometimes even dangerous. Although they seem close together from a distance, walking from one stage to another takes at least ten minutes, and much of that time is spent fighting the massive, abrasive crowd. People surrounded the stages and formed enormous queues for food and drinks. The bright idea of "free water" booths was rendered useless by ridiculous wait times. I found it impossible to get within 100 feet of any one of the stages, I could barely see any of the performers, and I lost count of how many times someone slammed into me while I was trying to walk around. Naturally, getting physically close to other people is standard operating procedure for a music festival or concert, but this was exceptional. At one point, while being crushed in a slow-moving scrum of people near a row of food stalls, I felt legitimately claustrophobic, physically sickened by the lack of personal space. There were barely any security guards directing the crowd's traffic, which to me signifies that the odds of a stampede are much higher than usual.
Essentially, Rolling Loud has had to exchange the structured density of Bayfront Park — with its walkways, dedicated amphitheater, and large grassy lawn — for a big, empty space to be filled with as many people as possible. At Ultra Music Festival in Bayfront Park earlier this year, organizers used the available spaces more strategically. Crowds were corralled into stage areas that were restricted by the park's architecture rather than allowing them to move around in a huge mob. Rolling Loud, by contrast, could have taken advantage of the stadium itself by using existing amenities such as VIP areas and concession stands rather than building a vast, dysfunctional parking-lot city. New York hip-hop festival Hot 97 Summer Jam uses the infrastructure at Meadowlands Stadium to its benefit.
Actually, getting around Rolling Loud is the easy part. To simply gain entry to the grounds took hours, from a two-hour traffic jam exacerbated by riders getting out of their Ubers in the middle of the road — some even on a Turnpike overpass — to the difficulty of securing passes and, in this writer's case, convincing security that, yes, I am allowed to be here because I have to do my job. This is perhaps my biggest criticism of the event, that I saw more security guards outside the venue preventing people from getting in than making sure they're safe once inside.
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To be fair, the organizers are trying to do something unprecedented with Rolling Loud: prove that an Ultra-style megafestival is possible for a chaotic genre such as hip-hop. But they're not doing a very good job of it. Part of this is because of the raw deal Miami gave them in forcing them to move north to Miami Gardens, but they haven't been able to turn those lemons into lemonade despite the several lemonade stands peppered around the stadium parking lot. Extreme weather, which is in the forecast for this weekend, will likely exacerbate these issues.
Hip-hop acts usually like to bring out high-profile guest performers during their sets. For example, Playboi Carti brought out A$AP Rocky to play his song "Telephone Calls," on which Carti features. Young Thug did something similar: He brought out Lil Uzi Vert, who was next on the schedule. Uzi did one of his features and then jumped onto stage right at his scheduled set time of 9:30 to perform his song "Money Longer."
Now, you might think Uzi would stay onstage to do his set. But he didn't. Instead, he and Young Thug left, and Uzi didn't return for another 15 minutes, presumably because he just didn't feel like it. That's what Rolling Loud 2018 has become about: ignoring the obvious choice in favor of something completely pointless.