Generally speaking, society has defined the way mothers and sons bond. It usually involves shared interest in geeky passions or time at family gatherings. Heads nodding to techno in sweaty, immense crowds typically doesn’t make the cut. Try telling that to Thomas Marshall, who's 29 years old, and his mother Pam McGhee, age 62. They attended Ultra Music Festival together this year.
Marshall and McGhee enjoyed sets including those of trance figurehead Armin van Buuren, Carl Cox, and Tale of Us. Marshall, who lives in Austin, Texas, is a five-year Ultra veteran. He once lived in Miami specifically to be closer to the city’s EDM culture. McGhee, on the other hand, is simply an enthusiastic fan who was eager to make the trip to Miami’s electronic mecca.
“This is my first festival ever,” McGhee said. Both wearing Mac’s Club Deuce tees, they described bonding for about the past decade over a mutual love of electronic music.
“I think I left a Deadmau5 CD in her car one time,” Marshall recalled, “and I get back in it a month later and it’s playing, and I’m like, ‘What the hell is going on here?’”
Since that formative incident, McGhee has demonstrated a level of passion and fandom often seen only in the most dedicated of music fans. When not listening to SoundCloud mixes at her IT job in Richmond, Virginia, she’s driving to Washington, D.C., to indulge her love of trance music. She's attended concerts since the tenth grade. A favorite was van Buuren.
“I got to [the D.C. venue Echostage] at 7 and stayed until 4 o’clock, and [van Buuren] came down after the show and I got my picture with him," McGhee said with a laugh. "I [felt like] I’d died and gone to Heaven."
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For their Ultra excursion, Marshall and McGhee stayed at an Airbnb rental in Hialeah and made the Uber trip to Bayfront Park every day of the festival. It was a small price to pay for the experience and opportunity to meet new friends and make memories.
“While we’re waiting in line, everybody is talking to me," McGhee recalled. "I was telling my son, when I went to see Tiësto, when I was leaving, there were two guys who stood beside me the whole time. I told them to let me follow [them] because we were trying to get through the crowd, so they grabbed my hand and pulled me through [laughs].”
For a long time, Ultra was defined as a three-day slugfest attended by shirtless frat bros fist-pumping in an attempt to connect with music in a way they couldn't with Journey and Old Crow Medicine Show. Now that the festival is on the precipice of its 20th year, it’s exciting to see Ultra, well, grow up a little and offer moments of emotional richness that aren’t predicated on MDMA or finding love in hopeless places. Asked if she plans to attend the festival again, McGhee only had to look at her son before offering an answer: “Not by myself.”