The music festival landscape is changing. The New York Times in 2016 critiqued the increasing homogeneity of such gatherings, and the problem has become only more pronounced since then. The days when lineups touted alternative artists such as Love & Rockets and Kraftwerk as main attractions and when acts as strong as Cut Copy and MGMT could be found all the way through the very bottom of lineups are long gone. As Coachella goes, so goes the nation: With the biggest pop stars of our time topping the bill at North America’s preeminent musical occasion, it’s clear there’s never been more money to be made in festivals than now.
That is, if you can stand out and survive. Several of the events that blossomed or benefitted from the mid-2010s festival boom, such as Panorama Festival, Day for Night, FYF Fest, and Florida’s own Okeechobee Music & Arts Festival, are now on hiatus or officially dead and buried. Yet the festival that’s faced arguably the most setbacks — including, but not limited to, mosquito-borne viruses, hurricanes, and canceled headliners — is still thriving and distinguishing itself from the competition.
III Points will make its long-awaited return Friday, February 15, with the likes of Beach House, SZA, James Blake, and Erykah Badu. But it won’t be quite the same festival Miamians last saw in October 2017.
"I moved to February to save this thing, and with one challenge closed, you open up another one," III Points cofounder David Sinopoli says. The festival was moved to February to escape the recurring and ever-looming threat of Florida’s hurricane season. However, the change presented a new challenge: assembling a compelling lineup around the proximity of Ultra Music Festival, as well as burdensome exclusivity agreements and radius clauses imposed by other festivals.
“It’s hard for us because we can't do Ariana Grande, we can't do Eminem, we can't do like 90 percent of headliners,” Sinopoli says. For him and the rest of the III Points team, preserving the festival’s distinctive identity through the lineup comes before all other considerations.
“I would rather this festival be more of a thermometer that you put into the water of what’s going on right now in Miami, right now in Florida, right now in the United States, and right now in the world,” Sinopoli says. “When I'm thinking about this festival, I don't care how many units [that musicians] sell in New York, and I don't care what they do in Chicago. I operate as a champion of Miami and a champion of the idea that if an act hasn’t been to Miami, I need to get them here.”
III Points’ 2019 lineup was forged following a number of false starts and last-minute changes. Even with notable acts such as James Blake, Beach House, and Tyler the Creator secured, the team had trouble envisioning how it would work as a cohesive whole.
“But then we got Badu. And then I was like, Ahhhh, OK. I know what I'm doing here. The style clicked,” Sinopoli says. “She, Blood Orange, James Blake, and Herbie Hancock became these hinges between hip-hop, neo-soul, R&B, and jazz. And then we got Raekwon, Ghostface Killah, and Khurangbin, and everything got way easier.”
For as much as III Points’ hip-hop and R&B-heavy headliners differ from the live electronic acts that were prioritized in previous lineups, Sinopoli says the festival’s latest roster honestly reflects where music, and indeed the United States, is in 2019.
“Donald Trump is our fucking president; the thought process of these people needs to have a social impact,” he says. III Points’ newfound direction gained steam with the addition of artists including the Internet and Kelsey Lu.
As for the more dance-oriented acts, Sinopoli reveals III Points used its All Night graphic internally to determine when and on which stages artists should play.
“You have to build the puzzle of the progression so that it elevates throughout the night,” he explains. “People at 2 a.m. should feel the energy higher than it was at 10 p.m.”
Sinopoli is also adamant about III Points prioritizing and celebrating Miami’s plethora of local talent.
“We've got to constantly be listening and understanding of what's going on around us,” he says, emphasizing the need to give local artists “the platform, the time, the professionalism, and the structure for these entities to show off their shit.”
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He adds, “We don't have to do much other than respect them, pay them, show them the support, give them infrastructure, and treat them like the fucking national artists they should be. That's how people can change their mindset of This damn city doesn't have shit for me to This city is the reason why I'm going to be able to offer something to the world."
As North America’s major festivals began unveiling their performers earlier this year, the news was accompanied by the sort of handwringing that’s sadly become customary with festival season. If there are any misgivings about III Points’ lineup, they probably don't stem from the lack of hip-hop acts and female headliners or, in one critical case, the bill being judged as derivative.
"We really try to build the spine and the backbone of everything around a style and a curation, because it's going to keep us unique in this landscape that's becoming less and less unique," Sinopoli says. "We've got to stand the test of time."