For the second time in as many years, the Langerado Music Festival is on the move. In a news release sent out last week, the festival organizers announced that the three-day event will be held March 6-8 at Bicentennial Park in Miami next year. It's the fifth location the festival has used in its seven-year history — and possibly its riskiest yet.
The blogosphere is already spilling over with mixed reactions to the announcement, with commenters either praising the move or labeling the organizers as sellouts. The latter seems a bit unwarranted, considering festival organizers Ethan Schwartz and his partner Mark Brown have always sought to put on a great concert, regardless of the venue.
Last year, when Langerado was held at Big Cypress Seminole Indian Reservation, a seemingly idyllic location, most longtime fans were initially ecstatic. The massive swath of land and the nature-filled Everglades setting seemed like a perfect place to put on a hippie-friendly concert. There was ample space for camping and exploring, plus it was the same venue where Phish put on its historic New Year's Eve concert in 1999/2000. With last year's stellar lineup featuring the Beastie Boys, R.E.M., the Roots, and a horde of other big names, Langerado 2008 should have been close to flawless.
But the reality was very different from what a lot of people expected. For a variety of reasons, the three-day, four-night extravaganza wasn't nearly as enjoyable as it should have been. The logistics on the ground were challenging, the weather was close to Arctic at night, and, Schwartz admits, the 15-mile single-lane road leading into the venue was a nightmare for attendees and performers alike.
"Logistically, it was tough for us to be there," Schwartz said via phone about his experience at Big Cypress. "It was hard on the artists and the fans. There were bands that got stuck in the traffic and some who missed their sets."
Whether you're a fan of the move to Miami or not, Big Cypress, Part Two, was not the answer. The organizers had to come up with a new plan this year in order to continue growing the festival in a smart way. "Last year, we tried something and it didn't totally work," Schwartz says. "But I'll be eternally grateful to the Seminoles for letting us host an event out there." Langerado fans are going to have to accept the reality that their beloved concert is headed to the Magic City. There won't be any camping this year (which lots of people are already upset about), and out-of-towners are going to have to shack up with friends or get a hotel room in downtown Miami. I'm sort of excited to see that section of Miami swarming with tie-dyed hippies selling veggie burritos into the wee hours. I think it'll offer an interesting juxtaposition to Miami's nightlife that weekend which should be hilarious to watch.
I asked Andrew Yeomanson, AKA DJ Le Spam, about his thoughts on the move, since he's played every Langerado since the beginning.
"I think it's good that they're giving everybody a different experience," Yeomanson says. "It's definitely gonna be almost a polar opposite of last year, as far as the basic setting goes. Sure, there's no camping and some of the crunchy hippies won't be too excited about that. But it'll be good for our local businesses, which shouldn't be overlooked."
Late-night shows will be held at various venues throughout Miami, including downtown, the Design District, and South Beach. While plenty of people will cringe at the mention of Langerado and South Beach in the same sentence, there's a good chance that it won't be as cheesy as it sounds. I'm sure the concert organizers will do a good job of finding hip spots in Miami that aren't too posh. Parking, on the other hand, is going to be atrocious, but what can you do about it?
What the local naysayers need to realize is that this isn't about us. South Floridians have to get over the fact that this is a local festival, because it isn't anymore. Sure, Langerado has always played in Broward County (until last year, that is), and it started as a homegrown, mom-and-pop style festival. In 2003, when it first began, the festival attracted only 3,500 concertgoers.
But Langerado grows considerably every year. At this point, it's reasonable to call it a national festival.
I asked Schwartz why they opted for Miami-Dade instead of returning to Broward. "There's really not a place in Broward that we could do this," he said. "Considering how big we are, there's no place at all. Markham Park [their previous location from 2005-2007] is too small. We also looked at other county parks, but their curfew was much earlier than what we'd like. The main thing is, we don't want to tie our hands behind our backs and not grow. The progression of the festival is about 50 percent growth each year."
Last year, Langerado averaged 25,000 people each day, and it took in $4.3 million dollars. Expectations are even higher this year. One point of contention that's already popped up is Schwartz's promise that 75 percent of the lineup for 2009 will be bands that have never played the festival before.
One thing's for sure: You can't accuse Langerado of not taking risks. "If you're looking at our 2008 lineup, all I can say is, expect more diversity next year," Schwartz says. "People think we're totally losing our roots, but we're not. Some people want the same ol' thing. But you've got to stay fresh. And we definitely don't want this festival to ever get stale."