Just over a week before the official start of the Atlantic hurricane season, the National Hurricane Center began tracking an area of low pressure in the western Caribbean Sea, which eventually formed into the first cyclone of the season: Subtropical Storm Alberto. As the week progressed, Alberto tracked up the Gulf of Mexico, making a beeline from the Yucatán Peninsula to the Florida panhandle. Leading up to Sunset Music Festival, it looked like the Tampa Bay area would miss the brunt of the storm. On the first day of Sunset Music Festival, the weather mostly held off. It was cloudy all day, with some occasional drizzle, which gave attendees a reprieve from the typical Florida heat. For the most part, the weather was gentle and Day 1 went off without a hitch.
Aside from the weather, SMF rolled out some significant changes for 2018. In previous years, SMF hosted a wide variety of artists, hosting themed stages specifically for trance, house, bass, and mainstream music. However, SMF seems to have pivoted this year, favoring a very bass-heavy lineup that featured artists like Rezz, NGHTMRE, Slander, Excision, Illenium, JOYRYDE, Zomboy, Herobust, Borgore, and many other heavy-hitters. There was also the fan favorite, marshmello, as well as a mix of house artists like Destructo, Anna Lunoe, Wax Motif, and others. While there was a bit of variety of music, the focus on bass artists was undoubtedly obvious.
Additionally, in previous years, SMF had three stages: Sunset Stage, Eclipse Stage, and Horizon Stage. In 2018, they added two new stages: Corona Electric Beach, a tropical-themed stage sponsored by Corona, and the Cool Down, Get Down stage, located inside of the Cool Down Tent. While the Cool Down Tent was present in previous years, this was the first year that SMF hosted a full lineup of artists inside the tent. The two additional stages were an odd choice, given that there seemed to be less variety in music this year, and it appeared that the production from the three original stages had been scaled back to allow for two more stages.
Although Alberto brought cooler temperatures and cloudy skies on Day 1, Day 2 was ultimately canceled, before doors opened, by the Tampa Sports Authority, in conjunction with the Tampa Police Department and Tampa Fire Rescue, due to a Tropical Storm Warning that was in effect until 5PM that day. Attendees were naturally frustrated, but the frustration was exacerbated by the fact that Sunday turned out to be a pleasant day with mostly blue skies. The silver lining is that artists and promoters across the Tampa Bay Area went into overdrive, quickly finding venues across the Bay Area to throw alternate parties. The Ritz hosted most of the Day 2 mainstage artists, including Excision, Illenium, Alan Walker, Ekali, 3LAU, Bonnie x Clyde, Zaxx and Warez. Bonnie x Clyde made an epic tour around Tampa Bay, hitting multiple venues and house parties. In addition to the parties, Sunset Events released their Refund Policy, which allows for 50% refunds on two-day tickets and 100% refunds on Sunday-only tickets.
Sunset Music Festival 2018 will undoubtedly be a memorable year, for better or worse. Although the weather put a damper on the festivities, organizers across the Bay Area pulled together to put on some alternate shows at the last minute. Aside from the weather issues, however, it seemed like Sunset Events made some questionable decisions with spreading the stage production thin and cutting back on music variety. They certainly have their work cut out for them in 2019, when they will need to breathe new life into the festival and ensure they have attendee confidence in the ability to make 2019 a more memorable year.