Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Ultra Music Festival

On the heels of so many wonderful winter events, another one of Miami’s mega events is on the horizon. It is one with one foot in fashion, a head relentlessly bobbing up and down, ears shattering, and hands scratching turntables. If you hope to attend, it’s already way too late and has been for ages. It’s a ticket much harder to get than the recent Heat/Knicks Jeremy Lin coming of age party or the Marlins opening day extravaganza. It may have been easier to get a seat to see President Obama at UM a few moments ago. It is also likely that anyone older than 40 might get reverse carded. It is the Ultra Music Festival at Bayfront Park downtown, and it has a kind of unreasonable cachet among our sons and daughters that is nonpareil when it comes to making their lives memorable.

As the Food and Wine Festival is to foodies, the Miami Film Festival is to those who dream of Hollywood (the western not the Franch-Canadian one nearby), and the BCS is to Cane football fans, that’s how strong the Ultra magnet is for the electronic music set. For cultural anthropologists like me, just going downtown to feel the vibe at the gate is an education. I’ve never been inside, and likely never will, but the lineup is as stunning as can be. Plainly put, it is Art Basel for those who like their eardrums shattered.

Over the last few year’s, everyone who is anyone has played Ultra. Ask anyone: “Who’s playing at Ultra?” Answer: “Everyone.”

Electronica is the umbrella term; some sub-genres are House, Dubstep, and Drum n’ Bass. Big names include Armin Van Buren, David Guetta, Carl Cox, Skrillex, Afrojack, and Kaskade. If you don’t know these names and have kids, you’d better take the lock off their door.

There are numerous stages and tents, all necessary because there are something like 150 deejays as well as the occasional live music. That boom, boom, boom, you hear that weekend won’t stop till midnight Sunday night. If you are downtown, you’ll hear it. Further away will depend on the wind.

The show begins Friday March 23rd, and from that afternoon on, there will be a solid parade of neo-Woodstockian tie-dyed headbands, neon swimsuits, furry boots, and animated, glow in the dark animation shirts. Really -- the fashion show is worth the People Mover ride from Government Center. If you have a ticket, a sophisticated rectangular hologram which allows for one and only one scanning, you will be able to join in. But if you want to see it and hear it peripherally, simply go check it out.

NE 2nd Avenue

Maybe it’s all cosmically related. I’ve been reading To Kill a Mockingbird for the umpteenth time. Shortly after Martin Luther King Day and just on the crest of Black History Month, one of those magical moments occurred. In To Kill a Mockingbird, young Scout Finch thinks of her father and says, “Atticus was right. One time he said you never really know a man until you stand in his shoes and walk around in them.” Atticus suggests, “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view... Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.”

For three nights, January 19, 20, and 21, Puerto Rican born, Miami bred Teo Castellanos celebrated the 10th anniversary of his stunning, prize-winning one-man show, NE 2nd Avenue. In it, he walks in the shoes of 8 characters – literally. Pumping Take It to the House and Trick Daddy, Castellanos dances, prances, and romances characters and audience alike, channeling characters embodying the jitney route from downtown through Little Haiti. He uncovers his city – our city – from inside the skin of 8 characters, changing shoes as he changes characters, coaxing tics and nuance throughout. It’s all quite uncanny. He spares no one linguistically – this is not a play for Rick Santorum. Yet it is fast, sweet, funny, sentimental, and brash at the same time – within the span of one character sometimes. It is also often moving. This is the Miami we live in – our reality – our characters.

One deals drugs in his namesake Wynwood and another is a kindly Jamaican. The jitney captain is a story telling Haitian; a hilarious African-American mother hangs laundry. The show is sealed with a riveting Jewish Cuban Israeli Lebanese story. Are these based on real people and their real Miami existence? Forget the portrayals for a second; Castellano attacks the writing like a drone.

In another life, Teo Castellanos must have been a bus driver. How else could someone so effectively observe, perceive, distinguish, differentiate, appreciate, and turn into such disparate characters found – well on this long stretch of street rarely populated by artists save for those devotees of what we call the four elements, rapping, spray-painting, breakdancing, and DJ ing. In The Music Man, it is said best about Harold Hill – you gotta know the territory.

I was in a seat at the Gables Stage a decade ago when Castellanos first performed it. I knew the streets, but not Miami’s streets. I know them much better now, in many ways, thanks to Castellano. (Disclosure time: he and I are good friends. I love the guy!) On Miami’s streets, he has been a younger teacher to me. In these ways, he has been a local treasure and mentor to many. Ask brilliant young Miami playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney, whose electrifying The Brother’s Size cast Castellano, or DJ Spam, who dropped the soundtrack for Castellanos’ Fat Boy, or Matthew Hill, wicked drummer in Scratch & Burn.

In NE 2nd Avenue, Teo Castellanos reveals a beautiful mind, climbing in the skin of others, and walking in their shoes. We in the audience are along for the ride – in our city – Castellanos’ Miami.