Despite new synthetic drugs, Ultra Music Festival follows old Woodstock tradition

While thousands use drugs at electronic music festival, tragedies on site are few


For years after Woodstock, iconic images of music festival have shown thousands come together for a good time. While waiting for the music to start, some of the 200,000 youths at Goose Lake Park in Michigan engage in blanket tossing. Aug. 9, 1970 .

MIAMI - The escapism rituals of drunken crowd surfers and hallucinating dancers at music festivals were an issue in the 60s and are still an issue today. Year after year, government officials juggle economic interests with residents' complaints.

Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival began Friday and organizers estimate the six day festival will attract thousands. And while Coachella happens at a desolated desert in California, the six days of Miami's Ultra Music Festival happen in the city's crowded downtown.

UMF promoter Woody Graber released a statement last year, after Commissioner Marc Sarnoff and Miami Mayor Tomas Regalado withdrew a resolution to ban UMF at Bayfront Park. 

"The overwhelming and unyielding support of the Greater Miami and Beaches Hotel Association, Downtown Miami businesses and residents, and of Ultra fans around the world has resulted in a short-term victory."

Like at Woodstock in 1969, the attendance at summer season music festivals is much higher than the number of tragic stories. Nonetheless, the festivals continue to create strategic challenges for organizers, law enforcement and politicians.

FLASH BACK : About 400,000 partied during August 15 to the 18 of 1969. Historians report three people died -- a tractor trailer ran over a man and another died of a heroin overdose.

There were about 5,160 medical cases. Eight women suffered miscarriages. About 30 people were arrested on drug charges. Most of them were related to LSD, amphetamines and heroin.

WARNING: Woodstock left its mark on baby boomers, The Miami Herald's Glenn Garvin warns

In Miami, Regalado rescheduled this week's UMF discussion at city hall to April 24. This is giving UMF organizers more time to encourage fans to distribute a petition that by Friday afternoon had about 45,000 signatures.

More than 160,000 attended the festival last year. Downtown Miami residents complained, as they have done for the last 16 years of the festival, about traffic and noise. One person died and another was injured.

Graber said last year that the festival generated about $223 million in 2013. Sarnoff recently said the "bloody money" was not worth it

Adonis Pena Escoto, 21, was at UMF when he began to feel sick. He walked out of Bayfront park with the help of his friends. The auto mechanic died inside a car. On his Facebook, Pena left behind a picture of a table with several bottles of alcohol and boxes of cigarettes. His family claims he never did drugs.

Last year, Erika Mack, 28, a security guard at UMF, was recovering from injuries after gate crashers trampled over her during the festival this year.


Synthetic marijuana: K2, also known as Spice, is sold as herbal incense or potpourri and is thought to mimic the effect of THC. Authorities identified at least 158 new types in 2012.

WARNING: 'Marijuana candy' kills

Synthetic cathinones: With a "not for human consumption" label to avoid Food and Drug Administration's oversight, the man-made chemicals are sold as bath salts or jewelry cleaner.

WARNING: Biological factors increase risk of addiction

SOURCE: Office of National Drug Control Policy

Also recovering from UMF related parties was DJ Avicii, who cancelled his March and April performances, after emergency surgery to remove his gall bladder and appendix. Friends in Miami said alcohol and drug abuse were the cause of his health issues.

Most recently, SXSW music festival in Austin was linked to a fatal car crash that killed two and injured 23. The unidentified driver faces two counts of capital murder and 23 counts of aggravated assault with a vehicle.

At Coachella valley, the economic impact of the music festival silences complaints from residents every single year.  Weekend one passes were about $1,900 on the web. Short-rental demand was reportedly up 12 percent, as an estimated 650,000 flooded in this week.

Artists from all over the world were flying in with celebrities like Lindsay Lohan, who promised she would remain sober.  A risk some of her fans on Twitter judged as reckless. Addiction is deadly. The music community knows that all too well.

Pixie Geldof would not be there after her sister Peaches, who had a history of drug and alcohol abuse, died suddenly. The family was awaiting the results of a toxicology report.

Miami's Iggy Pop wouldn't be there either.  His friend Stooges drummer Scott Asheton died of a heart attack March 15. Nonetheless, Coachella brings him good memories of the 2003 reunion.

"Scott dealt with some addiction issues between [1970's] Fun House and [1973's] Raw Power," Pop told the Rolling Stone magazine. "But it never affected his playing."

Woodstock has a special meaning for them. The original music festival was held in 1969 during the same month The Stooges released their self titled debut album. At the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame ceremony in 2010, Pop flipped two middle fingers to the crowd and shouted: "Well, roll over, Woodstock!"

Follow reporter Andrea Torres on Twitter @MiamiCrime

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