One of the most unheralded quirks of the music industry is how hard it is to see live music in South Florida. Despite the Miami/Ft. Lauderdale/West Palm Beach metro area ranking in the top 10 in the US in terms of population size, the area is passed up in tour routing so frequently, it starts to feel like a cruel joke, with artists unable or unwilling to make the trek south outside of a more convenient loop from Atlanta to the Carolinas. A 2016 article in the local alt-weekly, The Miami New Times, points out artists like Lorde, Bjork, Gorillaz, and Tame Impala had never played the area at that point, and that’s exactly the gap in the market that led to III Points Festival debuting in 2013.
“III Points is a locally based organization that started out seeking to bring musicians and acts that were passing by Miami on their tour plans,” explained David Sinopoli, the festival’s co-founder and longtime Head Of Programming for Miami’s Bardot. “Because of our geographical location, it’s really difficult for some touring bands that are developing, especially in the indie sphere, to make it down to us in South Florida before starting another leg of the tour. We missed out for so many years on so many bands.”
But since that first event in 2013, III Points has been instrumental in changing this. Some bands eventually come down on their own accord (Tame Impala has their first local show scheduled in May), but others, like The XX and the aforementioned Gorillaz, have the festival to thank for finally visiting their Floridian fans. But this very practical reason for throwing the festival, which has typically taken place in October until skipping 2018 to relaunch this weekend as a February festival for 2019, is not the whole story when it comes to the programming III Points is doing. The drive to expose Florida fans to the excellent music they might be missing, as well as amplifying local artists (about half the performers are locals) and bringing down some of the brightest rising stars in music, has led the event to raise its profile enough that it’s hard to pick an equal in terms of rising American music festivals.
When Sinopoli speaks about the festivals that he takes cues from, it’s some of the most inspiring that the US has had to offer in the past couple decades: he cites the feel of aughts-era Coachella, and events like FYF Fest and Day For Night as inspiration. The throughline in all of these events was that they had an ear to the ground for what was the most exciting contemporary sounds coming out of music and didn’t water down their aesthetic to try to please fans outside their core audience. Likeminded acts for likeminded people could be seen as their philosophy, and III Points feels like a worthy successor, especially since two of these no longer exist and Coachella has shifted its demo over the past decade.
But with that in mind, Sinopoli notes that III Points keeps their aesthetic fluid, as tastes and trends change so rapidly. Still, it mostly boils down to what he describes as “left-field hip-hop, techno, and house music” along with select rock and roll. But what might be most important are what he describes as the “connecting pieces,” artists that fit into multiple realms that tie the lineup together, people like this year’s Dean Blunt or Tim Hecker. “We’re going to try to hold onto this stance, and financially grow our festival while still staying in this line, instead of trying to book Cardi B or Foo Fighters to try to grab tickets,” he says. “You’ve got to be discerning and you also have to toe the line, because this is a big festival and we have to keep it alive. To stay in our lane, it takes a rabid fanbase to hold it together.”
Instead, III Points will offer up artists like SZA, Tyler, The Creator, Beach House, James Blake, ASAP Rocky, and Blood Orange this year, all artists with significant commercial appeal, but steeped in a similar cool cachet that puts their own artistic integrity at the forefront. They are the confluence of critical appeal and artists that can actually sell tickets, a tightrope act that very few festivals ever master. But here in their sixth year, III Points already feels like a festival that both knows who it is, and knows who it is for.
The sailing for the event has not always been smooth. After a year in 2015 that included Nicolas Jaar, Run The Jewels, and King Krule, they lookd to step up 2016 in a big way by the booking of LCD Soundsystem as their headliner. But an uninvited guest wound up dominating the storyline, as Hurricane Matthew hit the festival directly during its scheduled October event. As the story goes, Sinopoli worked with “energy movers” to push the hurricane away. And though LCD was forced to cancel their appearance, the festival was able to take place and returned stronger in 2017 to a sellout audience with artists like The XX and Gorillaz.
Despite the hurricane threat and having a huge band cancel, Sinopoli says he was never truly afraid about the future of his festival. “I’m a blind optimist,” he says. “We had to do a lot of maneuvering, financial positioning, and management to get it moving in the same direction, which is forward. I never doubted it… I know if it happens every year, if we stick to the budget and not try to grow too fast, we’ll keep up with the speed and growth of the city.” It all sounds simple when Sinopoli says it, but the proof is in the product. III Points has become more than just a local event at this point, finally to the point where it stands out not just among Florida events, but on a national and even global scale.
In a world with countless music festivals, standing out as III Points does is a seemingly impossible task, but this event has the ethos and personnel in place to do just that. As for where it goes from here, Sinopoli shouts out artists like Aphex Twin and a first Miami visit from Bjork as dream bookings. Not necessarily the most commercial artists to come to mind, but the perfect ones to sum up just what this festival is all about. And this weekend, when III Points vies for the title of first great American music festival of 2019, Miami will become the center of the music world for a brief moment, letting artists know that continuing to ignore the passionate fans who live there is a mistake.
III Points Music Festival takes place February 15-17 at the Mana Wynwood Convention Center. Tickets are available here.