The Okeechobee Overview
Festival goers rejoice.
Last weekend’s Okeechobee Music & Arts Festival was a success.
The executives at Soundslinger, who created the much-adored Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival, worked their magic to create the first ever Okeechobee Music & Arts Festival in Sunshine Grove, Fla. As a Bonnaroovian who has spent many blissful summers on “The Farm” in Tennessee, my expectations for Okeechobee were high.
I wasn’t disappointed.
Here’s what they got right:
Okeechobee was chock full of places to explore. Unlike Roo, where all the activities are in one central place together, Okeechobee was more spread out. You only had to swipe your wristband when entering the “The Grove” area where the three main stages were and could wander everywhere else freely.
A few of Okeechobee’s quirky, cool spots:
Aquachobee: A “beach” where you could tan, swim, play volleyball and hang. It’s just a few steps away from a line of food trucks so you can eat, drink overpriced cocktails and get sunburned. There was also a shaded area with different DJs providing the soundtrack to the sunshine. After one full day of drunk, dirty people frolicking in the small swimming area, the idea of taking a plunge was unappealing to me (I saw quite a few people attempt to use it as a bath), but everyone in that area seemed to be having a blast.
Jungle 51: If you were groovin’ into the wee hours, this was the place to be. This little nightclub area, which was carved out of the forest, was a cool, dark and delightful place to dance. Techno beats (most notably Legacy Detroit from 3 a.m. to 7 a.m.) filled the air and people partied until the sun came up.
ChobeeWobee Village: ChobeeWobee Village was an odd little section filled with stimuli of all variety. Among other things, you could take a class on poetry, hula hoop dance, check out artist exhibits or climb on an iron snowman filled with fire. (Yeah, it’s a weird place to be.)
Yogachobee: Breathe, stretch, shake (hangover shakes, of course) and let it go. Yogachobee had yoga workshops morning and night with friendly, talented instructors. If you wanted to really start your morning right (and could get out of your tent at a reasonable hour), you could grab a fresh smoothie, do yoga and then get a massage, all in the Yogachobee area.
The lineup was a potent and diverse. Mumford & Sons, Hall & Oates, The Avett Brothers, Kendrick Lamar, Miguel, Lil Dicky, Bassnectar, Skrillex, Big Gigantic…there was something for everyone across the musical spectrum. It was the perfect mix of artists to draw a diverse, engaged crowd. Not to mention, it was a really smart idea to have Florida bands compete on social media for a spot on the lineup too. It helped spread the word about the festival and garner local support.
Like Bonnaroo’s “Superjam” collaborations, Okeechobee put together “PowWows” of different artists on stage. These are always a slam dunk. There’s really no other time/place you get to see some of your favorite artists all come together to jam out. It’s a heavenly musical experience.
A perfect overlap between University of Florida and Florida State University spring break, the festival was brimming with young people. With so many excited college students on break, the place was filled with endless vacation vibes.
The weather was also a huge blessing this time of year. It was sunny and warm in the daytime and it was cool and crisp at night.
Here’s what still needs work:
The Camping Logistics:
As a person who is already a little directionally challenged, navigating the campsites was less than ideal. Each camping area was cutely named with texting abbreviations like “LOL” “G2G” and “IDK” (so Millennial, right?), but there were no physical signs with these abbreviations anywhere on site. Without big tall balloons in each lot with its name, people were left to wander aimlessly until they found that one Prius with a tie-dyed flag that looked kind of familiar.
If you’re wondering why those helpless hippies didn’t just consult a map… well, they ran out. When I arrived Friday mid-morning, I was told they were all out or “couldn’t find the rest” of them. With cell reception being erratic at best, I was left a hopeless wanderer. (Shoutout to Mumford & Sons for closing out Okeechobee with an incredible performance on Sunday night.)
The “general store” was generally a mess. You couldn’t get through the door to buy anything without waiting in line forever behind the hoards of people trying to buy ice. Separate ice stations are a must when there are thousands of people trying to keep their beers cold.
Volunteers had no idea how to direct traffic or guide people into parking spaces, so there was a lot of confusion about where to set up camp, which areas were full and how to move from place to place. I wandered to three different “information” tents only to discover that not one person could tell me how to get to the media tent. Albeit underprepared, they were all very friendly.
The three stages, “Be,” “Here,” and “Now,” were a little too close for comfort. While the sound pollution from other stages wasn’t unbearable, the muddling of music of different artist was noticeable at times. Also, the lights on the stage weren’t working. At one point the “W’ on the “Now” stage blew out and the stage just said “No”. Since that’s not very welcoming, they either turned off all the stage lights or couldn’t get them up and running. While not a deal breaker, it would have been nice to easily see the names of each stage when it got dark outside.
For a first time event, there are bound to be a few slipups and a couple snafus, but overall Okeechobee was a huge success. My time there was a blast and I would gladly buy a ticket next year (if they put together worthwhile lineup, of course). As the festival grows up, they will continue to iron out the kinks and smooth out their processes.
I have faith that Okeechobee Music & Arts festival will deliver a beautiful weekend of sunshine, sound and springtime celebration for many years to come.