Reviewed by Niko Apergis
There is always concern about new festivals living up to the standards of other festivals, especially with Florida’s vast music scene but the first Okeechobee Music and Arts Festival has set a new bar for what festivals should be like. Nestled two hours from Miami in the beautiful location of Sunshine Grove Florida, it is a field of paradise, perfect to kick off the festival season. The sold out attendance was a split mix of veterans and first timers but the atmosphere was still filled with beautiful vibes and love for one another. With its unconventional lineup and scheduling it was clear this festival was ready to make its mark.
It was located far enough to have a sense of seclusion but still easily accessible. Commuting to the festival you had a few options. The festival coordinators had set up a shuttle option from nearby major airports to make getting there a breeze. Additionally the drive from Miami is only a couple hours making carpooling with your squad a feasible option especially since it is also a car camping festival so there were no concerns about dragging supplies for miles to your campground. As soon as you arrived to your camping space you had plenty of comfortable space for two tents and your vehicle making it easy to relax without feeling overcrowded.
Soundslinger Promotion Company wanted the festival to have an intimate feeling and limited its attendees to 30,000 incredible people. Not once did you feel uncomfortable or confined in the crowd or at the campsites. At every stage there was plenty of room for each individual to enjoy the different artists while still getting an amazing view. It was the perfect size for its location.
Things To Do
The stage set up of the event was perfect use of the land. Four stages were located outside the main venue in the Moonlight Oasis. Yogachobee, Chobeewobee Village, Aquachobee and Jungle 51 were all stages, all uniquely themed and beautifully executed. The Yogachobee stage had yoga workshops running throughout day to help you find your center balance, a very refreshing concept many attendees gravitated towards. The Chobeewobee Village was more than just a stage, this area featured intricate art and fire installations, a chai tea village which was the perfect way to relax after a day of enjoying the festival with complementary tea, which had an outdoor living room with 70s theme to it. Chobeewobee also included Moksha, which is one of the two late night stages where you could catch the stunning Okeechobee sunrises while jamming out with all your friends. There was also the Spirit ill which was a series of lit up igloos that presented flow artists and fire spinners as well as meditation sessions. One of the most favored locations of Okeechobee was the Aquachobee. Highlighting the primary daytime hangout spot it perfectly delivered the awesome essence of a tropical beach party. Here they had beach volleyball courts, Corona bars and set ups for people to sit under and relax. It was an impeccable location for any late sets as the beach faced west with an unobstructed view of the sunset, such a magical location. A few hours after the sunset the Jungle 51 stage takes life, located in the middle of a forested area which gave a feeling of being in an entirely different festival, with an unorthodox line up and running all night from 9pm- 9am this stage truly made Okeechobee a non-stop festival. This created such individuality and truly set it apart from most festivals. Entering the Grove (main festival area) one was welcomed to three wonderful stages, all within a short walking distance of each other which truly allowed one to experience as much variety as possible without missing any part of the action. The Be, Here, and Now stages featured some of the most talented and well known acts in the music scene. All of which were angled away from each other so to have minimal sound overlap. The Grove ultimately felt like an entirely different world full of magic, music, and amazing souls.
Even though this was an all ages event, there was no feeling of being out of place. Everyone was friendly and inviting, treating complete strangers like family. The age range went from 3 years old (yes I saw a couple babies) to the 60s/70s. It had to be the most diverse range I’ve seen solely due to having such a diverse lineup. Every attendee was given the title of being an “Okeechobeeing” and each one was so unique, bringing their own touch to the festival. Each Okeechobeeing has their own style, there were costumes and amazingly created outfits that matched the vibes at the festival, but each in a very original way brought so much more life to the festival. Everyone came with the same intentions, to have a fun safe time and that was really apparent by seeing how at all times everyone made sure the people around them were having a good time and felt good. It was also very easy to have conversations with anyone you ran into and make friends that would last a lifetime. The Okeechobeings were no doubt some of the most unique refreshing souls on this earth.
The acts there created a very unique showcase of talent, feeding off the crowd’s energy; every performance exceeded expectations. A few of the main highlights, I’d undoubtedly see again were; Robert Plant and The Sensational Space Shifters, Guided by Robert Plant (lead singer of Led Zeppelin) the production for this set was a very surreal experience, as if I was teleported back into the 70s, truly unbelievable. Rap performance by Mac Miller was definitely one of my favorite moments of the weekend moreover because he would make unannounced appearances at random sets such as Kendrick Lamar’s bringing a whole new energy to the mix. After taking a 2 month tour hiatus, Bassnectar delivered another extraordinary set which really pleased the diverse Okeechobee audience, with fresh sets and stage productions featuring lasers and fireballs which proved he’s constantly one upping himself. Skrillex also threw down one of the most captivating sets I have ever seen. With his incredibly unique and unpredictable sound, he really creates a nonstop fully immersed dance environment. The top set of the weekend had to be the PoWoW. This ‘Once-In-A-Lifetime Superstar Collaboration” unimaginable set featured a handful of legends such as Miguel, Win Butler, John Oates, George Porter Jr., Zigaboo Modeliste, Kamasi Washington, Preservartion Hall Jazz band, Eric Krasno, Neal Evans and Chris Karns all on one stage. If that wasn’t mind-blowing enough, Mac Miller showed up for a surprise performance followed by Skrillex, who went from shredding on the guitar to singing on the microphone, to Djing, then playing a few percussion instruments, really showcasing his artistic range. It truly set a new standard for the festival experience. One aspect that was emphasized was the support for local artists, performers, producers, and media which made many more individuals feel part of the experience and expand their brands. It was amazing to discover these people who have the talent to be extremely successful and it was truly captivating to see Okeechobee giving them a chance to grow.
Overall rating: 7.5/10
Overall this was a very impressive festival experience. It was very well organized and had a vast variety of performances to see, or activities to partake in at any given time. The festival grounds were kept relatively clean with volunteers combing the grounds. The only place where it lost points was the lack of water filling stations (the ones they did have had a not so pleasant taste), there was only one medical tent and was located completely out of the way of the main areas which a festival of this size should have had more of these basic necessities. Furthermore there was an uncomfortable police presence at the festival/campsite where they conducted raids on campsites. If they balanced the budget a little better, and focused more on the safety of the attendees than getting arrests it would have easily been a 10/10. With all that said it was an honor to make history at the very first Okeechobee Music and Arts Festival and I cannot wait to return next year for more illuminating moments created in time.