Written By Croix Provence
Photos By Daniel Ballester
Around the end of 2015 there were whispers of a music festival that promised to bring the spirit of Bonnaroo down to sunny Florida. There were teaser videos released, badass musicians announced, and exciting areas and ameneties promised, all topped off with the delicious cherry of it all being an experience to remember forever.
This is what Okeechobee Music Festival promised to its first year attendees, and, for a first year festival, this is what Okeechobee did wonderfully.
Guests were paying $269 for three day admission to a brand new festival. Scary? Yes. Worth it? Yes! Some people complained that the prices were too high, so I would like you to do the rough math with me: $269 divided by 3 (days of admission) is rounded to $90 per day. That means you are paying $90 daily for a campsite, 20-ish concerts, access to a “beach”, unique vendors, free yoga and workshops, and the experience in general. That’s less than what it costs for one person to get in to Disney World for the day, and all you get there is a sunburn and a baby screaming in your face. Festivals are always gonna be a pit pricey because of the all-invlusive nature of things; besides, that’s what payment plans are for.
I sufficiently freaked out about their inaugural lineup in this article, so be sure to check it out. Major headliners include Mumford and Sons, Kendrick Lamar, Skrillex, Bassnectar, Robert Plant & The Sensational Shapeshifters… You get it: this festival had some pretty big britches, especially for its first year. It makes sense though, because these days there are nearly 1,000 music festivals happening in America of all shapes and sizes, so if you want to compete you’ve got to bring a gun to a knife fight.
When driving in to Okeechobee late on Thursday night, I thought to myself: is this a dream? This can’t be real.
Oh, but it was.
There was virtually NO traffic! It was only 11:00pm, and getting from the entrance, through the car check, through the winding roads, to the campsite took a grand total of one hour, if even that! Some frustration did come at the campsite, however, because as soon as you would get out of your car and begin assembling the tent, a volunteer would come by, tell you to get back in your car, and make you scoot up anywhere from 6 inches to 2 feet. This happened to us about five times, so I can only imagine how many times it happened to the poor guinea pigs who showed up bright and early. This will surely be handled better next time. At any rate, traffic was painless, and camp setup was smooth.
Security is always a toss-up, so I will leave Okeechobee’s security summed up in this way: if you wanted to sneak in drugs, you would have been thoroughly pleased. Same goes for guns and other scary things, unfortunately. Some of the staff members were on top of their game, while others used the trust system. For example, while I was being patted down from head to toe while wearing a swimsuit and a small fanny pack, Daniel, who was wearing multiple layers and carrying a backpack, was asked “What’s in this bag?” His answer: “A bunch of crap.” Response: “Go ahead.” So, depending on how you feel about that, security was either top-notch or super lacking. It’s always about the same for any campout.
The atmosphere at Okeechobee can be described in many words, along with some choice images, so allow me to proceed:
Shady (as in they provided ample shade under plenty of colorful tents and trees with fun decorations)
Artistic (as seen by the fact that the majority of major installation and art pieces at Okeechobee were made from recycled goods and were still beautiful and sometimes functional)
Naturally beautiful (as in the Floridian landscape, weather, and sunsets made you want to cry with joy)
At night, the areas filled with trees would turn in to multicolored fantasy forests filled with moving lights:
So, that covers the visual stimulation of the festival; let’s move on to the interactive entertainment of Okeechobee. Yes, there were vendors, yes there was a ferris wheel, yes there was a big ass random stream of balloons that lit up and kept moving around the festival… But there were little to no interactive events apart from yoga and a Chakra event. Allow me to explain: I do realize that there were plenty of workshops, which are very cool… but, you sit and listen. There was a beach area (with water that no Floridian in their right mind suggests swimming in) but nothing to do interactive-wise apart from maybe getting a shot at playing volleyball. What I mean by interactive events is a booth where you can make a customized shirt or tye dye a bandana. An inflatable water slide course where you can slip and slide for hours. An air-conditioned tent that provides alternative forms of entertainment. Sponsored booths where you can play Xbox or dress up and take silly pictures or build a djembe or help paint a mural. Something that is interactive in a way beyond standing in water or standing at a concert or standing under a recycled art piece or sitting in a hammock or sitting on a couch. I firmly believe that next year, with a larger budget and more faith from sponsors, that Okeechobee will have much more to offer event-wise.
A big part of the “atmosphere” that was very troubling was that the campsites had no roadsigns or markings. There were no predominant visuals for first aid areas, either. I heard many people discussing how their friends decided to lay down in the middle of the “roads” and grass because they couldn’t find their campsites after drunkenly looking for hours. The festival needs an easier way for guests to find their spaces. Volunteers didn’t even know what camp we were in, and couldn’t tell us how to navigate. Again, I hope that this note was delivered by confused festival goers, and that this will get better with next year.
WHERE WAS SPICY PIE?! I wasn’t the only broken-hearted soul out there longing for some jalapeno/pepperoni pizza slices. In all seriousness, there was a good spread of food available, and plenty of bars around the place. There was also a cute little food truck lineup that had insane lines in the morning and evening:
The majority of food was found inside of the Grove, the festival’s musical pleasure center. All tasty, all decently priced by festival standards, and some of which offered veggie, vegan, and gluten-free options. Good looking out!
I am torn on the debate of the potties. There were some absolute gems at Okeechobee: the bathrooms hidden in Jungle 51, the media bathrooms (sorry for those who will never know that absolute ecstasy), and… well, that’s it. If you happened to catch the bathrooms right after they had been cleaned, you were definitely in for a treat! Some major potty questions though: Why did the majority of the portopotties not have lids and seats on the toilets? How is anyone supposed to take a comfortable number two i they have to hover like a pterodactyl in a hot box? Also, why were people doing their business on the toilet paper and smearing it on the walls? Anybody want to explain that to me? Because I have gone many years without seeing human feces smeared on the interior walls of a portopotty… It’s all changed now. Big one for me: why wasn’t the soap refilled all weekend at the major bathrooms?
Despite these questions, I cannot fight the fact that somehow by the grace of PortoGoddy there were virtually no waits longer than two minutes. This was amazing, even if you were going to hover and potentially not be able to wipe and potentially be face to face with some kid’s feces. Take the good with the bad. Or do like we did, and hold it until you can get to the other side of the festival and hit up those media potties. Amen.
I would have never initally gone out of my way to compare this festival to Bonnaroo in any way because there is no festival that will be comparable to Bonnaroo. It is effortlessly cool and brings in the perfect crowd of 90% friendly fest-goers, and 10% people who… to be polite, I will say, aren’t. They’ll always be part of the bunch. However, at Okeechobee, it felt perfectly flip-flopped, with a large part of the guests I happened upon being that unfortunate crowd, and the rare bunch being the friendly outward festival goers. Who knows what caused this? I certainly don’t, and I do not believe there is any way to determine this (unless you are going to EDC or Ultra; then you can expect that 10%). It didn’t feel effortless and easy to make friends here, and people certainly weren’t going out of their way to hi-five, befriend, or help you. I couldn’t even find it in myself to do it because the vibes were so off with many of the groups of people I encountered (apart from this one incredible small smattering of people at the Big Gigantic concert who made up for everyone else I happened to encounter).
This is not to say that everyone’s experience was the same: I hope, and do believe, that guests had an easier time meeting good people and finding pihlanthropic, exciting new friends to keep in touch with and perhaps become festival buddies with.
Let me start this by saying that Okeechobee did something with their programs that I have not seen at another festival, and thoroughly loved: they wrote a 2-4 sentence blurb about every band that was going to be playing which discussed their genres, and sometimes influences, hometowns, etc. This was incredibly helpful for finding bands to enjoy between the known shows. Definitely keep doing this!
There was definitely an eclectic mix of genres and star status. Okeechobee did a great job of including Floridian bands in their festival thanks to a contest called Destination: Okeechobee. One standout act that was near the lower end of the lineup was Family And Friends, who tore up the Here stage.
In the middle of the lineup fell some incredible and interesting additions, such as Lil Dicky, a rapper of internet fame who blasted to recognition last year. Definitely an interesting choice for a festival, and that interesting choice paid off with an incredibly receptive and excited audience (who especially loved when he gave a lapdance to a girl from the audience).
But music was not just abound on the Be, Here, and Now stages: it took place randomly in the fields, thanks to string quartests to seemed to appear out of the palm trees. Music was made by strangers in Chobeewobee Village. Music was made, and beats were dropped from 9pm – 9am, in Jungle 51, an area of the festival tucked away for EDM freaks to get weird until the sun came up. The ambiance was that of a crashed UFO, lighting was sparse and red, and the bathrooms were fantastic, let me tell you.
All headlining shows were incredible, as to be expected. I mean, Skrillex was jamming out at midnight on a Saturday in a colorfully lit forest with thousands and thousands of packed bodies rampiong up the energy of the area. Need I say more? Only fault with the shows was the the Here stage continued to experience wicked feedback throughout a few shows over a couple of days. Not a quick sharp annoyance of a feedback, but sounds that persisted throughout sets that came every few minutes, loud and long. Just a technical error; not a fault of the festival, but it was part of the experience, no less.
So what does Okeechobee Music Festival earn on the scale from Bad to Bad-Ass for its inaugural year?
Price – Good
Lineup – Cool
Traffic – Awesome
Security – Sweet
Atmosphere – Sweet
Food – Cool
Potties – Not Bad
People – Decent
Shows – Sweet
Overall – COOL
We firmly believe that Okeechobee has the space, means, and potential to grow in to something bigger and even more magical than it promised, and delivered to, its first year attendees. We are very appreciate of the admission and experience that the festival gave us, and look forward to seeing Okeechobee 2.0 next year!
Croix Provence, abridged: Singer. Actress. Model. Dork. Snack enthusiast. Freelance writer. Music lover. Comic Con freak. Adrenaline junkie. Short sentence sorcerer. Follow @CroixProvence on Twitter and Instagram, and like Croix Provence on Facebook.