Opening festival season for a second year in a row, Okeechobee Music Festival scored big with another sold-out show. Reminiscent to the early days of Bonnaroo, the outside world became obsolete for festival goers entering the portal for an ethereal four-day reality that is The Sunshine Grove. Equipped with everything you’d expect from top tier festivals scheduled later this year, Okeechobee has made it loud and clear they’re here to stay.
Okeechobee is the music festival the South has been waiting for. Set to a more intimate venue scale than some of the larger festivals, 36,000+ attendees made their way to the South Florida tropical playground situated between Orlando and Miami. Although Thursday lacked any big name artists and the main stage area was closed, all walks of life began moseying around the festival grounds setting up villages of tents and canopies in areas marked by acronyms implicative of the digital age like camps LMK, JK, LOL, and BTW. From Bassnectar’s legion of loyal Bassheads to hip-hop enthusiasts anxiously awaiting Friday’s schedule heavy with rap artists, the scene was set for a judgement free zone where self-expression reigned supreme.
While Okeechobee still lacked some minor festival essentials as it did in 2016 – closer bathrooms and water stations to camping grounds, paper maps for festival goers – the venue saw a rise in art installations, signage, and a larger variety of food vendors. Chill out spots were scattered throughout the entire grounds with hammocks tied to breezy palm trees and colorful shade awnings allowing a bit of relief from the beaming Florida sun. Although South Florida gets around 250 days of sunshine per year, better weather couldn’t have been called on this year with bright clear skies during the day and cooler, windy weather at night allowing a decent night’s sleep.
“The laid back atmosphere and the overall friendliness of everyone around you, just vibing and dancing their little hearts out was my favorite parts of Okeechobee,” said first time festival goer Mikayla Briones who made the trek down from Tallahassee. While many festival goers came from within state, thousands drove hours from brisk Northern winters to bask in the tropical utopia.
Although Thursday lacked a solid schedule, Friday through Sunday were stocked full of big name artists traversing the festival circuit this year.
Heavy on hip-hop, Friday saw artists like Logic, Waka Flocka Flame and Wiz Khalifa take the stage. Many artists throughout the festival accosted the turbulent times facing the country with Logic pausing between songs to preach of “Peace, Love and Positivity” and Waka Flocka Flame holding back nothing, delivering a “F&%$ Donald Trump” to the cheering masses. Louis the Child got the crowd pumped before indie artists like Cold War Kids and Young the Giant took the stage rounding out the schedule. Despite new sound ordinances largely caused by Bassnectar’s ear ripping bass from the prior year that put many electronic artists at either awkward set times or at lower volumes, Flume closed out as Friday’s headliner enchanting attendees with anthems from his Grammy winning album Skin and new remixes including Disclosure’s “You & Me.” After getting lost in Flume’s atmospheric set, many wandered over to catch the tail end of Vulfpeck’s legendary funk before making their way to Jungle 51’s euphoric late night set of Kim Ann Foxman laying down some tribal vibes.
Aiming to amp up the day vibe from last year, Saturday’s festivities kicked off with a beach party at the AquaChobee stage. Bathing suit clad festival goers armed with vibrant floats plopped their plastic flamingos and dragons in the adjacent lake and bopped around barefoot in the white sandy beach. As the sun shed a golden glow as it set behind palm fronds, an influx of onesies rushed to see Griz’s set who was also later seen wandering around the festival grounds playing his infamous secret sets to those lucky enough to catch a glimpse. In defiance of the sound ordinances that moved his set to an earlier time than normal, Bassnectar refused to disappoint his following who travel far and wide to head bang to sets dripping with bass. Although Bassnectar drew in one of the largest crowds of the weekend, attendees gathered after to witness the rare collaboration of Usher & The Roots and caught a glimpse of shimmering fireworks blasting behind Porter Robinson.
On the last day of the festival, Sunday saw the most variety in the schedule with artists like singer-songwriter Mike Posner sandwiched between reggae group Soja and upbeat, indie band Bleachers. By far one of the strongest performances of the weekend was up and coming Anderson .Paak who played banger after banger from his latest Grammy nominated album Malibu. From dancing across the stage amping the crowd to laying down beats on the drum kit Anderson .Paak no doubt solicited new fans during his Okeechobee performance. Afterwards, as the last electronic act for the weekend, Pretty Lights brought his live band to The Grove along with an illustrious light show that reflected in grooving fans wide eyes.
THE END RESULT
After leaving Okeechobee Music Festival life just doesn’t seem as great without a little dirt under your nails and totem poles guiding lost campers back to their festival families. With 25+ festivals under her belt, veteran festival goer Amanda Trefil told us, “I just love Okeechobee, it’s one of my favorite festivals so far. Especially for only being around for two years now, they have a great thing going. It’s not too large but not too small, showcasing huge lineups with something everyone. I’ll definitely be making my way back in 2018.”
Celebrating it’s second birthday, Okeechobee proved that it lost little momentum from such a stellar inaugural showing in 2016. Okeechobee Music Festival confirmed that yet again, it isn’t going anywhere.
Until next time Sunshine Grove.