Okeechobee Music and Arts Festival Part 2: Good Vibes from The Grove
Two weeks. It has taken me almost two weeks to gather my thoughts and effectively recover from the first-ever Okeechobee Music and Arts Festival, if you can really call it a recovery. I don’t think I ever will really “recover” from that weekend. It will be with me, and the thousands of other first-year Okeechobeings, for a very long time. If you missed our review of the first two epic days, you can check that out here. But here is how the rest of this ridiculous weekend went down.
Saturday at Okeechobee felt a lot like what Sunday at any other festival was like – but in the best way possible. Thursday and Friday popped off harder than any festival I have ever been to, and I think everyone was feeling much more mellow (and exhausted) on Saturday. That didn’t mean there was any shortage of awesome, though.
Music goes late and starts early around these parts. Swimm kicked things off for us in The Grove, quickly followed by an awesome set by Givers, and it just didn’t let up from there. Michael Christmas, Deer Tick, Shabazz Palaces and Dr. Dog on the impressive Be Stage were all rocking before it even got dark, and that’s not even the half of it.
Unfortunately, Kill the Noise was unable to make their Saturday set, but not to worry. They got rescheduled for Sunday. Which means we were treated to not one, but TWO sets from Lotus (the second late-night set was just silly amazing) to make up for it.
At Sunset we were led through Chobeewobee Village in a New Orleans-style parade led by none other than NOLA’s finest, The Preservation Hall Jazz Band (who later went on to blow up the Here Stage and the PoWow). The Big Easy has been well represented at Okeechobee. Earlier, Soul Rebels brought down the house as well.
Once the sun went down all bets were off (again!). Mac Miller, Miguel and Kendrick Lamar all graced the main stage with their talents. And if you really wanted to move, Big Gigantic set things off in a BIG way. Big horns. Big crowds. Big bass. Go big or go home.
All this leading up to not only one of the most enthusiastic performances from Skrillex that I have ever seen but also the highly anticipated PoWow, a jam from many of the weekend’s artists, including Miguel, John Oates, Kamasi Washington, and Preservation Hall Jazz Band with special guest Win Butler (who also did an amazing set earlier in the evening as DJ Windows 98) and Chris Karns on the turntables. Even Skrillex, Mac Miller and members of Mumford & Sons got in on the action.
Sunday, though there was no shortage of music and amazingness, was certainly bittersweet. I don’t think anyone expected this festival to be as good as it was, so when the last day arrived everyone was a little bummed. But not for long.
Destination Okeechobee winners Flat Land, a local Florida band and friend of MusicFestNews, kicked things off for us in The Grove on the main stage. They were quickly followed by Sunghosts, Youth Lagoon, The London Souls, Post Malone and many others before things started to cool down for the headliners. Jason Isbell gave an emotional performance. Ween killed it. So did White Denim and Shpongle.
Fetty Wap, for unknown reasons, cancelled his appearance at the festival. But unless you haven’t been paying attention, there was no shortage of awesome things to see and do, even on the last day. ESPECIALLY on the last day! Go out with a bang they most certainly did, because the stacked daytime lineup flowed flawlessly into a stacked nighttime lineup. Big Grams and ODESZA packed the Now stage with intense and happy crowds. Gramatik and The Heavy did the same at Here, while The Avett Brothers and Mumford and Sons did the same on Be.
The highly anticipated Mumford set was everything anyone could have hoped for to “officially” bring the festival to an end. They praised the weather and the ability to play a festival in March (as well as voicing some political opinions), before launching into their own mini PoWow with Tom Morello, The Avett Brothers and, once again, the amazing Preservation Hall Jazz Band.
But just because the Grove was closed didn’t mean Okeechobee was over. Chobeewobee Village and Yoga Chobee continued the party late into the night with more performances, fire spinners, and much more.
And that was just SOME of the music.
If you have talked to anyone who attended this inaugural event (and chances are you have, because people have been loving to talk about Okeechobee), I’m sure you have heard about how beautiful it was. Tall Florida pines dripping with Spanish moss set the stage for this magical weekend. Hammocks hung from any available space, creating a canopy of colors. During the day, they provide ample shade, though it was barely needed with almost perfect weather all weekend. At night, the treetops became a canvas for a captivating light show, perfectly in sync no matter where you were. Shades of purple and turquoise danced across happy faces in the grove, while greens and reds exploded late into the night in Jungle 51.
If you needed a break from the crowd, you didn’t have to wander far.
Chobeewobee Village offered amazing vendors and live art (did you get your arms painted by Black Light Visuals?). Or maybe you wanted to dip into the realm of Spirit Ill for some meditation or fire spinners. Or take a break and have some tea in the tea garden.
Feeling like you need to stretch and breathe for a moment? Yoga Chobee offered classes almost all day long, and then offered up a tent full of music at night.
Want to grab a bite (or a beer?) and take advantage of the beautiful Florida spring? There was a beach. Aquachobee Beach to be exact. Relax in the sand or float in the water while you enjoy a cold Corona and take in the tunes of the stage there, which offered great intimate sets from some of the weekend’s biggest guests such as Win Butler and Tom Morello.
But the real magic of Okeechobee was found in the people and in the venue. People were happy, friendly and more than eager (if not yearning) to connect with each other. Things can get dicey when you get 30,000 people together, but everything meshed. More so than at any other festival I have attended, I was constantly approached by people, and not just for a quick high-five. People stopped and wanted to talk. About the festival, the weather, what they just saw five minutes ago, what I was wearing, what they just ate. They stopped to share food, water, hugs, advice. We sat. We sang. We danced. All of us. It was like being at a party with 30,000 friends.
My only complaint is that the line to leave on Monday morning from where we were camped was atrocious. We sat in line for four hours, barely moving, only to be turned around to use another exit that was completely clear. But even then, people wandered from car to car chatting. Playing music. “Welcome to Okeechobee Part 2!” screamed someone from their car as they handed someone gliding past on a skateboard a drink.
One of my favorite moments was this: On Sunday night, as the Grove was clearing out for the final time, we found ourselves in Spirit Ill, an inflatable ring that contained inflatable igloos in Chobeewobee Village. During the day, it was filled with meditation. At night, a bonfire and fire spinners. It was the last night, and the fire had just been lit. However, the spinners became concerned that they would run out of wood and turned to the small crowd that had gathered near their flame for warmth on this chilly night, many sipping coffee, for help. They implored us to help them find more things to burn.
A guy standing in the back was singled out.
“You! What’s your name?” asked one of the people tending to the fire.
“Uh, Mitch?” he replied.
“Mitch, you need to go find us wood. I know you can,” she pleaded.
“I’ll see what I can do,” he said as he scampered off.
Another girl near the fire looked up, with concern in her eyes and asked, “Will Mitch bring us back a tree?” “Yes, I think he will,” the spinner replied.
While we waited, tenderly poking the fire to keep its flame alive, someone showed up and gave everyone ice cream. Don’t be fooled by the fact that it was Florida, because it got pretty chilly at night. But who turns down free ice cream? So there we sat together, eating ice cream, hoping Mitch didn’t bail on us.
Then some people showed up with as many pieces of dead palm tree as they could carry. It was something, even though it would burn fast. But it was something.
And then a squeal from the girl who wanted a tree told us what we all had hoped for. Mitch was back. And he did, indeed, nearly have a tree (several large branches we assume he dragged over from The Jungle). Everyone cheered. “You did good, Mitch. You did good.”
This simple interaction around a fire so perfectly summed up what this festival was. A gathering of people there to connect with each other for the first time. To create traditions and community for the first time in this place. To pioneer and forge the way for what this festival would grow to become, how we would treat each other while we were there, and to build a safe place where we could all come, even if just once a year, to see our friends, listen to music, dance, and be ourselves.
Thank you, Okeechobee, for getting this all so very, very right on your first try.
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