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Throwback Thursday has us missing The Grove already and even though it is still the beginning of festival season I am ready to call it: Okeechobee is the festival to beat this year! With a beautifully diverse lineup, mind bending art installations and even a playful beach area, Okeechobee set an extremely high standard for up and coming music and arts festivals.
Venue & Camping: The property that hosts Okee is actually your standard Florida horse ranch with fairly even terrain throughout and wooded groves of live oaks that made
finding shade super simple. The main roads are paved which helped cut down on the dust that is a common issue at so many other festivals. Car camping lots were more than fairly spaced and there didn’t seem to be any complaints about strict parking rules. There was a bit of a struggle navigating around the retention ditches between the campgrounds and the main venue but that could easily be solved next year with a few more foot bridges. At night the amazing little enclaves of Sunshine Grove came alive with colored spotlights illuminating the trees and string lights dancing over the pathways. The Jungle 51 area glowed with a constant red light throughout the weekend and successfully executed the UFO crash scene theme. Back in the campgrounds things were well-lit for campers to find their way around despite the lack of signage.
Lineup: When the early rumblings of a new South Florida festival started making the rounds last year there was a lot of talk in the festival community that it would either be another Ultra (lots of EDM and generally out of control) or another ___ [insert failed Florida music festival here]. Then there were rumors that some concert and festival veterans were behind the new fest and things got interesting. Industry heavyweights Paul Peck (Bonnaroo/Superfly), Steve Sybesma (A2LiVe), Ben Baruch (Camp Bisco) and their teams at Soundslinger pulled together a first year lineup that drew Bassheads and Gentlemen of The Road alike to a really, really random part of Florida. Festivals today really have to reach a very diverse audience with enough mainstream appeal to sell out and Okeechobee did just that. Headliners
Food & Vendors: Overall there was a pretty good selection of food stalls and trucks sprinkled with drink booths and signature bars. There was a Corona Extra tiki bar at Aquachobee Beach that provided refreshments and a giant beach chair photo-op. There were a few premium liquor bars arranged around the venue as well which was a nice change of pace from the beer-only pace of many other festivals. Of course there was plenty of typical festival food like pizza and chicken on a stick but there were also some ethnic food standouts and my personal favorite, Gouda Boys! If you ever find them at a festival stop everything you’re doing and run, don’t walk, to sample one of their outrageously delicious dishes. There were also Amish doughnuts to be had! Do I even need to go on?
Experience: It wasn’t all music and camp at the inaugural Okeechobee! Aquachobee beach was an oasis from much of the hustle and bustle during the day while Chobeewobee Village featured art and music and chakra healing and lights and fire all around! There were tons of nooks and crannies where fans could find shade and sofas and hammocks to chill in. It seemed that every area had some new wonder to stumble upon. Yogachobee kept things serene with world-class instructors and performers who helped Okee pioneers embrace their personal wellness and inner zen. And much to my satisfaction there was not a single Florida alligator to be seen (as this was my main Okee concern)!
Festi Fam: Not enough can be said about the people of Okee. With capacity capped at around 35,000 there was a sort of intimacy that could be felt even in the largest crowds of the weekend. This festival was very easily the most harmonious, positive, good-vibe-spreading festival I have ever experienced. I’m not sure if it was the fact that we were all excited to pioneer a new experience or maybe that it was an early festival after a long, dull winter or some combination of both but whatever forces were at work allowed the weekend to flow perfectly among festival attendees. There was a wonderful mix of first time festies who were taking notes for next time along with OGs of the festival scene who were ready to share their knowledge. College kids from around Florida and the rest of the Southeast proudly represented their alma maters while making new friends from other schools to road trip with on future adventures. Somewhat surprising was the Okee population from places more than a day’s drive away. Minnesota, New Hampshire, Washington and Oregon. These Okee Pioneers had even more to lose in the gamble on a first year festival but undoubtedly left South Florida as winners! It’s quite difficult to put into words the vibe that flowed through Sunshine Grove during the first weekend in March but for those that were lucky enough to feel it and enjoy it, it was a game changer and the common thread was genuine kindness. One of my camp mates (a complete stranger from the Atlanta area) worked with another patron to return a wallet full of $1500 in cash. We heard stories of people roaming the campgrounds for hours helping a new friend find their crew or campsite. The official Okeechobee lost and found is still sending back tons of returned belongings such as cell phones, wallets, keys and personal items (check HERE if you are still looking for something). I just felt completely surrounded by good people, which can be rare these days and it’s exactly the vibe that will bring me back to Okeechobee next year, without a doubt.
Traffic & Exit Strategy: It couldn’t all be great could it? While the traffic into the festival grounds on Thursday night could not have been easier, the traffic out of the festival on Monday morning was a complete nightmare. My road trip buddy and I spent three hours just inching from our campsite back out to nearby Florida highway 70 which runs east out to Interstate 95. What should have been a three and a half hour road trip turned into a seven hour ordeal. Part of the issue was that due to lack of signage nobody knew where exactly the traffic was flowing outward and the other part of the issue was that traffic volunteers seemed to be working against themselves by creating multiple lanes of cars that were suddenly forced to merge into a single lane in order to leave the grounds. Either way, I’m sure this issue will be sorted out by next year and a flawless exit plan will be ready to be executed on Monday morning.
All in all I really cannot recommend Okeechobee enough. There were a few little kinks that will likely be worked out by next year and the timing, setting and people make it a festival must-do for 2017 via http://concerthopper.com/2016/03/17/the-wonder-of-okeechobee-a-review-of-2016s-festival-to-beat/