It was a gorgeous March day in Okeechobee, Florida as they kicked off the first Okeechobee Music and Arts Festival, a 3-day music event. Fashioned like the popular Bonnaroo Festival in Tennessee, more than a year went into planning the Okeechobee Music Festival. Thousands of music-hungry enthusiasts showed up for this sold-out extravaganza, myself included. I stepped way outside of my comfort zone by attending the Okeechobee Music and Arts Festival, but I am so glad that I did.
Stepping Out of My Comfort Zone
On the first day of the Okeechobee Music and Arts Festival, I headed an hour southwest of my hometown, Vero Beach, to pick up my media pass. I was blown away by how organized the festival was. Every email that I received, the website, and app gave clear and concise details on how the weekend would unfold.
Parking for the Okeechobee Music Festival was a couple of miles from the entrance. I parked my car and started the very long walk to the festival gates, passing several campgrounds full of tents, campers, RV’s, and trucks.
During my walk, I experienced a little bit of culture shock. Other than attending the CMA Festival in Nashville every year (an organized sit-down/seat number kind of event), I had not been to an event of this size and style since I was 23 years old; I went to Peter Gabriel’s WOMAD festival in Columbus, Ohio. I passed goths, retired folks, hippies, scantily clad young girls, buff jock guys, families, you name it, I saw it.
My Senses were in Overdrive
I finally arrived at the gate to The Grove, the center of the Okeechobee Music Festival grounds. We had to go through a pat down and our badges were scanned for entrance. Those who brought CamelBaks were forced to empty them before entry. Stages were set up in the middle and on each side of the area. Food and drink booths were available nearly everywhere you looked. Ample port-o-potties were available and there was a mega cool souvenir stand selling awesome looking t-shirts.
The Okeechobee Music and Arts Festival grounds were littered with groups of folks chatting, drinking beer, hula hooping, and just hanging out in-between shows. Concert schedules were printed at the entrance and were easy to follow. I had time to walk around, catching sight of all the people congregated in hammocks throughout the property, and scratch my head at how different the festival goers were dressed and looked.
I found my way to the main BE stage (BE-wondered, BE-wildered, BE-loved) and caught Grace Potter’s concert midstream. Boy, was she awesome! Grace looked fabulous in her silver miniskirt and rocked the crowd with her sexy voice. I was able to walk right up to the stage front during this show!
Exciting Big Name Musical Acts
An hour break was between shows, giving me time to mingle with other concert goers between sets. We talked about how organized the Okeechobee Music Festival was. Afterwards, we gathered in excitement waiting for Robert Plant and the Space Shifters. Robert took the stage and even after 40 years, his voice is still smooth and his influence magnetic. We all loved him! Seeing Robert Plant in the flesh was a dream come true.
The sound system at the Okeechobee Music Festival wonderful. My only issue was with people carrying rage sticks (a term that I learned here). A rage stick is a giant flagpole that people carry to let others know where they are at all times. It caused a major issue with film crews trying to display the band on the big screens and it was a nuisance to anyone trying to watch around their waving banners. I would suggest outlawing anyone in the “pit” from having them. These rage sticks are most original and cleverly designed. My favorite was a cloud with four eyes throwing up a rainbow. Who thinks of this stuff?
After the break, the 1980’s legendary Darryl Hall and John Oates took the stage. I loved seeing so many young people singing “Maneater” and “You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling”. On the other hand, I overheard a young person ask her group who Hall & Oates were. Their answer was “that old band from the 80’s, you know Kiss On My List”. LOL
Although the concerts continued well into the evening, this oldie had to call it a night.
Plenty of Food Options
The Okeechobee Music Festival had some interesting food booths. I had a chicken and rice bowl. It was pricey, but flavorful and a decent sized portion. All food booths sold tea and lemonade while the bars sold beer, wine, and other alcoholic beverages. Corona, a big sponsor of the event, had a cool tent full of hanging hammocks for people to try out. Ciroc, another sponsor, had a fancy set-up with a cool cocktail bar.
What I Gathered from the Okeechobee Music & Arts
There is an art to going to these types of festivals. It seems that most people pack up their car/van/camper and stay put all weekend long. Since a majority seemed to be under the influence, it is probably best. They all seemed so “free” and enjoying being in the moment. Their exposed bodies (some only “wearing” body paint) was a bit of a jump for me but to each his own. At the time, I did not understand the people dressed in costumes, but after reading this article, I learned a lot.
Is the Term Burner Unfamiliar to You?
“Burners” are the people that I mentioned, dressed up, hula hooping, and walking barefoot. It does not have an exact definition but according to the article above, they: shop for special clothes, go to burns, like raves, travel with other burner friends, and practice “flow arts” (hoops, flags, staff, fans, and swords).
Urban Dictionary describes them as “someone who has been to Burning Man and has enjoyed it. Burning Man is a week-long event over Labor Day weekend… attracting 47,000 participants. Hundreds of art projects abound (many involve fire), people do random acts of unusualness, there is no vending (gift economy) – it is indescribable. It attracts everybody from Silicon Valley billionaires to drugged-out 60’s rejects. Most are middle-class folks with a wild streak. Burners are self-reliant, enjoy the unusual, have a giving spirit, and are just plain nice folks”.
What A Great Time
Not only did this music festival satisfy my soul with fabulous music and all around fun, it was also educational for someone that leads a relatively low-key life and is out of touch with new things in the youth world. All of the kids I met and photographed were loving life and having the time of their lives.
This was a great reminder to me that I am not too old to partake in new adventures and step out of my comfort zone to try new things. I even made some new friends along the way. When you think about it, we all shared the same goals that night: listening to epic music, making memories, having a good time, and being in the moment. It was liberating.
Kudos to the Okeechobee Music Festival staff for putting on this phenomenal event that will surely be etched in Florida’s history for years to come. They did a great job of maintaining the organization, crowds, and festival services. I was fortunate to attend and hope that they invite me back for the March 2-5th, 2017 concert.
- 35K tickets were sold to the music events
- Thousands of campers stayed the weekend at the fairgrounds.
- For $17,500, you and a party of 7 can score tickets to the festival and camp glamorously in the fanciest of RV’s
See the 2017 concert line-up here.