CL on the Road review: A look back at Okeechobee Music Festival in South Florida

"We are the first Okee-beings!"

click to enlarge CL on the Road review: A look back at Okeechobee Music Festival in South Florida - via Austin Pontious
via Austin Pontious
CL on the Road review: A look back at Okeechobee Music Festival in South Florida


Though it proved an exhausting journey in 30 miles-per-hour traffic, I finally drove up to the 800-acre site of Okeechobee Music Festival and my home for the next three days around 3 p.m. Friday. On my way in to pick up the tickets, the event read "SOLD OUT" on just about every sign. Rumor was that Okeechobee was capped at 32,000 people, and from the looks of it, reaching that number had been no problem for the brand new festival.

Excitement was in the air, along with a little uneasiness as happy full-of-energy faces prepared to get through security and set up camp. I hurried in to get settled and began my walk to “The Grove”— the main festival grounds. I hoped to catch a show or two before nightfall, and while I pushed through the Jurassic-world like environment, I was greeted at the gate by an already pumped-up crowd rooting someone to finish off their beer. "Chug, chug, chug!"

click to enlarge Nahko from Nahko and Medicine for the People jamming out with guitarist Chase Makai during their Okeechobee performance. - via Ainhoa Palacios
via Ainhoa Palacios
Nahko from Nahko and Medicine for the People jamming out with guitarist Chase Makai during their Okeechobee performance.

I made it just in time to see Nahko and the Medicine for the People. Nahko took the stage right at scheduled time, 4:30 p.m., and launched directly into a jam session with lead guitarist, Chase Makai. The crowd bobbed uniformly to "It all starts to make sense." A little later in the set, the band dedicated a song to presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, which felt quite adequate for a crowd carrying signs that read “Bassheads for Bernie” (which was only one of the many Bernie posters I would see in the next three days). The band slowed things down with trumpet solos and an ode to the “people who protect these lands” — “Love Letters to God” — before saying their final farewell and wishing everyone a happy festival. 

I decided to explore a bit, hopping to the stage next door. (All the stages were so close in proximity you’d think you would overhear the show next door, but nope, you were only in one world at time.) Over the rest of the night, I caught Daryl Hall and John Oates, who took us back in time to the grooving '70s and '80s, and Los Angeles DJ RL Grime, who spurred some intense movement from the crowd and set a dubsteppy, dance-your-butt-off mood for the night.

Of course, with a big show like Bassnectar approaching at 11:45 p.m., this was the only mood to be in. And the masses began swarming to the "Be" stage where Bassnectar would be performing early, either packing in tight amid the mass of bodies or on scattered blankets and tapestries that were laid out further in the outskirts and established dancing boundaries.

And the producer/DJ held nothing back. Within the first minutes of his appearance on stage, the light show and visual graphics were blasting full force. Fire was shooting off by song three.

About half-way through the set, I sat back to admire the energy and all those around me who were having a kick ass time. Even sitting down, you could feel the music vibrate through the ground. But close to 1 a.m., I was exhausted, and ready to make the 20-minute hike back to my camp. 

Not surprisingly, some festival goers were just making their way to the main grounds for a night of hardcore partying. 

I'd hoped to get a good night’s rest behind me for day two, but who was I kidding — I was up by 7 a.m. to make the dreaded Port-o-Potty visit.

On my way, I come across some people who's day one hadn't yet ended, including one unfortunate couple who'd been completely and utterly lost for the last 30 minutes, unable to find their car and campsite in the nippy 50-degree weather.

My morning consisted of lounging around, making coffee and exchanging cooking tools with my pleasant neighbors (a cup of coffee for a can opener, the world is much easier when you work together). Later in the afternoon, I headed into the main grounds to catch a set by Givers. 

click to enlarge Givers performing mid afternoon on Saturday. - via Austin Pontious
via Austin Pontious
Givers performing mid afternoon on Saturday.
Laying out my tapestry, I joined the crowd to watch the indie pop group from Lafayette, La. They played various hits like "Record High, Record Low" and "Meantime," which the crowd was definitely digging. 

Hunger struck around mid-afternoon, my stay in the Grove was cut short as I headed back for a quick lunch. I also squeezed in a short nap to prep for what I expected to be a night full of dancing. 

When 6:30 p.m. hit, I was at the "Now" stage, primed and ready for the downtempo electro of UK producer Bonobo. I took a spot closer to the back, as my energy wasn’t quite at “get in the middle of a rowdy crowd” part just yet. But even from the back, it was crowded and it remained strong through the hour-long set that touched on "Kiara," "Sapphire" and ”Cirrus.”

Bonobo was followed by Miguel at 8 p.m., who came on strong. The R&B artist played variations of his tunes, including his most popular songs “Sure Thing.” He followed that with “Do you like Drugs?” to which the wild crowd raised their hands in approval. 

An hour later, the show I'd been hearing a buzz about all day was about to start — Kendrick Lamar. A crowd almost as hyped-up as the night before formed. Once again, I chose spot in the back, which was soon overrun by fans.

Lamar began his set with high-octane energy that carried through the crowd, every song more powerful than the last. Towards the end, he even brought a fan on stage. Logan, who got cheers from the hundreds of people in attendance, was singled out by Lamar for his passionate singing and rapping-along, and he pointed to Logan as a reason why he makes his music. He also spoke of not judging others, because we don’t know what they are going through, we don’t know their struggles, which may be many. The crowd seemed to welcome the message, and one girl a few steps behind me couldn't help but burst out, "Holy shit, I love Kendrick Lamar!"

All in all, Kudos Kendrick. I can dig rap with a positive message.

Lamar wrung out all of my remaining stamina, and I decided to head back and call it an early night. I'd be missing Skrillex, and a POW WOW (an artist collab happening at midnight), but the exhaustion was too much to bear. However, to my pleasant surprise, I heard everything from my campsite, lulled to dreaming by Skrillex’s sweet “Cinema.” 


Day three had arrived. 

On the schedule today: Youth Lagoon, Gramatik, Avett Brothers, Odesza and Mumford & Sons, to name a few. 

Youth Lagoon was up first around mid afternoon. The band's dreamy psychedelic pop set a nice relaxing tone for the sunny afternoon. Lounging around in a hammock, hiding from the draining heat, I enjoyed their set as background music for people watching. From hula-hoopers to couples snuggling on the grass, there was plenty to keep me entertained. 

However, the relaxing afternoon took a turn when Kill the Noise took the stage after Youth Lagoon. The DJ also known as Jake Stanczak, was scheduled to perform the night before but had to re-schedule after this flight was delayed. The change of time certainly didn't seem to affect how he approached the crowd. By song number two, a full-on rave was in place and the cheering only intensified when Stanczak got political and threw in a "Fuck Trump" mid-song. 

I headed out mid-set to meander around more 

click to enlarge Eryn Allen Kane performing her "favorite karaoke song" on the Aquachobee Beach stage.  - via Austin Pontious
via Austin Pontious
Eryn Allen Kane performing her "favorite karaoke song" on the Aquachobee Beach stage.
Okeechobee territory, which included a beach area called "Aquachobee". There I found Eryn Allen Kane. The curly haired Chicago-based musician was singing to some jazz-grooving tunes to a small but enthusiastic crowd, which made for a very intimate show.

After lingering for a song or two, I headed back to pack up my campsite, so I'd be on schedule to head back that night. After making my last meal out of a can, I headed in to the main grounds to catch the last few shows.

Gramatik was first on the list. The electro-glitch artist kicked off his set at nightfall to a crowd clad in their most outrageous outfits, with a few sporting LED hula hoops. Though Gramatik performed on the smaller stage, the artist drew in one of the larger crowds I'd seen gather around that particular stage. 

Next door, a mass of bodies began to form around "Now" stage. I took a peek at the schedule to refresh my memory—oh right, Odesza was coming on soon. 

I quickly made my way over to secure a decent spot among the thousands. I had seen the electronic duo perform before, each time better than the last, and I was excited to see them yet again. 

They performed some of their well-known cuts — "Say my Name," "All We Need," " Sun Models" and so many more. Each got the crowd more hyped up than the last. At every beat drop, glowsticks flew into the air along with thousands of pumping fists. The energy did not waiver for one second and the hour long set seemed to fly by. The show ended with one amped-up attendee screaming out "We are the first Okeecho-beings!" 

The crowd didn't waste time lingering after Odesza. Most were either heading to catch the closing set by Mumford & Sons, or trying to beat the rush of people leaving the festival grounds. I opted to head out, hopefully to avoid getting stuck in the traffic. 

I was happy to hear Mumford's set while walking back. The roar of the crowd was overwhelmingly powerful for how far away from the actual stage I was. 

And just like that, the first Okeechobee Music Festival ever was over, proving a successful fest that drew people from all over for a weekend of fun, music and nothing but great energy. 

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