Flying through the night, I was ready to hit the ground running to Okeechobee!
I flew through the night and arrived just after 6am in Orlando. I like the red-eye because it generally means I don’t have to take extra time off and can mostly sleep through the night on the plane. I quickly gathered my things and grabbed my bag from baggage claim just in time for Bradley to pick me up. We got right on the highway and went straight to the town of Okeechobee. Our first stop was at Walmart to do our grocery shopping for the next few days and to kill time before gates would open. We were at will-call getting our passes by 11:30am and would be in line for camping shortly after that.
We thought once we got searched we would go straight in, but it’s not what happened…
The sign read, Portal 4, as we approached, we realized we couldn’t even see the beginning of the line from where we were. However, just before the turn, the officer directing traffic told us to go to Portal 1, that it would be faster. We continued down the road and turned in. The Portal 1 line was moving quickly, in under 20 minutes it was our turn to be searched. “Get out of the car,” said the attendant and we quickly obliged. She began looking through the trunk and then came around to the side. The cooler was nested in the back but she wanted to see inside. We thought once we got searched things would start moving faster, we were wrong. Past the security checkpoint, we were suddenly waiting in line again. No one seemed to be moving. We watched as golf carts passed us by and after 20 minutes we started asking anyone if they knew what happened. One golf cart driver gave us the answer that someone had gotten in a car accident and that we were better off possible driving around the line. We followed a long line of cars off-road to get around the mess that was quickly getting longer. We finally arrived at someone who was directing traffic toward camping spots. The whole process had taken us about 2 hours. This was not the typical experience, though, as we would later learn of friends spending 4-6 hours in line to get searched and placed into a spot.
A great way to meet neighbors: not being able to set up your own tent…
We began unloading our car quickly. It was only mid-afternoon and the sooner we would get it setup the sooner we could explore. I’ve set the tent up multiple times but for some reason could not figure out which way the poles were supposed to go. Our first neighbor interaction was Eddie coming over to see if he could help. We all stared at it for a minute before performing trial and error until we got it setup correctly. Eddie and Mike were from Michigan just like Bradley and had driven down for this event. We all set out to explore the venue since it would be a while before our other friends would arrive. “How long have you guys known each other?” It was a question Bradley and I would get a lot and each time the answer received some shock, “we met today, he picked me up from the airport.” When you share a love of music, how long you’ve known each other is irrelevant. The connection has been there the whole time.
There was so much to do and so much to interact with!
Past the rows and rows of tents, we came upon a split in the path. To our left was the gateway to Chobeewobee Village. On either side of the entrance were two elevated platforms. At the top of each platform hung a bell. When we first saw them there was a string attached allowing you to ring the bell, however, by the end of the weekend, there were just small pieces of wood allowing you to hit the bell. Periodically throughout the day, the melodic sounds could be heard from across the camp grounds. Chobeewobee Village was a gathering place for most. The pavilion in the center hosted live music. Decorated with cans that would jangle in the wind. On one side of the village was the virtual reality experience, the Healing Sanctuary and Earth Arts Academy. On the other side were the Jive Joint, Tea House, booths from the Okeechobee community, and the Halycon stage. The space was indescribably big and featured interactive art pieces throughout.
Relax, enjoy the beach, and overcast sunshine
Just north of the village space was Aquachobee, the Incendia stage, and the Ferris wheel. Aquachobee and the Incendia stage were on either side of a large pond. During the day the pond was a gathering place for wading and swimming. The black Florida water was a turn off for some but mostly did not deter people from cooling off in the water. Both stage areas were covered in sand which made them ideal to sit or lay down during the sets there. The Incendia stage was constantly on fire and had two jungle gyms on either side. Rolling flames engulfed the roof of the structures while fire performers could be seen on the sides, just beyond a barrier to make sure no audience member was burned. The whole vibe was relaxed and made you want to spend most of your carefree time during the day there.
The main venue area is where most of the artists would be performing.
The Grove was the main venue. As you approached the entrances there were security guards checking bags and scanning wristbands. The pathway led down under a structure and into the grove clearing. By the tree line were all the vendors. A wide variety of food and drink options were available for purchase. The Gouda Boys were present and have been a favorite of mine since I first tasted their food at another music festival. The lines across the board never seemed to change they were constantly the same length. The drink lines moved quickly and served everything from mixed drinks to IPAs and other beers. The rest of the area was comprised of three stages whose names were Be, Here, Now. The naming of the stages made finding your way fairly easy because the phrase itself was in order.
Day 1 was packed with great artists and set an incredible tone for the rest of the weekend.
The first day we went inside the venue the line for security and scanning was moving very slowly. The day had barely started and we were trying to get in to see 12th Planet. We waited and 20 minutes which quickly became 40 and the line behind us was stretching just as fast. The crowd was increasingly becoming restless when suddenly everyone started moving forward. We passed security guards telling us to be safe and have fun as we walked in. The other days they would adjust their searches so that the delay wouldn’t be as long. After the first day we never spent more than 5 minutes trying to get in or out of the main venue. After the first set, we stayed for Russ and Louis the Child, the group separated to go back to the camp site but I stayed to see Snakehips for the first time. I was not disappointed. After regrouping at Space Jesus we went to see the end of Wiz Khalifa and straight into Flume! His set and stage design was the same as when I had seen it last year but I was could listen to his music endlessly. It was about this time that I realized I had lost my phone. It must have fallen out of my pocket. We finished the night in the main venue with Vulpeck. Afterward, we would head back to the campsite for a few drinks before going to the secret set of 12th Planet b2b Snails at the Incendia stage. We ended Day 1 in Jungle 51, light peeking just over the horizon filling the sky with a light blue hue as we went to bed.
You can’t even make up how crazy this coincidence was – I couldn’t speak for a few minutes…
It was just after noon that we (Bradley and our two neighbors Mike and Eddie) wandered over to the Aquachobee stage. We hadn’t been there very long when we ran into Claire, a girl I had met during New Year’s (a couple months ago). I walked over and knelt beside her greeting her as I did so. Eddie hadn’t been far behind me and sat down next to me. Not a second had gone by, before he had said, “Claire?” A part of me was surprised he knew her name, I realized I hadn’t said it yet. Her sunglasses slowly lowered off of her face as she looked from Mike to Eddie and back again. I was confused. “Michael?!” There was a surprise in her voice. She looked at me and back at them. “Wait, what’s happening?” My voice trailed off as I was trying to read the situation. Apparently, our neighbors had gone to high school with Claire and hadn’t seen each other in a very long time. The moment immediately blew my mind. I was completely speechless. What were the odds? All of us over a thousand of miles from home and yet connected in the most strange and reuniting way. The magic that happens at festivals astounds me every time.
My legs were starting to hurt from all the walking, the distance at this festival is massive…
The day seemed to fly by. We went from Kasbo to Louis Futon to Brasstracks and most of Whethan before heading back to the campsite and get ready to enter the main venue. As we got ready one of Eddie’s friends arrived, Samantha. We all agreed that we wanted to see Griz but she had to go back to her campsite first. She asked if we wanted to come along and we didn’t really have anything to do at the moment so we agreed. “You guys really don’t have to, it’s a really long way away.” Her words seemed like a joke, we all looked at each other and probably thought, “how far could it be?” Somewhere around the 20-minute minute mark, I began asking where we were. By the time we hit 30 minutes, I was positive she had taken us out of the venue altogether. It wasn’t until this journey that I realized how large the campground actually was. A few blocks away from our campsite there was a creek that spanned almost the entire campground, with no bridge across it anyone on the other side of the creek was forced to walk all the way around it. We were fortunate enough to be able to go to our campsite between sets, while others would frequently mention that walking back and forth would cost them a whole set. Samantha reminded us that she had warned us and it wasn’t so much complaining as it was shock that a venue could be this big.
By wandering I was able to reconnect with people I hadn’t seen in a while – not all who wander are lost!
The energy at Griz and Snails was amazing. The crowd was so friendly. At some point the group I was with got separated which was horrible timing because Bassnectar was about to start. As I wandered through the crowd a petite girl suddenly rushed past me. She was talking to someone on a radio pinned to her shirt. I wasn’t sure until she started talking that I knew her. I had met Ashley at Dancefestopia two years ago and here we were in Florida. She grabbed me and brought me to her group, which were all people I had met two years ago! We caught up briefly and the area started to get really crowded. I knew Bassnectar would draw a crowd but it was starting to get too tight for my liking. I said goodbye to Ashley to get a place a little farther away. As I wandered back I ran into Kendall and Jamison two friends I had met at Dancefestopia this past year! I stayed for the whole set and it was incredible. The crowd transformed into a wild machine. They moved, raged, and flowed with the music. His sets are always beautiful in the most indescribable way and I was thankful I had run into more people I knew.
In the still moments, you reflect and think of your loved ones, knowing that they’re thinking of you too.
I needed food and a few drinks so I set off on my own adventure to find them. Porter Robinson’s set was next and I knew I didn’t want to miss it but without a phone there was no way to contact anyone I knew, I would just have to leave it to chance. Out of the crowd, I suddenly found myself standing next to Samantha, Eddie, and Mike. We navigated the crowd trying to get as close as we could and then just planted ourselves there until Porter started. His set was incredibly beautiful, as I would have expected. Many of the visuals were the same as I had seen last year but there were parts that contained mixes and drops I had not heard before. This was magic, a live set where anything was possible. I remember looking up and thinking of all my friends that were at Okeechobee hoping that they could feel as much love from the music as I could. Afterwards, I regrouped at the campsite and went back to Jungle 51 for the late night sets. I stayed until sunrise once more and couldn’t believe it was going to be the last day already.
The sun rose on the third day much too quickly…
By now all the walking was taking its toll. This was the latest start to the day we had done so far. Not many of my neighbors were down to go in so early but I wanted to see the end of Bipolar Sunshine and The Knocks. I was very happy with my decision and stayed for SOJA and Mike Posner. The venue seemed to be much more packed that day and I noticed an extraordinary amount of people sitting on blankets during the sets. I knew I wasn’t the only one feeling the toll from how spread out the grounds were. At some point, I ran into Claire again. We both looked exhausted. We decided to make a game plan and then follow through so we went to Ganja White Night for a bit, saw the end of the Lumineers and finished at Pretty Lights. Afterward we were too exhausted to continue so we hugged and I thanked her for finding me amidst the crowds and we actually went to bed.
Exhaustion and sleep have never been able to keep me down for long.
A nap was just what I needed. I awoke a few hours later (although without a phone I’m not sure how long it had been). However, the sun wasn’t up yet and I was feeling refreshed. I made my way back to the Incendia stage where I would run into Trey and his final case of beer. We sat and listened to the last sets as the sun rose behind us. Hoopers, and other flow artists had been abundant the whole weekend and even down to the last sets they were still heavily participating. This was it, the last few moments of Okeechobee Festival 2017. The last moments before we would have to pack our things and be on our way. We all said goodbye and I headed back to the campsite to tear down. The pitch black of the sky was quickly fading, being replaced by a bright blue hue. As I got back to the campsite Bradley was just waking up. I told him that we should start gathering our things. A couple of our neighbors had actually left while it was still dark. The tear down went much faster than setting up and before we knew it the car was packed and we were ready to go.
It’s never good-bye, it’s just ‘see you later’ and my overall experience was complete.
Samantha showed up once more to say good-bye to us, Mike and Eddie. We all hugged and got in our cars to leave. Little did we know that leaving the grounds was about to take a crazy 2 hours. Even in retrospect and looking at the maps I cannot figure out why it took so long. All roads out of the festival led to a highway and yet there we were stuck in traffic. The only bright side was that it gave me time to reflect on the festival. This was Okeechobee’s second year and they almost doubled the attendance and grounds size. Their lineup was diverse and the people were friendly. The sound systems at Aquachobee and Incendia were extremely lacking and the lines for food, showers, and getting in and out definitely need some improvement. All that being said, there’s definitely something magical that happens on those grounds and I would most definitely love to see what they do in their third year – hopefully I’ll run into you there too!
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Featured Photo Credit: Bradley Taylor