Okeechobee 2016: The Start of Something Inspiring [review]
It’s been painstakingly difficult to accept the realization that Okeechobee Music and Arts Festival has come and gone already. We waited in agony for months that seemingly crawled by, and then the portal opened. Thursday, March 3rd, tens of thousands of travelers arrived at the gates of OMF bursting with uncontainable excitement for the long-awaited event. Over the course of the weekend, a whopping 35,000 attendees were accounted for on the festival grounds, which is an astounding success for a first-time festival.
If I had to describe the inaugural year of OMF in one word, I would say it was an overall inspiration. There’s no denying that the crowd was beautifully diverse, and seeing how one festival can bring together thousands of people of all ages from all over the US and beyond is a magnificent thing – and not to mention impressive. Old-timers were enjoying blast-from-the-past sets alongside younger generations, and witnessing such an integration of eras made me stop and ponder the concept that music can bring everybody together at one point or another.
As it goes with almost every camping festival, hundreds of cars formed in lines to enter the gates to Okeechobee on Thursday, and inched slowly but surely past security checkpoints. Hours passed but eventually everybody got settled into their appropriate campsites, and tent cities began flourishing across the massive landscape. Cleverly enough, the OMF team classified each camping area by various text abbreviations; for instance, we were camped in LMK, some were camped in LMAO, LOL, etc., making it a tad easier to coordinate with other campers and locate our way back “home.” After quickly popping the celebratory bottle of champagne (a signature festy tradition, duh), squads stampeded towards the music, brimming with curiosity to see what Okeechobee looked like beyond the campgrounds. Berlin-based producer Jan Blomqvist started things off sexy, with a whimsical and silky bass-filled set that seemed to turn day into night. Thursday evening rising superstar Big Wild packed out the Aquachobee Stage and debuted some new tracks, as well as his recent addictive remix of Rich Boy’s “Throw Some D’s”. Various producers took to the late-night stages in the Moonlight Oasis area and had attendees getting down till the wee hours of the morning each day.
Friday was the moment of truth for us all, the main stage area opened early in the day and people flooded the security gates, antsy to see the main portion of the portal. Three large stages hosted the headliners throughout the weekend, but Okeechobee had far more than big stages to offer. Various areas were scattered around the venue offering unique services or even simply an intimate place to meet new people. Patrons enjoyed sipping spicy chai and refreshing jasmine teas and conversing with friends old and new alike in cozy tucked away areas, which was one of the more unique experiences of the festival.
Twiddle put on an energetic set in the evening on Friday. The sun was finally tucked away and things had begun to cool down after a scorching afternoon. Shortly beforehand, rapper Lil’ Dicky serenaded fans with a patriotic performance of the National Anthem. It felt unusual, at least for me, to be seeing Bassnectar on Friday rather than a Saturday or Sunday evening. No matter the time or day though, I knew there had been those select few notorious Bassheads who had been camping out on the front rail practically all day in preparation for Lo’s set. And there were. RL Grime teased some heavy trap and perfectly set the mood for the one and only Bassnectar to take the “BE” stage. The crowd roared as Lorin weaved seamlessly out of original favorites such as “The Matrix”, “Thursty”, “Loco Ono” and many more. Lo also showcased a smidgen of his rock side by introducing the set with the infamous “Heads Up” X “Welcome to the Jungle” (Guns ‘n Roses) mash-up that pleased the Bassheads and those who like to rock. Lettuce was the perfect post-Bassnectar transition, soothing souls with the power of funk and closing out the “HERE” stage Friday evening.
When you see that a festival has music scheduled practically 24/7, the reality of that situation doesn’t set in until you look up from your shuffling feet and become aware that the sun has now risen, and still the booties are bumpin’. My heart goes out to all of the attendees who didn’t make it to either the Jungle stage or the Moksha Experience stage for at least one late-night/early-morning set, because those little moments made my weekend that much more unique. There’s nothing quite like staying up a tad too late with your festy fam and sipping on morning mimosas, all while being captivated by the sweet sounds of techno and house.
Saturday morning consisted of sun-bathing and mingling at Aquachobee Beach, where shaded cabanas and island-inspired drinks had patrons convinced they were at a tropical getaway rather than a music festival. Lotus kicked the afternoon off with some upbeat jam that had the crowd moving and shaking in rhythm. Lotus is one of those bands that never disappoints in my eyes, hearing them perform long-time favorites such as “Flower Sermon” and “Greet the Mind” never fails to put a smile on my face, and from the looks of the crowd, they were feelin’ it too. Manic Focus was the next destination, and the Chi-town boys got extra rowdy on Aquachobee Beach. Dropping tracks such as the viral Manic Science remix of Tracy Chapman’s “Give Me One Reason” and “Funky Style” ft. Lettuce, MF had us getting down and dirty in the sand, despite the sweltering Florida heat.
We had to drag ourselves away from Manic a few minutes prior to the end of their set in order to catch a DJ set from the one-and-only Bonobo. It was my first time witnessing the magic that was bestowed upon us by the legendary British producer, and Simon Green (aka Bonobo) seemed to entrance everybody in the crowd, and we did not hesitate to allow his mesmerizing melodies hypnotize us. Big G surprised us by inviting Roosevelt Collier onstage to join the jam. The trio perfected the stage presence: the addition of Roosevelt’s soulful vocals complimented Dom’s sax skills while Jeremy crushed the percussion. We were forced to divide our time wisely between Skrillex and the PoWoW! ft. Miguel and Win Butler, since their sets coincided slightly with one another. Dubstep icon and OWSLA founder Skrillex switched things up a bit, transitioning from Jack U intros into oldschool Skrillex drops and everything in between. Needless to say there was never a lack of bass at OMF.
Sunday had been long awaited for those who entered the portal to get their fill of rap and hip-hop. Post Malone was saucin’ extra hard on the “NOW” stage, followed by Future, who brought a fresh energy to the stage. As I observed my surroundings, I was inspired to see that virtually every fan was rapping in passionate unison with the superstar. A rather strange sensation fell upon the crowd as Shpongle took the stage, but being strange has become a staple characteristic in Simon Posford’s sound. The UK-born producer had the crowd salsa dancing to psy-trance and original tracks such as “Divine Moments of Truth”.
Gramatik stole the show for the best set of the weekend, and honestly one of the best sets I’ve ever seen hands down. He showed mad love to his funk partner-in-crime GRiZ, while dropping multiple Gramatik favorites as well. I got my second wave (or third or fourth) when I heard the bouncy, bass-filled track “Dangerous” by Big Data (Oliver Remix), which seemed to rejuvenate the whole crowd. As always, Odesza was beaming with light from the stage with their live instrumentation, and finished the set strongly with the infamous trap remix of “Make Me Feel Better” (Coachella edit). Last but not least, the moment that many traveled far and wide for had arrived. Mumford & Sons’ set attracted pretty much the entire festival crowd, and they certainly did not disappoint. The band was not alone on stage for long, as they were joined by not only Tom Morello but also The Avett Brothers, composing yet another one-of-a-kind performance to conclude the main music at OMF 2016. Exhausted but still chugging along, we squeezed every ounce of music out of the weekend, ending our journeys with some of the best in undergroynd techno and house tunes, served up by Damian Lazarus and John Acquaviva at the Jungle 51 stage.
After all is said and done, there really isn’t anything else to say but “is it time for round 2 yet?”, and believe me, we’ve already marked our calendars for next year. Check out our entire Okeechobee gallery on Facebook, and stay up-to-date with OMF 2017 news via Okeechobee’s Twitter and Facebook.