Okeechobee Music Festival 2017 : The Good, The Bad, The Amazing 

After months of anticipation and excitement, the Okeechobee Music and Arts Festival (2017) has finally come and gone, but the vibes will live on. “The Portal” opened itself up to all “Earthlings” who were looking for an awe-inspiring, and beautiful experience. A weekend filled with an immeasurable amount of musical talent; unity amongst 30,000 of your closest strangers; and nothing, but showing and spreading love to eveyone and everything around you. Year two was a such a cohesive experience, and it definitley lived up to the hype and wonder of year of one. Not to say it wasn’t without some hiccups here and there. All in all though, year two was what every “Okee-OG” had come to know and love, and it was a grand awakening for any festy or Okee newcomer. 

The Good 
Incendia Stage – One of the best new things about OMF17 was the introduction of the Incendia stage for late night fun and shenanigans. This stage was a pyrotechnic stage that was absloute mayhem during late night DJ sets. It was basically a jungle-gym, covered in natural gas flame cannons (to shoot fire when the beat dropped) and speakers, with a preformance stage in the middle. Making it perfect for a quick DJ set up, and an easy transition. 

Year one, after the “The Grove” (main stage area) closed down for the night, you pretty much had two options to keep the party going: go to the Tea Lounge stage and vibe it out; or go to Jungle 51 stage, and get super lost in the late-night trance-house style music. This year however, Incendia allowed for there to be an amazing array of late night DJ sets, from all styles of EDM artists. They had a set lineup every night with some normal, “bottom undercard,” late night DJs one would expect. Additonally, around 2 am every night the lineup only read ‘Special Guests’, and thats when the fun would really amp up. Over the weekend, everyone from Ganja White Night to GRiZ popped up at this stage to throw down some dirty/heavy sets. 

However, the best night of Incendia sets was definitely Friday night for me. 12th Planet came on first around 2:30 AM to start things off with some rawness, then he brought on Snails about 30-40 minutes in to his set to help get it even more grimy. Finally, about 30 minutes into 12 Planet B2B Snails, the crowd heard Snails ask out of no where, “GRiZ, are you here?”, and everyone went absolutely insane. Even though the sound was a little depressed, I dont think anyone present will ever forget the 30 minutes of GRiZ B2B 12th Planet B2B Snails. The suprises just kept rolling in that night, and even though our legs were essentially useless, nothing was going to keep us from rocking untill it was over. Everyday some late night wanderers would find themselves waking up at the Incendia Stage, because they just went too hard the night before, and slept where they dropped. Sometimes at the end of the night there’s just enough reserve energy for one last great rage, but not enough to make it back to camp. 

Additional Entrance – Another addition to OMF17 that made life so much easier for patrons, and surely staff as well, was the addition of another entrance for GA patrons into ‘The Grove.’ It may not seem like much, but for anyone that was there year one, the wait time difference at security check and entrances was like night and day. Last year there were only the two entrances on the front side of ‘The Grove’ for GA, and those would take at least 30 minutes to get through without question. Okee HQ must have realized the congestion problem, because with the addition of just the one new side entrance, it enabled attendees come and go as they pleased. With no one really ever having more than a five minutes wait at any entrance. 

Late Night Sound/Decible Ordinance – The final “Good” maybe a little controversial for some of the Okee patrons, but neverthless, the late night sound ordinance was an amazing idea. Yes, it’s a music festival, and the restricted sound at late night sets really bummed some people out, but in actuality the late night sets were plenty loud; you just couldn’t be 200 yards away and expect to be rocking. Apparently in the off season of 2016, Okeechobee County passed a noise oridance stating that after a certain time (time cut off dependant on week nights or weekends) noise levels couldn’t go over certain decible level; as to not to disturb near by residence. A lot of people had nothing but negative things to say about it, but it was really quite blissful. It enabled one to choose if they wanted to keep raging, or actually go rest up for the next days events. Year one whenever you laid down to go to sleep, if it was before 7 am, you were trying to ignore the booming sound of house/techno bass that would course through the entire festival ground, shaking tents and ear drums. Year one did not afford anyone a comfortable nights sleep unless they were beyond the point of “F’ed up.” This year though, when you were at the late night sets, the vibe and energy was just as amazing as ever, and it was perfectly loud up close. Then, when you went back to your tent, no matter the time, it was relatively peaceful and quite.  The ordinance allowed us to all get well needed rest this year, instead of fighting sleep deprivation as usual.

The Bad 
JusCollege – What started as a pretty a solid idea, and good way to get college kids to attend OMF17; quickly divulged into what seemed like more of a headache than anything. Apparently, Okee HQ decided to team up with a spring break destination promoter this year (JusCollege) in an effort to help sell more tickets in faster manner, and garner more of the college age, springbreaker, demographic. If that was goal, then one would have to call the partnership a sucess, because over half the people I encountered got their pass through the promoter. The festival also sold out a few days quicker than it did in year one. However, in practice it sucked for patrons. 

First off, if you couldn’t make the will call office they had open randomly at one Florida campus each day during the week leading up to OMF (most people couldn’t), you had to go to the chaos of the GA will call booth. Which was about a mile or two outside the festival. It seemed like hundreds, if not thousands, of cars and people were at the will call area at any given moment on the morning of day 1. Every person there was just trying to get a wristband that was, apparently, to hard to mail. Then upon getting said wristband, everyone was trying to activate it all using the same link and cell tower. This was jamming signal and over using the link, futher clogging up the process, and making it even longer of a nuisance. Finally, after all was settled with the wrsitband you were on the way into the grounds, but JusCollege users were directed towards a specfic gate that was said to be an expidited entrance. Needless to say it was not. It was longer than any other entrance, because every single car was subject to a police K-9 unit search. 

The Bells – All in all, it’s hard to debate the fact that OMF17 had a lot more interactive activities for patrons to participate with. Probably for attendees to feel more personally involved and apart of the festival experience. There was everything from a virtual reality art instilation curated by Andriod Jones; to a stage called ‘The Jive Joint,’ which centered around audience participation, and even had open mic sessions. However, not all of the interactive activities were so universally well-recieceved. 

For some unfathomable reason, Okee 17 production decided to install these two low profile towers, at the entrance to Aquachobee. Both housing  a single enormous bell, which patrons could make their way up too and ring as much as they pleased. At first everyone dug it, because the bell brought total joy to the individual ringing it, and the majority of people passing couldn’t help but crack a simile in acknowledgement. Then, 2 hours and 500 rungs later, the whole thing grew very tiresome, and seemed to bring more irritation than happiness. Esspecially to the campers in the pods within 150 yards of the thing. It was so close to some campsites you could literally hit the bell with a rock from certain peoples tent. I honestly have no clue how those individuals made it four days with that nonsense. Now I’m not saying completely do away with them, because they did bring some joy, that is undeniable. What I am saying, is for the production team to be mindful of campers trying to keep their sanity; there should have been a cerfew on bell access. Essentially, after a certain time at night, either block the towers off, or take the bells down. It’s that simple. 

Stage Placement/Sound Depression – Over the weekend, one of the main problems you heard others talking about was the fact that sets were “too quite,” or the sound wasn’t “turned up enough.” A lot of people seemed to think it had to do with a new noise ordinace for the county, but that was put in place  to only effect late night shows, so it didn’t really explain the sound fluxuation throughout the day. For instance, at 2:30 pm on Friday, in the middle of 12th Planets set at the NOW Stage, if you were facing the stage and on left side of the sound board tent, you could have a essentially an “inside conversation” because the sound was so depressed. If you were in the middle or the right, no matter how far back,  it was raging. It all had to do with the direction the sound was being pushed. When you looked closely, the speakers off the NOW Stage only faced directly forward, and that stage is some what caty-cornerd more to the right side. Which doesn’t make sense, because the majority of the open feild for the stage is to the left side. The left side was just too off center for the speaker set up to be effective. The depression was so bad, you could literally be 200 yards away in the back middle, and it would be five times louder than if you were thirty yards away from the stage on the left side. 

The same kind of problem also occurred at the Incendia stage. There, the stage was again kind of caty-cornerd to the right, but it was also facing the lake, only leaving about 50 yards of room inbetween center stage and the water. Yet again, the majority of people who went to shows here were forced on the left side, because that’s where most of the room was. The sound was also depressed on that side because stage speakers, like at the NOW, only faced directly forward. It does make sense though to only have speakers facing forward. Just because the stage area is so close together, it helped to cut down on cross-over sound from different stages. It was upsetting when you couldn’t really hear an artist you wanted to see, unless you packed yourself into the middle, or went to the back where you couldn’t see. In my veiw, the easiest way to fix the sound depression problem is to just just pivot the stages themselves about 20 degrees back to the left. This would shift the the middle area over to the left more, in turn opening up the largest area for raging to the clearest sound. 

The Amazing 

The Vibe – From the time you acctually got through the gates into the main camping area, untill the time you got off the festival grounds, the vibe was indescribably magnificent and highly infectious. There was nothing but smiles and joy, as far as the eye could see during those four days. You never saw a single fight, or heated exchange the entire weekend. If someone was too messed up and being uonoxious, most people would shrug it off, or move to somewhere else and avoid the confrontation. Attendees would regularly get caught by security, trying to get contraband inside the main area, but they would always laugh it off. For the most part security was super relaxed. They would either respectfully ask you to hide it better, or alude to the fact that as long as it wasn’t a weapon they weren’t concerned. If someone had taken too much of something, or was having a bad “experience,” random strangers would immediatley take time out of their festival to go get meical help, or make sure the other was ok. Every individual on the property seemed to collectively work together over the four days to only show love, and dpread love.  

The People – Through out the weekend, the amazing people attending Okeechobee, were adding just as much to the experience as the music and everything else. After all, without 30,000 strangers coming together, there would be no festival. There were countless acts, and moments, of pure kindness between people the entire weekend. Which only helped to show and spread the love more. 

On Friday night, possibly one of the realest and most honest moments in my life thus far occurred. I was walking back to camp after the surprise late night GRiZ set at Incendia, and I came across this girl who had the most perplexed look on her face, staring up at one of the huge fedtival maps. I stopped to see if she was lost, and if I could do anything to help. It turned out I could, because twenty-minutes later, she was happily running into the arms of her friends at their camp. 

For some reason helping her at that moment substantially elevated my happiness. The fact that I could bring that much joy to those random people, with such a minimal act, really got to me. The most amazing part of this though, was as I was turning to head out, the girl I helped stopped me and put this card in my hand: 

It absolutley blew me away, and I feel it honestly touched me as person to experience this. The exact sensation I was feeling, at that percise moment in time, was now looking back up at me from the piece of paper in my hand. It was as if a deeper truth had decided to reveal itself in that moment, but for only myself to bare witness too. It’s almost unexplainable, but I know without a doubt that moment changed my life for the better. It showed me in a very specific way, that if the end goal in life is happiness, the best means in which in to achieve said end is by helping others; in the long run, helping other helps you. Life is all about the love, and the only way to keep it that way is to show and spread just as much love, as you expect or hope to receive. 

The Music – OMF always likes to mix it up with genres they present, and round two saw some amazing sets, that’s for sure. One of the highlights of the weekend for was that sunset GRiZ set on Saturday afternoon. The infectious energy at his show is always incredible, but that set was truley something special. That could be said about so many sets from over the weekend though. From the funky country sound of Sturgill Simpson; to the R&B/Soul extravaganza, put on by Usher and The Roots; to Wiz Khalifa dropping a brand new, but old school feeling, remix of The Chainsmokers’ song, Closer; all the way back to the high energy, over top intensity, of the renowned Bassnectar. It is definitley safe to say there was something for everyone at this year Okeechobee Music and Arts Festival. 

One of the most “Rock n’ Roll” things of all time happened Saturday afternoon during The Revivalists’ preformance. I knew these guys were amazing preformers from their Hulaween set, but the unrelenting passion they have for their fans, and their craft is second to none. David Shaw, the front man and lead singer for the band, was really feeling the vibes and energy of the crowd, as always. So, about fifteen minutes in he jumps down off stage, and literally runs down the baracade paths in the middle of the crowd. All the while, giving fans high fives, and still hammering down on the vocals. As he is running back to the stage, he loses his footing and falls head first into one of the steel baracades. When he comes up from the ground to hop back on stage, his head starts pouring blood where he cut it open, but he doesn’t miss a single note. He sings untill the chorus, and then walks off stage to get patched up. He let the crowd carry out the song, and the band jam for about 30 seconds extra. Then, he emerged as quickly as he ducked off, quick clot in place, like nothing ever happened. They finished the set without any hiccups after that, and it was absolutely incredible. He literally gave his blood, sweat, and tears for his fans, and his music that day; by far one of the most inspiring preformances I ever seen. 

All in all, OMF17 was a weekend no one in attendence will ever forget; unless they were so messsed up they can’t remember. From early mornings at yogachobee, to late-night ‘wookie’ parties back at camp, OMF17 was a magnificent time from begining to end. There are definlety some things Okee HQ could to do to make it a little better, and to help things run a little smoother; but it is only the second year of the festival, so we can cut them some slack. I honestly hope Okee never strives to be the perfect festival, because the last thing the circuit needs is another cookie cutter festival. Just tune it up here and there, but for the most part, us Earthlings like it just the way it is. “The Portal” is safe place, a weird place, a hallowed place, but most of all “The Portal” is place full of love and great people. So if it ain’t broke, dont fix it. It’s definitely sad that year two is already over. But before we know it, talks of 2018 will be in the air, and 2017 will be but a memory. Just never forget the feelings of love and humanity that OMF17 instilled within everyone. Festivals are really nothing more than fantasy world anyway, and they will always come and go. Nevertheless, the feelings and emotions presented at festivals are some of the realest things in the world, and we should genuinely try to find time for them in our day-to-day lives.

Written by, Truxtun Umsted. 

Photography by, Truxtun Umsted. 

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