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For anyone that’s been to Okeechobee Music and Arts Festival in the past, the festival stayed true to it’s overall air of organized chaos. Sunshine Grove in Okeechobee, Florida came to life this weekend with heavy bass, a plethora of LEDs and laser lights, and a general aura of peaceful anarchy. Faces were covered with bandanas, costumes were wide ranging and unrelated to the festival itself, and large flags shot up from crowds of wooks like swaying beanstalks in the electric sky.
Chobeewobee Village was back this year to serve as a hub for the bulk of the festival’s venders as well as its many static and interactive art installations. Off to the sides of Chobeewobee were Okee staples: The Jive Joint and the Tea Garden. The Jive Joint was weird as ever, with Really Tall Paul running the entire stage himself and performing his strange blend of improvised music and purposefully awkward skits and diatribes. The Tea Garden got a facelift this year and was rebranded “LOST in the Tea Garden,” featuring all sorts of off-kilter performers, blackjack where you could bet anything, and furniture hung upside-down and sideways from the trees. Also in the tea garden this year was a hanging beam that a couple used to perform Shibari, a type of suspended Japanese bondage that had onlookers captivated and confused.
Since this was a chillier Okeechobee than many expected (with temperatures at night dipping into the mid 50’s), many Chovians found themselves hanging out at the ever burning Incendia stage or the flame-spewing-chicken-teeter-totter known as “Uncle Charlie’s Red Hot Cock,” located in Chobeewobee. Incendia and the bamboo Beach Stage made the ends of a right angle shaped beach known as Aquachobee, complete with a swimming pond serving as the hypotenuse and area for the triangle. The Beach Stage played home to DJs throwing bass into the sand for wooks who managed to be up in some of the earlier hours of the day, while Incendia hosted late night surprise sets from acts like Illenium, Tycho, and Boogie T.
As always, The Grove hosted the biggest stages: The Be Stage, The Here Stage, and The Now Stage. The Here Stage hosted most of the rock and jam bands, the Now stage hosted a lot of the weekend’s rap and big electronic acts, and The Be Stage housed the artists that should have been too popular to fit their crowd at either of the other main stages. While we can’t name all the incredible artists that delivered mind blowing sets throughout the weekend, Tipper, STS9, and Big Gigantic all destroyed the Now Stage with unforgettable sets and incredible visual production (Tipper’s music combined with his reality shattering visuals was like a psychedelic lobotomy, with Tipper sticking his finger in the brains of the audience and wiggling it around for a bit without saying a single word.)
The PowWow on the Be Stage was incredibly upbeat and nostalgic. The Roots performed a few songs themselves before bringing out Trombone Shorty, Snoop Dogg, and Chaka Khan (rapper Joey Bada$$ never showed up for the PowWow, despite being heavily advertised on the bill.) Snoop Dogg performed his section of the concert Doggystyle; complete with strippers, cash confetti, and a large dog mascot smoking a blunt.
One aspect of the festival that many in attendance noted and other journalists have observed is that bands that have been around for years like Arcade Fire and the Flaming Lips on the Be Stage drew much less of a crowd than acts like Big Gigantic and Gramatik on the Here Stage, even though the Be Stage was supposed to be the festival’s “main stage.” It’s a mistake that big festivals like Bonnaroo and Okeechobee make every year, like last year when Bonnaroo put Flume, Snails, and a Super Jam with Chance the Rapper all at the same time and only for an hour, while U2 got two hours to themselves with no other stages running. While none of these performances were bad in any sense, know your audience festival curators. These are grime hippies and thunder wooks, a number of younger attendees I talked to had never even heard of Arcade Fire (sad as that may be.)
All in all though, Okeechobee was and will hopefully continue to be a magical festival full of wonderment and mirth. The level of detail put into every aspect of the festival rivals Disney World with its fantasy-like whimsy and interactivity (there are even performers that come out of hidden doors that do little skits and bits in Chobeewobee.) We can only pray that Live Nation doesn’t scoop up Okee too and strip it of all that makes it magical and unique. Long live Okeechobee.