Okeechobee Festival Helps Us Rediscover Our Passions
I finished packing my car with the light load I was taking down to Okeechobee. I'm no festival newbie and have learned over the years what is absolutely necessary. (Check out the Festival Survival Guide with my entire packing list here.) I kissed my fiancé and my 8-month-old daughter goodbye. This would be the first solo adventure I'd taken in over a year. It's a 7.5-hour drive from Atlanta to the festival grounds but I was determined to make the best of it.
After getting stuck in a traffic jam I was barely going to make it on time before the ticket office closed to pick up my pass before the 10 o'clock cutoff time. I made it to one gate but the man inside that ticket office told me I was at the wrong location and that I would have to wait until the morning to get into the festival. I would say this is one thing I felt like could be improved for next year since media folks arrive at all hours of the day.
However, there was a parking lot for "Day Parking" with port-o-potties and lights for me to park my car where I would be sleeping in the backseat. The signal on my phone was non-existent so it was hard to let my fiancé know I was safe and would contact him in the morning. After finally getting a text through, I made a turkey sandwich (my festival go to) and drank a warm gose before falling asleep peacefully.
I woke up and headed over to pick up my media wristband located at a drug rehabilitation center. Okay, so you're not allowed to smoke cigarettes on this property because it's a rehab building which is crazy to me because I'm pretty sure 85% of recovering addicts are smokers. Also, why are they sending a bunch of hippies to a rehab center to pick up their tickets before they go to a festival? I wonder if all of the residents locked themselves away for the weekend?
Pulling up to the festival there was an officer with a drug-sniffing dog coming towards me down the line of cars I was in. Right before the dog reached my car they jumped over to the line next to me. I watched a group of guys getting their entire car searched in an area off to the left. A lot of people in line looked very stressed, I suppose they didn't use the amnesty boxes.
After setting up camp, I noticed every single one of my neighbors looked like they were in college. They were all super friendly but this was clearly their spring break. It made me think about the old spring breaks in Florida and Mexico with MTV and Carson Daly. Now college students have festivals like Okeechobee instead. Way better than puking all over yourself outside of a Senor Frog's in Cancun, so I've heard...
The campgrounds were big and it didn't help that my campsite was pretty much at the end of the earth. I did some exploring so I could try to learn the lay of the land. Once I had a good grip on where everything was I ventured into the music to see Funky Dawgs Brass Band. I am a sucker for brass instruments and this these guys secured their place in my heart. At one point during their show I looked over at my friend and we pointed to our arms, we both had chills. The energy was perfect for a beautiful Friday afternoon as they encouraged the crowd to get low and had everyone dancing.
ATL's own Waka Flocka came on next and the entire stage was packed. Dude had everyone in the entire place jumping up and down while he switched back and forth from hip-hop to EDM basslines. His energy on stage was unreal. Plus that hair makes it so much more dramatic. The crowd lost it when Drowning Pool's "Let The Bodies Hit The Floor" started playing. All I know is, I stuck my middle finger up in the air a lot over the course of that hour.
After a trip back to camp I returned back to the same stage to see Wiz Khalifa. Maybe I just like the underground Wiz better than the new Wiz, or maybe it's because everyone's fucking flags and totems were in the way of the stage, but I just couldn't get into this show. I did love reminiscing about my college days when he played "No Sleep" and "Black and Yellow." Between you and me, I did sing along to "Young, Wild and Free" also.
I stayed put to finally see what all of the Flume hype was about. One word, meh. This guy is straight up goofy, y'all. I couldn't take his music seriously just because of his stage presence. This is a real problem for me within the EDM world and why I don't really get down with it much anymore. I would love to be surprised by a super dope set from someone but I generally end up pretty disappointed.
I woke up with probably the worst sunburn I have ever had in my life. I put lotion on my face the day before that apparently had oil in it and instead of hydrating my skin, it wrecked it. I spent most of the day hiding from the sun in the media tent and interviewing Brasstracks. (Coming soon!) I did manage to snag a grilled cheese filled with macaroni and cheese from one of the food trucks. Although it was $12, it was the tastiest grilled cheese I've ever eaten. Mad props.
I wouldn't be able to write this review without giving a shout out to the amazing art at the festival. There was a temple looking stage made entirely out of recycled materials that would chime together in the wind. They even had a station set up where you could make your own "trash art." (PS. If you found a piece of art that I made and put out I hope you're enjoying it.) There was an archway you could ring chimes at one of the entrances to Aquachobee. A lot of people were digging that.
My intentions were to participate in the yoga classes happening but the sunburn kind of killed that, however, it looked like a lot of fun and I hope everyone was feeling zen as fuck afterward. I wanted to see the sunset fire ceremony at Earth Arts Academy on Friday but I think the wind rained on our fire parade because it never happened. Also, a big shout out to the Halcyon Stage. It was a simple stage filled with vinyl from the Brooklyn-based record shop, that had house, tech house, and techno DJs playing all weekend. My kind of party.
And although I didn't spend much time there, our hometown boys from Incendia were killing it every night. While I was laying down on Friday, I heard a saxophone playing and thought to myself, "Man, that sounds like GRiZ." Turns out it was him, making a guest appearance during Snails' performance. I don't even want to talk about missing that. As a matter of fact, I missed every set GRiZ played all weekend because I wrote the time down wrong for his main performance and then he even had another special late night set with Brasstracks on Saturday. There are always post-festival regrets and missing those shows are definitely mine.
After the sunset, I managed to meet up with our photographer and we headed over to Solange. I was on the fence about seeing her but man, I'm glad I did. I've always been intrigued by Solange since she slapped Jay-Z in that elevator. Her level of petty is right there with mine.
She seduced me and the rest of the crowd wearing all white with two backup dancers and a large red backdrop. That shit was sexy. I even saw Questlove from The Roots come up to the stage and snap a photo of her. My photographer didn't even know her and Beyoncé were sisters, so we both got schooled on Solange that night.
We wandered over the the Superjam, ahem...I mean PoWoW, where the guys from Snarky Puppy (Read our review of their show in Atlanta here), Solange, GRiZ, Michael McDonald, and a ton of other artists who played at the festival and even some who did not all jammed out together. This was not the only element of the festival that reminded me of Bonnaroo. Considering it's the same organizers, it's no surprise and I did feel like I was at a mini, younger, and newer Roo.
Since I was not able to stay for Sunday's festivities, I was closing out the weekend with Usher and The Roots. Holy face melt, Batman. This show was two hours of straight magic. I was a little nervous that the set would be full of club hits to appease the "festival crowd." I was wrong, so very wrong. "U Don't Have To Call," "You Make Me Wanna," "Confessions Part I & II," "Burn," "You Got it Bad," and my all-time favorite Usher song, "Burn," all rang through my ears.
This was one of those shows where it was okay to cry and believe me, I did. After two days of missing my family and somewhat regretting going to the festival because of the challenges I had faced throughout the weekend, like getting a speeding ticket and forgetting my rainfly and tent stakes, at that moment, it was all worth it. Every single bit of it was worth it because I was, for the first time, watching Usher perform with one of the most talented bands in the world.
To top it off, Black Thought, the MC for the evening kept the energy at like 200% for the full two hours. At certain points of the show, Usher would go off stage and at one point The Roots played "You Got Me" off of their Things Fall Apart album. One of the biggest treats was when Jeremy Ellis absolutely destroyed the MASCHINE when he played the original Nintendo Mario Bros. theme song and Prince's "Let's Go Crazy."
Usher also did a beautiful cover of James Brown's "Baby Baby Baby" and closed out the encore with "Climax." I had made my way almost to the front at this point and the guy next to me was singing his heart out with tears pouring down his face screaming, "I love you, I fucking love you!" He said everything that was in my heart. As I was walking out of the crowd a girl said, "So that just made my whole life." Yup, she was right too. So many feels.
The emotional turmoil I struggled with throughout the weekend all came down to one thing, music. I did all of that because I absolutely fucking love music. I left my daughter, my family, and I drove 7.5 hours to see a singer from my hometown because I love music. When you have it in your heart, it makes you do things you never thought were possible. Whatever is in your heart, and whatever speaks to you, go to it because life is about following your passions. So thank you Okeechobee for giving me the opportunity to deepen the relationship with myself and reminding me of why I keep pushing every day to fulfill my passions. Till next year my friend <3
Photos by Annabel Shettel for Bullet Music