Okeechobee Music and Arts Festival is officially over, and now that I’ve had a full 24 hours to recover, I’m ready to give a complete, comprehensive review of my experience.
This being my first time attending Okeechobee, I did a fair amount of research before attending.
I joined Facebook groups, read reviews from media outlets and spoke to veterans of the festival, but what I didn’t know is that nothing could have prepared me for the incredibly positive and uplifting experience I was about to have.
Before I dive into the details, I want to make something clear—I did receive a media wristband that served as a free ticket into the festival. Though I am grateful for Insomniac Press’ generosity, I will not let this bias skew my review.
I’ve split this review into four categories: music, activities, camping and overall experience, all of which I will rate on a scale of 1 to 10.
Given that the lineup was released months in advance, I thought I knew what to expect. In short, I was wrong. Not being a huge EDM fan before the festival, I didn’t think the headliners—Bassnectar in particular—would impress me. Surprisingly, my favorite set of the weekend turned out to be San Holo, who played guitar and sang over what I would describe as a more chill EDM backing track. In a word, the set was uplifting. With the next-to-last large set of the festival, I left feeling more positive and motivated than I had felt in a long time, including when I first entered the festival. I would not only encourage, but urge you to buy a ticket to his show.
My second favorite set of the weekend was Bassnectar. I had heard negative rumors about both Bassnectar himself and his fan base, but before the set began, I found myself surrounded by die-hard nectar fans who could not have been nicer or more welcoming. The crowd surrounding me was clearly excited and assured me over and over that I wasn’t going to regret “camping out” close to the stage. In reality, I was close to the stage to see Big Gigantic, who never disappoints and who opened for Bassnectar, but I kept that information to myself. They were right. The light show, music, graphics and overall production were like nothing I have ever seen. I would gladly pay to attend another show, and I would advise everyone, even non-EDM fans, to do the same.
Of course, I saw many, many other amazing artists over the weekend, and if I had the time and a few extra thousand words, I would describe them. In contrast, this would not be an honest review if I did not mention the shortcomings I saw with the lineup. This festival is a bit more eccentric than others, and definitely skewed toward EDM fans, so the amount of electronic artists on the lineup is understandable. Despite this, I felt most of the variety in genre appeared on the lineup for the last day, forcing fans of non-EDM acts to choose between artists that could have been placed on a different day. With bands like Machine Gun Kelly, Glass Animals, Clairo and Mumford and Sons all packed into the last day, it made for an extremely hectic and stressful day for attendees who, like me, were running back and forth between stages to see either the first or last half of a set.
For these reasons, I give the music category an 8.5 out of 10.
If I was surprised by the music, I was absolutely blown away by the activities. Not only were there more things to do than there was time in the festival, but the planning that went into the festival clearly took a lot of time, effort and more than anything, creativity.
My favorite part of the festival by far was the tea room. I had heard about the tea room before, but I had thought it would be how it sounded—a room to serve tea. When I stumbled upon the space, I realized just how wrong I was. Though there was a spot where tea was served, that was only a small part of the attraction. I went through the tea room every day of the festival, and though I spent a large amount of time there, I still don’t feel as if I saw everything there was to see.
The first thing that caught my eye was a small room with a large sign that read “Frick Frack Blackjack.” The premise of the game was that it was a normal game of blackjack in which the players could bet anything but money. There was a giant spoon, doll heads, dresses and more eclectic items than I could count, with workers who would stick a “price” on each item. Next time, I’m going to spend some time collecting all of the odds and ends I can to bring to the festival, specifically for this game.
Also included in the tea room area was a pair of poets who would write you a poem about any topic, a dwarf-sized room with a secret entrance, a walk-through wardrobe with ‘20s-inspired clothing and much, much more. Everywhere I looked, there was another small path, opening or hidden secret to catch my eye, and the deeper I looked, the more there was to find. I truly felt as if I were in an alternate universe, where there was no schedule to keep and my only priority was to find the next thing.
The other place I spent most of my time, apart from the stages, was the beach. The sand and water were beautiful, and there was a colorful ferris wheel steps from the stage that was only $2 a ride that made for the best people-watching of the weekend. With a DJ playing throughout the day on a stage at the front of the beach, I felt like I was at a giant party filled with eclectic, positive people instead of a festival.
I could have stayed on the beach all day and missed the music—that’s how relaxing and positive the experience was.
Because of this, I give the activities category a 10 out of 10.
This category is the most difficult to rate due to the fact that I’m hesitant to write anything negative about a festival in which my experience was so positive. But in the spirit of journalistic integrity, I feel I cannot write about my experience without mentioning the flaws that myself and others experienced in this area.
Okeechobee-goers could have had two completely different camping experiences, all depending on who had the most money. Don’t get me wrong; I understand the importance of a VIP option at a festival, and I am grateful that I was given access to some of these perks with my media pass. However, the difference between VIP and GA at this festival seemed to be not only an upgrade, but an entirely different event, with the music as the sole shared element.
VIP attendees were given typical upgrades such as better camping spots, more convenient entrances to stages and shorter lines for food and drinks. Not so typical were the VIP’s exclusive access to running water, clean bathrooms and hand-washing stations.
I say this not to complain, but to point out the difference in cleanliness and overall hygiene between the two. Though I saw the portable toilets for general use being cleaned often, they seemed to never actually be clean upon entrance. One could make the argument that handwashing stations could be the solution to this issue, and that would be correct, if there were ever water, soap or paper towels outside the toilets. Ironically, there were large signs reading “Don’t forget to wash your hands!” outside each toilet station, but only twice was I able to find the resources to do so.
Unfortunately, I was sick all day Saturday, and if I had not had access to the VIP restrooms, I may have had to leave the festival entirely. The restrooms in the VIP areas were clean, lit, spacious and sanitary, with no lack of running water or soap. In fact, several times there were workers cleaning the bathrooms while I was still in them.
VIP members at other camping festivals such as Bonnaroo are given similar perks to a lesser extent, and while I understand you get what you pay for, it’s my opinion that if an entirely different festival experience can be provided for those who pay a few hundred dollars more, the General Admission tickets should at least grant attendees the ability to go to the bathroom without a feeling of dread.
Because I do not like to state a problem without offering a solution, it’s my opinion that Insomniac Press could install some type of bathrooms other than portable toilets, since they were unable to be cleaned at the rate they were being used. If not, there could at least be ample access to soap and running water to help combat the surfaces thousands of people touched that were not properly sanitized.
The stark contrast between VIP and General Admission, in addition to the fact that no one was permitted to leave the festival and return, made the experience seem like somewhat of a money-grab, as ice, food and other materials that attendees could not leave to buy elsewhere were marked up at prices typical of any festival.
Despite this, the camping experience had more positives than I could name—so much so that even if I were offered VIP camping, I’m not sure I would take it. Camping beside my group of Athenians were a group college students, a middle-aged construction worker and a crew of fry-cooks. Those neighbors, in addition to everyone I met at the festival, were incredibly welcoming and willing to provide whatever it was we needed, asking nothing in return and more often than not, leaving me speechless.
After a stressful first day with an incredibly late start, I started to unload my camping gear, and as I was walking to meet my group, four strangers (who had also just met) came to grab the rest of my gear and happily walked almost a mile with me to my campsite. When I struggled to set up camp in the dark, a man dressed in a furry vest and tights walked over, picked up my tent and with no other introduction, said, “Alright, where is this going?” After much speculation within our group, I later found out his day job—a contractor who installed hardwood floors.
It seems at Okeechobee, in contrast to other festivals, it didn’t matter who you were in your day-to-day life. When you entered the gates, there was an unspoken understanding that here, we were all the same.
Because of this, I give the camping experience a 6 out of 10.
Given what I have stated above in addition to details I do not have the room to list, I give my overall experience an 8.5 out of 10. The shows I watched, the people I met and the venue location made Okeechobee not only worth the price of the ticket, but a festival I would wholeheartedly recommend to anyone who has considered going.
As with any great music festival, the feeling of being home is bittersweet—I feel infinitely more positive and uplifted than when I entered, with a twinge of nostalgia and grief that comes from knowing I will have to wait a year to experience it again.
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