I’m standing in the middle of a crowd, a mosh pit may have just started behind me, and colorful laser beams are slicing through the night sky. The people around me are lost in the music: eyes closed, heads banging, bodies moving spasmodically. The sound is unfamiliar — but I like it.
I had arrived at Okeechobee Music & Arts Festival: three days worth of live music, camping, and art installations taking place on the first weekend of March.
After embarking on a two-hour drive through the Florida countryside, I was met with large camping grounds that surrounded the carnival-like scenery. A colorful Ferris Wheel, illuminated by the sky above it, overlooked the vibrant canopy of tents below it.
We arrived at noon, set camp, and I wandered off to explore the festival. First, I checked out The Grove where the three main stages were located. Stages “Be,” “Here,” and “Now” would host a diverse range of well-known artists such as Waka Flocka Flame, Flume, Kings of Leon, and The Lumineers.
I decided to kickstart the first day of my festival experience with Russ, a relatively new hip-hop artist. I was determined to hear his songs Losin Control and Do It Myself live. When I heard him take over the microphone, my inner fangirl made an appearance, manifesting in a brief happy dance.
Halfway into his set, however, I was itching to see all of what the festival had to offer, so I set out to Chobeewobee Village. There, I encountered an array of art installations, many of which were interactive, such as the Pavilion Palace, where many attendees paid to get their body marbled, as they sought to become part of the art in the festival.
For the most part, I spent my first day in the many hidden enclaves of the village. Past an entrance of ropes hanging from a cluster of trees was the Tea Lounge, where a miniature stage was surrounded by couches, chairs, and perfect getaway spots to hang hammocks. I sat there observing the people and art around me for a while before deciding to do a little shopping at the pop-up merch tents. It was hard not to spend all my money at once. Tapestries, festival clothing, leather-bound journals and jewelry were calling my name, but I managed to come back to my tent at the end of the day with one tie-dye t-shirt and a happy wallet.
On the morning of my second day, I traded my sneakers for a pair of flip flops and headed for Aquachobee Beach. Right when I felt the warm sand on my toes, I looked up and realized that ThisSongIsSick Beach Party was underway and Louis Futon was at the head of the DJ board. I enjoyed his energy-infused beats as I soaked in some much needed vitamin D.
At noon I decided to take a breather at my campsite before heading back to the Grove for an evening of nonstop music. Day three would be the travel back home so I had to make the best of day two. I wandered between stages, following sounds that intrigued me, the first of which belonged to sister-brother, dynamic duo, Tennyson. Their music for the most part was instrumental and I can’t describe it as anything other than blissfully groovy.
Griz, who performed right after, took the electronic sound to the next level, combining the soul of the saxophone with his self-described sound of future-funk. Next came DJ Snails, who had the crowd going insane with his signature sound “vomitstep.” Snails was then followed by Bassnectar, whose long, untamed hair casted a mysterious allure. With each of the beats he produced, the rapid movement of his long locks would follow.
Then came Porter Robinson, the last performance of the night and ultimately my favorite. The visuals were amazing, featuring anime characters and their catchy, high-pitched vocals, and fully immersing me into a new genre — synthpop. The stage was colorful as the lights painted the crowd in hues of pink, purple, and indigo. I was so invested in the show that I didn’t realize that the time was approaching significantly past midnight.
When Porter Robinson’s performance drew to an end, with a spectacular display of fireworks, I was both overwhelmed by joy and melancholy. This amazing music festival experience wouldn’t last me forever, but the memories of it would remain. Over the course of merely two days I had met incredible people, discovered new artists, and managed to explore outside my comfort zone.
So, rather hesitantly, I headed back to my camp.
During my five-minute walk back, I overheard a snippet of a conversation occurring beside me. A man wearing a dinosaur onesie, in the midst of explaining Okeechobee Fest in one breath, said, “This? This place is a culmination of culture.”
I silently agreed, smiling to myself in the darkness, and already mentally preparing for Okeechobee Fest 2018.
By Edysmar Diaz-Cruz