Mossy oaks fade into palm trees as I voyage down the Florida panhandle to Sunshine Grove. Nestled amongst Florida farms in Okeechobee, FL is a tropical oasis of sun-kissed Okeechobeeings and endless smiles. After a “leap year” due to the pandemic, Okeechobee Music and Arts Festival is back for 2022. The festival is in its fifth year and beaming with sunshine and good vibes as it always has. Just in time for the peak of Florida’s dreamy weather, this immersive weekend brings a dynamic line-up of world-renown artists. Not to mention interactive experiences, grandiose art installations, and some of the dankest food trucks I’ve ever had the pleasure of tasting. Okee boasts absolute bangers like Queen Megan Thee Stallion, dreamy Tame Impala, rap gods Earthgang, bass babe Rezz, the modern king of blues Gary Clark Jr., nostalgic Porter Robinson, and even more scrumptious sounds grace six stages for an epic weekend of diverse music.
Okee has changed with the times and I need to get reacquainted with the layout. The Here Stage moved since I was last in attendance and is a major upgrade allowing for the most sensual of sunsets to bless our eyes. It’s also worth mentioning that the sound is no longer competing between the Be and Now stages with the alteration. I have a long list of memories in this magical land and I have every intention of extending it. Okeechobee Music Festival is a super popular destination for fresh festival-goers, their veteran friends, parents and their kids, and literally anyone looking to get down. This mix makes for such a complex community of compassion, chatter, and carrying on. I am thrilled and eager to be here now.
Of The Trees /// Pepper /// Gary Clark Jr. /// Earthgang /// Tame Impala /// Supertask /// Freddy Todd /// Yheti
I kick off the weekend by meeting up with a festy babe that I haven’t seen in months. I am pleasantly surprised that I am able to take a 360 video to show her my location, it’s immediately delivered, and she pops up moments later. Quality cell service is not always a guarantee at a festival of this size but it’s always a treat so you can give your homies back home some severe FOMO. (They now know not to miss it next year.) While I normally try to get camp set up immediately upon arrival, there is no time, as I would miss my first set of the weekend, Of The Trees. The sun is setting over the lake at Aquachobee and I am quickly reminded that the winter festival attire has been retired for bathing suits and combat boots. It’s sunny and 75, and the crowd is sun-kissed and sweaty. Tyler Coomb dishes out warpy womps and the wait is over, I am here.
I pass through Chobeewobee Village to familiarize myself with what this wonderful world has to offer. Seductive smells of multi-cuisine and sunscreen fill my nostrils and I immediately regret eating before arrival. First on my agenda is Pepper, a high school favorite of mine that was the soundtrack to beach trips in my prime. So I meander to the Be stage through a tree tunnel of multicultural music. Waiting patiently for a late start time, I converse with the other front-row campers until our favorite “dirty little Hawaiin boys” ask, “Have you waited long enough?” They dedicate “Rent” to all the moms out there and in synchronicity, I get the “I see you made it safely, have a blast” text from my mother. Kaleo Wassman (Vocalist/Guitarist) gets us clapping with “give me some skin on skin action” alluding to Florida’s lackadaisical response to the pandemic and the crowd giggles. He’s not wrong after all. Drummer, Yesod Williams blesses us with a bass-heavy rendition of “Gin and Juice” and I time travel to 16 before rent was a concept I understood. I think, this is it, it couldn’t get any better UNTIL Christopher Mintz-Plasse AKA McLovin from Superbad walks on stage to shred the bass guitar, and I transcend.
I have a sliver of daylight left to set up camp so I take advantage. I feel like an absolute badass setting my tent up alone in record time (I’m only 4’11”)! I hustle to see Gary Clark Jr., which by-God I am glad I did. This is my first time seeing him perform and it is exponentially better than anticipated. He lights us up with “Bright Lights,” allowing me to see everyone smiling from ear to ear. He belts “you’re gonna know my name” and not a doubt in my mind that everyone there will never forget it. Bringing intense bluesy dissonance followed by sweet, sweet releases, I watch the crowd melt every few moments. I want to stay but have to haul it to the second half of Earthgang at the Now stage. While being tiny is not convenient for setting up tents, it has its perks when I shimmy my way to the rail because everyone can see directly over top of me. They remind us to “make sure we are looking out for our strong friends and ourselves” with some positive, conscious rap. The squads swivel their heads to smile at their best friends, swaying and hugging. “Proud of You” has the crowd erupting in dance and I start scheming how I can become stage entertainment as a backup dancer for them because I am truly feeling myself.
Buzzing back to Be stage, I can definitely tell it is headliners-o’clock. The crowd is thicker than a Southern biscuit. If you told me all 30,000 attendees are walking simultaneously from Earthgang to Tame Impala with me right now – I’d believe you. Opening with “One More Year” the lyric “I never wanted any other way to spend our lives” hits home with me and a gorgeous, gorgeous girl next to me who starts happy-crying. Kevin Parker, the Australian psychedelic dreamsicle of an artist also known as Tame Impala, sends us into a trance-like sway for an hour and a half. The confetti lingers and is reminiscent of TV static in the glistening lights. They close with “New Person, Same Old Mistakes” and read out the humorous totems in the crowd. This has been an all-around pleasurable experience!
Feeling slightly like the cattle that probably roam this land when we don’t, I follow the masses to Incendia. The temperature difference in the crowd versus the journey between stages is vast, so I look forward to the warmth of a fiery B2B of Supertask, Freddy Todd, and Yheti (billed as “Special Guest”). Supertask brings a yin and yang of fast-paced EDM followed by ambient house. From backstage I see him throw down while simultaneously smoking a cigarette, super-tasking if you ask me. By now, it is past my bedtime in the real world so I enjoy Freddy Todd from a couch backstage, though the dancing definitely doesn’t stop. The man is glitch-hopping all over. I wish the whole crowd could see just how sidesplitting his dance moves are. They have me and the girls cackling from the couch. The birthday boy, Yheti, finishes out my night as I drift into a deep slumber to his deep rhythms and soothing melodies, a perk of a close-by camping spot.
Rome In Silver /// Papadosio // Elephant Heart /// Haywyre /// PowWow /// Megan the Stallion /// Griz /// Eazybaked
I wake surprisingly rested, throw on as little clothes as possible and skip over to a friend’s camp for some caffeine and catching up on all the hysterical moments of last night. I can’t get too comfy, as I’m amped to get involved (and get some decadent chocolate) with Participation Row. Headcount, whom most have encountered if they are live music fans, has teamed up with Okeechobee Music and Arts Festival for the fifth year to promote participation in democracy and incite acts of activism for the community of Okee, Okeechobee County, and our nation as a whole. This fest is all about community, gratitude, and the “Be Here Now” mentality that Participation Row encompasses. I write down something I am trying to let go of on a piece of paper and the founder of Thank You For Our Service, an organization that supports veterans, turns it into ashes. He tells me that the ashes get buried in Sunshine Grove after the festival to “lay our worries to rest in the magical place that heals them.” Martha’s House, a domestic abuse shelter, has me paint my hand with a color that represents how I felt growing up in my home. I leave my print on a giant canvas covered with all the emotions of the Okeechobeeings I’m prancing around with. At Treasure Coast Food Bank they hand me a plate to write down how I feel about food scarcities and sharing. The tables are full of plates, just how it should be. As I take it all in, pausing at the Helping People Succeed tent to read all of the positive affirmations posted on the walls. I snag my oh so delectable Tony’s Chocolonely chocolate bar and devour it instantly. The wrapper is so sick that I have to fold it up and put it in my fanny pack as memorabilia. I always love the warm feeling making small differences in the community gives me and I see the same joy in everyone else participating.
Dessert came before dinner but I need more fuel if I am going to keep my dancing legs moving until the sun comes up. While I am in Chobeewobee Village, I guzzle this flash-frozen fruit concoction that’s a fruity fantasy in my mouth. Little bursts of mango and pineapple explode like Gushers. I wash it down with some sips of tea from the Bamboo Garden and browse through Vendor Village. It’s a practical mall in which I am the specific target market.
My first set of the day is Rome In Silver. Nothing like a little grimey bass in the breezy sunshine to really get things heated up. A beach ball makes its way to the stage countless times and the security guard continuously retrieves it for us. It’s quality customer service on his part and I would love to tell his manager he deserves a raise. The gals and I came to Okee alone so we are no doubt “Jumpin’, Jumpin’” as “ladies leave your man at home” permeates through the sunrays. Another walk through the jungle leads me to some jammy Papadosio, shredding as always. My taste meets my dad’s taste with some electronic progressive rock and I watch families rock out in unison. The hoop section is front right instead of in the back like usual, which provides a razzle-dazzle of extra entertainment for my viewing pleasure. I haven’t honestly heard of Elephant Heart so I am pumped to see what they have to offer. Being a golden hour set, the husband and wife duo encompass the Florida weather all within an hour, with Victoria Evigan taking her jumpsuit on and off every other song. She is giving me Ellie Goulding meets Halsey vibes, some electro-pop with global influences. The crowd is playing a game of how many times we can wrap and unwrap ourselves in a pashmina because we are equally hot and cold. The duo’s stage chemistry makes me slightly envious of their love so I make my way back to camp to figure out this outfit dilemma.
I am greeted by a four-legged friend in my tent that is not part of the festy squad. I ask the scaly little bastard if he has his wristband or if he snuck into the fest and he acts like he doesn’t hear me.. How convenient! I outfit change thrice, chug 3 bottles of water, and enter the portal yet again for the PowWow of George Clinton, P-Funk, Taz (who I saw when he was like 9 years old and have been mesmerized ever since) Earthgang, and MonoNeon. I have been dreaming of an acai bowl for days so I make dreams into realities. Once again, I am shooketh at how scrumptious the food is, the damn smoothie bowl weighs (what felt like) about 9 pounds and revives me while I am serenaded by the greats. A true delight. With the taste of paradise still on my lips, I rance (the word I use for my run and dance combo) through a Caribbean vacation of sounds from The Grove to Aquachobee for Haywyre. The tropical wubs he’s bringing feel like a Cuban coffee pick me up on the beaches of Miami.
The sunshine sucked the life out of me so I power nap with the new lizard roommate in prep for a double stack of dancing for Megan Thee Stallion and GRiZ. I snooze my alarm too many times to catch The Glitch Mob, which I will never forgive myself for but am awoken by Megan hollering over the mic. I slide into my Hot Girl Shit attire and take off running to the rail. She and her dancers make me question every ounce of sexual straightness within me, an absolute liability for every boyfriend in the crowd. The hottest of hot girls are pulled on stage and I am fully expecting C+ dance moves at best, wrong again, these women look like they were trained by Megan herself. The whole production is like a strip club for women empowerment. They should have had her at Participation Row because it was literal feminist activism for loving your body just the way it is. She genuinely cries out of gratitude for her fans and so does every girl in the crowd who has ever hated themselves, all while shaking our asses like savages.
I spread out in the grass to cool down for a half-hour before GRiZ takes the stage. He wastes zero time opening with “Crystals Id” that turns me into the heaping pile of lo mein I just ate. There is a level of bass that makes my legs limp noodles and my torso thrust over the rail in a ridiculous fashion, though thankfully, I am one of the thousands who feel the same. Covering “Heat Waves,” Grant Kwiecinski AKA Griz, makes me grateful for the cooler temps of the evening. He is bouncing from the DJ booth to the front of the stage so we can see his precious face and his igniting dance moves. Fireworks send me into outer space as I spin in circles in awe at how they are engulfing the sky full of stars. I’m in awe of the vibe of the crowd, in awe of the lazers, and all that is Okeechobee. Riding the high, I make a guest appearance in Jungle 51 and at the Incendia stage for Eazybaked, who encapsulate this age in music. Genre line riding so hard I can’t even categorize their sound, other than lots of heavy bass. Ultimately I need to get some shuteye before another full day of debauchery. I use my festival vet knowledge to scrubadubdub in a hot shower all to myself while everyone is still partaking in wookery, a luxury. Earplugs in, blanket hoodie on, night night bois.
NotLo B2B Veil /// Mize /// Mt Joy /// Jungle /// CloZee /// Porter Robinson
As soundchecks start and the sun rises, I lose the earplugs and my blanket hoodie. I feel it in my bones that it is going to be a HAWT one today. Sunday mornings at festivals are for making my way to any and all activities and shopping, Chobeewobee Village is calling. A friend and I make our way to the Grand Antique Bazaar. It’s then I overhear a conversation at the “Stuff, Better Stuff” trading post about a man trying to trade a human tooth. What a place to be? What a time to be alive? There is a couple dancing with ribbons, in sync and silky, staring into each other’s souls. My thirst needs quenching and I remember how lovely the hibiscus tea is. It is also time for wind-chime making and Tye-Dye Sundye, so I pop over to the Bamboo Garden to get crafty. The artists and the stick-figure type all conglomerate to make something special to take home with them.
I mail a Be Here Now postcard to a homie that I miss and bounce to Here for NotLo B2B Veil. Megan inspired all the Okeechobeeings to be on their worst behavior with these outfit choices. As the temps rise, the clothes are at an all-time low. NotLo has the Okee vibe of peace, love and wubs while Veil provides the grimier of us with some bass rattling drum and bass and dubstep. I withhold as much headbanging as possible to avoid a heat stroke but the DJ’s top fans didn’t hold out at all. I admire them with a battery-powered fan to my face.
Mize is high on my priorities so I fight to survive the heat. He covers “Soul Survivor” by Akon and I feel the synchronicities. Dripping in serotonin from the sun and whimsical womps, I sink into his remix of Collie Buddz “Come Around” and am once again transported to being a teenager. It is cold shower time and I enjoy every droplet.
The time is now. When everyone makes their list of resolutions for the year, I make a list of artists that I WILL see. Mt. Joy takes the #1 spot on that list for 2022 and I can’t contain myself. Opening with “I’m Your Wreck” I am a wreck of emotions, blissful tears fall. Quickly followed by a burst of laughter when Matt Quinn tries to flip a water bottle on the stage, it falls, and he says “that would have been so cool.” Up against Smino and Manic Focus, there are enough loyal fans here that the sound cuts out while trying to fix Sam Cooper’s guitar and the entire crowd sings every word to a “Jenny Jenkins” verse. Matt Quinn is impressed, which means Matt Quinn is impressed with me, which means I can now die happy. Jackie Miclau makes the lack of lead guitar almost unnoticeable with how hard she shreds the keys and before long we get the memo that Sam is back in business as he solos midway through “Let Loose.” Everyone around me is so into this set that I almost have to ask them to stop singing so I can engulf myself in the performance. The sunshine theme of the weekend is alluded to with “Ain’t No Sunshine” by Bill Withers followed by “Sunshine in a Bag” by Gorillaz. Mt. Joy brought me enough sunshine for a damn lifetime and is the “Silver Lining” to an incredible weekend.
A speedy camp run to gather all of my frick to frack and to debrief after I was just abducted to heaven and sent back to Earth to tell the others. To the Jungle I go, for some wild electronic creations and chats with a long-time friend that is working production. She joins me for the final song of CloZee which I skedaddle to, as I hear Anderson Paak through the speakers. I may never “Come Down” from this elating experience of a festival. With a 10-minute gap between CloZee and Porter Robinson, I layer up for late-night and head to Porter Robinson. It is a nostalgic, synth-pop set for so many Okee OG’s, as he took the stage back in 2017. He plays “Shelter” and the friend and I reminisce. She mentions that she saw him in 2012 and how she thought then that she may be “too old” for festivals, I say the same about his set in 2017. Yet here we are, not only attending a decade (or a half of one) later but thriving while doing so. He is doing some sick shit with a voice changer that he apparently recently learned how to do live, showing us his masculine and feminine polarities. Meanwhile his visuals feel like I’m the controller of my own video game. “We depend on you” echoes as fireworks dance above us and I think to myself, I depend on this community. I depend on the little moments of being present in the now, I depend on the big moments that cross off bucket list bands, I depend on the friends that become family.
I close out the weekend with the always entertaining Frick Frack Casino. I am not one to gamble in the real world, but I may need a little Frick Frackers Anonymous after winning entirely too many times in a row. Juicy, the always sassy Russian Roulette dealer dishes out dares and requests bets of human hairs. We oblige. The wee hours of the marrow are approaching, so I (and the lizard homie) drift into dreamland.
The rumble of cars cranking begins and that is my signal that it is time to leave, though the post-festival blues aren’t swallowing me up this time, as my heart is full. I feel recharged and ready to take all of the positivity and love I was shown, back home with me. The jungle oasis of the Okeechobee Music and Arts Festival has a way of blasting sunshine into your mind with music, with community, with love, with yummy food, and with a sense of divine synchronicity. As I travel home, I repeat to myself “Be Here Now.” I’ll be here next year and for years to come.
Okeechobee 2022 Live Review by Kelsie Pace.
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