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7 Great Things About The Okeechobee Music & Arts Festival

The Okeechobee Music & Arts Festival cropped up like some kind of New Age magical mystery tour in a rural community best known for its cows and fishing. Suddenly, there was Led Zeppelin rock legend Robert Plant wailing away as part of an eclectic mix of music and attractions that both stunned the senses and soothed the soul.

Set up on 800 acres of Florida paradise, the 30,000-strong campout officially ran from March 4 through March 6 just north of the state's largest freshwater lake. However, with an early start on March 3, attendees got to enjoy a fourth day of festivities. The offbeat nature of the sold-out event delighted the crowd of mostly 20-somethings, who can someday proudly declare they were the first to attend the multi-day affair.

Here are seven highlights from the Okeechobee Music & Arts Festival. 

The Music

The Okeechobee Music & Arts Festival

The Okeechobee Music & Arts Festival provided something for everyone—rock, rap, funk, electronic, soul and more. Robert Plant (pictured above) and Hall & Oates proved that old guys can still please a crowd, while headliners Kendrick Lamar and Mumford & Sons put on electrifying shows. But sometimes it’s the artists you're unfamiliar with that really blow your mind: Neo-psych rockers Dr. Dog and jam band Twiddle were two groups that showed you don’t have to be legends to rock the house.

The Scene

The Okeechobee Music & Arts Festival

The natural wonderland of the 800-acre site, dubbed Sunshine Grove, made the perfect backdrop for the carnival atmosphere of Okeechobee Fest. The grounds were decorated with head-turning curiosities both big and small, including a tin gazebo, a 30-foot-tall woolly mammoth sculpture and an overgrown psychedelic mushroom structure. The lighting effects were mesmerizing, especially the pulsating Ferris wheel at night and an 800-foot string of glowing helium balloons that seemed to stretch forever upon the horizon. 

The Nooks

The Okeechobee Music & Arts Festival

A festival this big just can't feel intimate, right? Wrong. At Okeechobee Fest, there were nooks and crannies everywhere, providing festivalgoers with hangout spots where they're just about forced to meet new friends. Among the areas was the Chai Lounge, a mystical palmetto glade outfitted with retro living room furniture, hammocks and free samples of exotic teas. 

The Activities

The Okeechobee Music & Arts Festival

The festival was a participatory event that saw neighbors helping neighbors raise tents, as well as a plethora of semi-organized activities. Attendees, for example, could let their inner Picasso go by painting a wooden tower, or they could participate in group yoga or learn how to astral travel in the Yogachobee tent. A fire pit with drum circle beat all night long on Chill Ill, while over at trippy Jungle 51, a DJ spun head-pounding music. During the day, the beach was a hot spot—in more ways than one.

The Organization

The Okeechobee Music & Arts Festival

First years can be tough for a festival organizers, who have to coordinate everything from traffic flow to the flow of sewage out of the portable toilets. Moving that many people in and out of a single location and seeing to their every need while they are there is a Herculean task. Despite a few little glitches, these folks pulled it off with help from an army of friendly contract workers and volunteers.

The Weather

The Okeechobee Music & Arts Festival

Sure, this is one thing you can’t control, but the decision to hold the festival in March proved to be a great one. No rain, low humidity and no need for bug spray helped make life easier for those camping out in tents.  

The Spirit 

The Okeechobee Music & Arts Festival

The Okeechobee Music Fest promoted peace, love and happiness. It felt so good to be there, people went around spontaneously high-fiving each other, smiling, laughing and wishing the party could go on forever.

(Photos by Gary Greenberg)