The Okeechobee Music & Arts Festival is officially back in the Sunshine State, and after taking 2019 off, it seems that this year’s event will be–by far– the biggest yet.
Almost immediately upon arrival on Thursday, I got the feeling that Insomniac, the new owners and organizers of the festival, have taken Okeechobee to the next level. Upgrades to much of the infrastructure and to all of the stages were apparent from an introductory stroll around the grounds, and became even more clear once sets began.
Insomniac specializes in promoting electronic music festivals, including a few variations of EDC and Electric Forest, among others. The new ownership explains the shift in this year’s lineup to one that’s more primarily EDM-based, but not completely–Mumford & Sons are returning to headline after leading the first year’s lineup, and Vampire Weekend is a decidedly non-electronic choice to close out the main stage on Saturday night.
Things seemed to be moving smoother than past years in all aspects. We breezed through the box office, and there was barely any wait to get into the festival, and then eventually to our camp site. In previous years, it was safe to expect that one would be waiting in line for well over an hour just to get into the festival grounds.
Each of the stages, which have retained the same names as previous iterations of the festival (Be, Here, Now, Aquachobee, and Jungle 51), has received a major upgrade. The “Here” stage, in particular, has transformed from the smallest stage in previous years to a behemoth of a space, under a full tent. It did not host any sets on Thursday, but should certainly be a highlight of the rest of the weekend. Aesthetic improvements at each of the other stages have gone a long way to make this year feel like Okeechobee’s most immense yet, and by a wide margin.
Extra aesthetic touches show the care that’s been put into staging the event this year
While Thursday’s slate of artists was particularly dismal, even for this year’s generally subpar lineup, it served as a good primer for a four-day weekend of music. Of the acts that I saw, ARIZONA struck me as a pale imitation of bombastic 2010s mega-pop (think Walk the Moon or FUN.), and though Rüfüs Du Sol didn’t strike me as a natural fit for a headliner, the group’s music certainly translated better in the live setting than it does on record. Live drums helped to elevate the set, and the Australian electronic trio drew a formidable crowd to the Be stage for the weekend’s first “event” set.
All that said, after one day back in Sunshine Grove, it feels like this new and improved version of Okeechobee is a realization of the best that this festival can be– the question now is whether it will keep up when the event, inevitably, returns next year.