Dispatches From Okeechobee Music Festival 2020: Day Two

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Friday is usually the day that any camping festival kicks into high gear, for attendees and organizers alike. It’s the first day that campers wake up on site, the music begins early in the afternoon, and everyone at the festival begins to settle into a more comfortable groove.

In the case of Okeechobee 2020, Friday was defined by one thing, and one thing alone: it was the day that Bassnectar took to the main stage for a headlining set. 

I’ve been forthright over the years about my inability to understand the “Bassnectar” thing. This being my third time at Okeechobee, it was also my third opportunity to see the California DJ and his throngs of ardent fans converge in Sunshine Grove. The audience that Bassnectar inspires is truly remarkable– fans come from around the country, wearing homemade clothing with his symbol painted on, with a devotion that’s almost reminiscent of Deadhead culture in the 60’s and 70’s. While I’ve still never been wowed by his immersive live set (or even intrigued,) the culture around his music is always a riveting thing to experience firsthand.

Friday was, by far, the weakest day of the festival in terms of its musical lineup, so I spent much of the day taking in the experiences peppered throughout the festival grounds.

After finally seeing it in action, it’s clear that the Here stage has been transformed into a behemoth of a space– what was previously one of Okeechobee’s smallest stages is now large enough to rival the main stage in terms of the crowds it can accommodate. That said, the stage itself is much smaller than the Be and Now stages, and seems as if it’s only designed to accommodate DJs rather than full bands. 

The festival also houses dozens of art installations and activities, which include a trippy “Lost in Tea” lounge, massive illuminated sculptures, yoga classes in the mornings, and Aquachobee Beach, where campers can go for a swim or take a ride on the festival’s ferris wheel. Look for a full roundup of the art and activites of Okeechobee 2020 after the weekend wraps up.

Friday also marked the day that cold weather moved in on the 2020 edition of the festival. In the evening, temperatures dropped down into the 40s, and ill-prepared campers scrambled to find warmer clothes to get through the night. Thankfully, being in large crowds mostly kept shivers at bay during the evening’s bigger performances.

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Most of Okeechobee’s Friday performances were acts that didn’t fall anywhere within my base of musical knowledge, so I chose not to take a deep dive into reviewing any specific sets at length. With that said, here are some stray observations from a few of the acts that I caught on Friday:

  • Gunna, one of the few true rappers on this year’s lineup, reinforced every negative stereotype that one could have about live hip-hop performances. He showed up late and left early, rapped over a vocal track for nearly every song in his set, and relied on hollow theatrics to enliven the crowd. Yawn. Hopefully, next year’s lineup will feature some more lively rap performances in the vein of Travis Scott’s 2018 headlining set.
  • Bassnectar was, as always, exactly what one would expect and nothing to write home about. I’m confident at this point that I’ll never truly enjoy a Bassnectar set for the music itself, but I could never deny that the crowd at his sets is always more entertaining than the show itself. 
  • Lotus was likely the jammiest set of the weekend, and proved to be a great way to wind down and wrap up the first full day of the festival. Though the group, now past its 20th year together, didn’t draw a large crowd to the Now stage for its 12:30 a.m. set, those who did attend were treated arguably the best instrumental performance of the day.
  • Big Gigantic (as always, much better than Regular Gigantic,) was easily my favorite of the many electronic sets that made up Friday’s schedule. The act’s inclusion of live drums and saxophone, along with plenty of Jazz influence in its music, made for a welcome detour from the more standard DJs around the festival.
  • The “Special Guest” that was teased for a 1 a.m. set at the Incendia stage was not, as I had originally speculated, Bassnectar. Instead, I’m told it was a member of Big Gigantic performing a solo DJ set. I’ll have to hope that that conjecture was accurate– while I stopped by the stage to get a look at what the surprise set would entail, it was so well-attended that I couldn’t get close enough to see for myself. 

The big story of day three, aside from Vampire Weekend’s marathon set, will almost certainly be the strong winds that have been terrorizing campsites throughout the day. Check in tomorrow for our Saturday recap.