Being an Architect’s assistant has its perks – one being that my boss is very lenient on vacation time. Last Wednesday, my boyfriend and I packed up our Kia Soul and headed down to Okeechobee, Florida for the inaugural Okeechobee Music & Arts Festival. The three-hour drive consisted of one-lane roads and the most cows I have ever seen! I also saw donkeys and goats! The city of Okeechobee has a population around 6,000 according to the 2013 census. It was the perfect location for a music festival with its acres and acres of flat land and small bodies of water dotted throughout. The festival was expected to bring around 30,000 people – almost 5 times more people than the entire population! The lineup was massive, especially for a first year show, with big names like Kendrick Lamar, Mumford & Sons, Skrillex and more!
Late Wednesday afternoon we arrived at the check in to pick up our credentials. We chose to volunteer for our ticket in order to enjoy the show for free, besides working our allotted shifts. The program was called WET – work exchange team. We had never volunteered at a festival before, but figured it couldn’t be that hard! So far the process had been smooth. After getting our credentials we arrived at our camping spot and started to set up our tent and other essentials. We were done before the sun set! General Admission people could not arrive until Thursday, so that night, all of the volunteers hung out at the camps – music blaring and food cooking on little grills. And did I mention that the weather was perfect?
Thursday I woke up to a light sprinkle – thank goodness it only lasted about 10 minutes. I thought I had jinxed us there for a minute!! After a light breakfast, we decided to walk around and check everything out – like figure out where the bathrooms/showers were and where we could buy ice. Volunteers were to share the bathrooms/showers with festival staff. Lucky for us the showers were free (GA had to pay $10 – which is actually a normal festival price for a shower). Unlucky for us however – the bathrooms/showers were pretty far away. But that is just something you have to take into account and remember, “Hey, I can’t wait till the last second to go to the bathroom” because it is a bit of a walk. Not a huge deal. We continued past the bathrooms/showers, still in search of a spot to purchase ice (the ice in our cooler had already melted and our food needed to stay cool). After walking around for a good hour and asking about 5 Staff members where to go – we still hadn’t found it. That was very frustrating, and kind of a big deal. This is South Florida. It gets hot! We need to keep our food and drinks at least somewhat cold! A few hours later we finally found the “General Store” – which was about a mile away from our campsite. Not to mention, it was one of only two places to buy ice… for 30,000 people!!! What the…? I am not sure whose brilliant idea that was, but they are definitely going to be receiving a complaint from me! At Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival in June in Tennessee they have ice about every 50 feet for sale! We were buying 2 bags a day because of how hot it was during the day! Okeechobee needs to correct that next year!
Thursday night they opened two sections of the festival – Aquachobee Beach and Jungle 51. Aquachobee Beach was on a lake and provided festivalgoers a place to swim. This area also included a Ferris wheel, a stage, and food trucks. They describe the area like this: “A bona fide tropical haven where festivalgoers can swim, soak up the sun, or just chill out to live music from 9am to 9pm. An oversized Ferris wheel will offer epic vistas while the Aquachobee bar will supply libations of all kinds, from fruit smoothies to delicious cocktails.” We sat on the beach and listened to performances by Jan Blomqvist, Okeechobee Allstars, and Big Wild. At 9pm they opened up Jungle 51. They describe it like this: “Rumor has it an Unidentified Blasting Object (UBO) has crashed in the forest just outside the main area. There has been PULSES of SOUNG coming from it at ALL TIMES OF NIGHT. Come TRANSPORT YOURSELF into a ROARING DANCE PARTY that keeps going until sunrise… and THEN SOME!” This area felt a little bit claustrophobic for me – but it was cool that they had music all night! We listened to/watched Driss Skali, in owe of the light show and the intensity of the sound. At that point in the night they had finally opened up ChobeeWobee Village and Yogachobee (it was supposed to open around 2pm but they were REALLY far behind in set up – these things happen!) We checked out those areas as long as we could before my legs gave out (I think I walked 100 miles in 4 days).
Friday we worked our first volunteer shift. We were assigned to be Videographer Assistant’s for a company called Cinesthetics. How cool is that? We were very excited to get to work! Our shift was from 10am – 4pm. Well… it seems that videographers are not very active during the early part of the day. We literally chased shade (sat in chairs and moved with the shade) for our entire shift. But hey – it could’ve been WAY worse. Once clocked out, we headed back to our tent and ate dinner and got ready for the first night in The Grove – the main stage area with the BE, HERE, and NOW stages. They describe this area like this: “Nested in the heart of the land and encircled by delicious eats & treats, and a subtropical tree-line, The Grove is where our 3 main stages live.” We saw performances by Grace Potter, Robert Plant & The Sensational Space Shifters, Classixx, Twiddle, Daryl Hall & John Oates, RL Grime, Bassnectar, Portugal. The Man, and Lettuce! It was such an epic night – one that I will never forget. I even ran into my old editor, Jay Cridlin, covering the festival for Tampa Bay Times.
Saturday morning I did something I have never done at a festival – take a shower! It was free so I couldn’t pass it up. Not to mention there was NO wait! The GA shower lines were 70 people deep! We had to work a night shift that night, so we made our way over to the stages early. We saw performance by Michael Christmas, Deer Tick, Shabazz Palaces, Dr. Dog, and Lotus. After a quick bite to eat we headed to our second shift as videographer assistants. We were hoping that the night shift would be more exciting – and boy was it!!! We immediately left the trailer with backpacks full of batteries and lenses and made our way to BE stage for Miguel. We were standing in the photo pit – I was touching the stage! I have NEVER been that close to a stage at a festival. I could feel the energy from the crowd pulsing over my head. It was electric! From there we were lucky enough to go backstage for Big Gigantic, Kendrick Lamar, the PoWoW!, and Skrillex! If we weren’t backstage we were out in the crowd, chasing after our ninja-like videographers with their stuff – praying that we don’t lose them! It was an exhausting but thrilling 6 hours! Needless to say that by the time our 2am clock out came around, I was ready to sleep.
My eyes slowly open to the sun peeking through our tent. Sunday always arrives too soon. I wasn’t ready to go back to reality – but at least I still had one more day to enjoy. We woke up late and basically went straight to our last shift (11am – 5pm). During this shift we shot a lot of filler videos – people doing yoga, groups of friends sitting on the ground clinking their beers together, couples walking hand in hand taking in the scenery. During this last shift, we really got to know the guys we were working for. It was such an amazing experience, especially since I am in school for Graphic Design and could potentially have a job like that one day! I have always said “it’s all about who you know,” so whenever Gabe and I get opportunities like that, we really make them count and form relationships with people that could be great connections in the future. They liked us so much that they asked us to work a little bit longer! We couldn’t say no and stayed an extra 45 minutes. But once my stomach started protesting we headed back to camp for our last festival dinner. We had to leave directly after Mumford & Sons – so we quickly packed up the Kia again before heading the The Grove one last time. We saw amazing performances by Ween, Shpongle, Big Grams, Gramatik, The Avett Brothers, Odeza, and last but definitely not least, Mumford & Sons.
This was such a beautiful experience – the venue, the music, the people. Once they post their official photos, I will add them to my blog post for you to enjoy! They definitely have some improvements to make next year, but I plan on doing it all over again in 2017!