The Okeechobee Music Festival Experience
I entered the portal to Okeechobeefest 2018 and experienced my first camping music festival. Originally, I didn’t think I was going to make it. Life expenses were a big obstacle for me and I had resolved to not go. Then I missed the original Work Exchange Team Ticket deadline and thought I was really done for. That was until I submitted an application with California-based Kulturehaus and was taken on as a volunteer. The weekend that transpired amounted to the most magical and fulfilling experience I have had yet at a music festival.
The Drive Down
I only live 2 hours from the Okeechobee shoreline so I had a speedy drive down. As a volunteer, I was required to check in early so I could be in my best position to get work done the following day. The roads of Okeechobee are long and narrow and heavily patrolled by police officers. Many of these officers are instructed to pull over and search vehicles for large caches of illegal materials headed to Okeechobeefest. While I wasn’t stopped, I could feel the radar guns scanning my every move. DEFINITELY DON’T SPEED.
I navigated my way to the box office which was tucked away on private property approximately fifteen minutes from The Grove. I checked in and activated my wrist band. Okeechobeefest has an advanced check-in system with all of their bands which can be remotely activated. Beware of scam bands or ditching work duties at the festival as you might have your band remotely deactivated!
Entrance into the Grove is also patrolled and cars are searched upon entrance for glass and weapons. Soundslinger has a strict policy on bringing glass into The Sunshine Grove and if you have glass in your vehicle, no matter how full it is, it will be confiscated. I parked my car, set up my bare-bones campsite, and said hello to my fellow volunteers for the remainder of the night. My neighbors were awesome; a collective group of millenial hippies from various parts of Florida. I met these two wonderful couples from Jacksonville who taught me about vegan cooking and crystal energy. I also met a guy carrying a large inflatable Alien. He told me all about alien lifeforms and government conspiracies. I didn’t know what I had got myself into at this festival but I already liked it.
Volunteering with Kulturehaus
I was up with the morning sun ready for my first day in the portal. Cars began to pour through the gates of the grove by the thousands. I navigated my way around the grounds (about 60-acres of them) and made my way to the Kulturehaus campsite. Now what is Kulturehaus? At this point in time I had no clue! I was volunteering for a group that I knew nothing about.
From the Kulturehaus website it reads: “Kulturehaus is synthesis of curation, marketing, and implementation. Built on diverse experience in every step of experience creation, KH takes a multi-faceted approach to events, projects, and ideas that turn imagination into reality!”. Essentially they provide a series of production and marketing services for various artistic projects such as Okeechobeefest. I was going to be providing support for Kulturehaus by tending to the needs of the camp as well as the needs of the various artists they were tasked with housing. This ended up being a wonderful fit for me and I thoroughly enjoyed my time volunteering with them.
The camp was located in a shaded area of the Grove tucked away in the back. I mainly provided support for day to day camp activities. I organized bedding sets, built tents for artists, and maintained trash cans and litter control. I worked six hours a day for the first three days and had the final day off. It was great! Not only did I receive entrance to the festival but I had camping permissions at Pole Barn (the shaded grove), they fed me twice a day on working days, and I had access to private showers and portopotties. The food was catered by Earth Foods Catering and it was incredible. They always had fresh tea and coffee ready to go. The meals consisted of buffet bars of salad, culturally varied dishes of beef, chicken, pork, seafood, and vegan/vegetarian options. EVERY meal was fresh, delicious, and filling. I would highly recommend Earth Foods for all your catering needs.
Beyond the clean amenities and amazing food the best part of my volunteer experience were the people I met. First there were the employees of Kulturehaus. They were all very relaxed and welcoming, a warm band of artists and intellectuals who were working long hours to provide for the members of the camp. Dedicated to the immersion and creation of the experience, they coordinated the efforts of the camps and took fantastic care of their subjects. Then there were the artists who physically created the magic of Okeechobeefest; the visual artists, stilt walkers, DJ’s, musicians, fire spinners, monks, poets, you name it! This was a mish-mosh camp of unique individuals from all over the world, filled to the brim with kindness, generosity, knowledge, and spirit. I was welcomed into the camp as a brother and found myself with not only time to work but time to connect with everyone involved. It was for this reason my experience was so special as a volunteer. Granted, you will experience a similar time with a traditional WET program but usually you don’t get fed nor do you live with the artists who actually build the festival!
If provided the opportunity I will always volunteer my time with Kulturehaus and highly recommend that you do too! If you are a contractor looking for a company to fulfill your artistic production and marketing needs, you could find no better company than Kulturehaus.
Night 1: By The Light Of The Silvery Moon
When I finished my shifts at six o’ clock I would head into the festival. The first night, Thursday, I attended a special presentation of Bassnectar, OPIUO, and Thriftworks, under the full moon at the Aquachobee stage. The Aquachobee stage is a venue next to the beach, a several hundred foot inlet surrounded by sand, hammocks and good vibes.
The moon slowly rose over the tops of the horizon, large and yellow, it’s full and reaching glow illuminating The Sunshine Grove. I spent my whole night sitting in the hammock by the beach at the Aquachobee stage. There were two hammocks, each constructed of bamboo, wood, with support nets in the center, that could comfortably seat a hundred people. If a sick drop came up, everyone in the net would jump up and down like a trampoline. It was definitely the most chill place in the whole festival and I would find myself in that net for many other acts such as CloZee and Mikky Ekko.
This first night was filled with chill vibes and lots of dancing. People who were eager to party were sprawled across the stage’s large field, head banging, spinning, twirling, hooping, and grooving to the sick sounds of Bassnectar and friends. People who were worn and weary from a long day of work and travel relaxed on the beach and shared stories of where they were from and who they were excited to see. I got a lot of great intel for acts that I had never heard of and compiled a quick list of friends that I would meet time and again across the festival.
By the end of the set I was beat and made a long nights hike back to the campsite. Alas I got confused and went the wrong way. I ended up taking a rickshaw home. A rickshaw is a a passenger bike that will drive you across The Grove. They charge as cheap as ten dollars or as expensive as twenty five. When you camp in the Grove, unless you are VIP, be prepared to walk long distances! I collectively walked over ten miles the four days I was in the Grove. I carried myself back to my tent, crawled into my sleeping bag, and rested up for the next days journey.
Night 2: Into The Grove
I started night two around the Chobeewobee Village and ended it inside The Grove. The village is a marketplace for vendors of food and merchandise. The Grove is the location of the Main Stage acts.
The Chobeewobee Village entrance was framed by two wooden towers. The towers had hanging bells that you could tug to make a grand ringing entrance. Inside the village were a series of food and merchandise vendors. They served various hamburgers, vegetarian options, and ice cream. I had already been fed so I opted to look at around at the vendors.
Vendors were selling all sorts of unique and exciting festival culture merchandise. They sold hippie clothes and hoods, hats, sunglasses, jewelry, crystals, paintings, wood work, blankets, tapestries, bags, pouches, pins… essentially anything that is worn at a festival you can get it there. Grassroots California was definitely one of my favorite vendor tents with their large inventory of California-inspired gear. Within the village you could also find official Okeechobee gear, refill your water, and find the entrance to the Tea Lounge (more on that later).
Nestled between the Aquachobee stage and the Village was Yogachobee. Yogachobee, spearheaded by Kulturehaus, was a venue where people could practice yoga at all hours of the day and night. I didn’t get an opportunity to align my chakras but I certainly enjoyed watching some of the awesome practitioners around the village!
Tucked in the center of the village was a series of tents from local partnerships for the festival such as Big Brother Big Sisters, the Okeechobee Fraternal Order of Police, and Hibiscus Children’s Center. There was also a venue stage called Pyramid Stage that held performances during the days and late nights varying from EDM to Miami Cuban jazz. This was a great spot to hangout and meet people during down periods of the festival. After perusing the village I headed into the Grove, the location of the main stages.
Grove security can be a timely experience, sometimes taking up to thirty minutes to pass into the Main stage area. They have a dozen or so rows filed single person to the checkpoint, where on you walk through a metal detector and have your bags searched. Some nights they just felt my bag up and let me through. Other nights they dug through my wallet checking all the nooks and crannies. Also, you aren’t permitted to bring outside food and drink, even if it’s just water in your water pack. Failure to comply with security measures holds up the line and just makes everyone generally annoyed so always be prepped and ready to pass through the checkpoint without incident!
Inside The Grove they have three stages: Be, Here, and Now. The outside border of the Grove houses bars, food vendors, VIP viewing areas, and Port-o-potties. My favorite drink was definitely the Florida Mule which is a Moscow Mule but it’s made with Red Bull and Titos Vodka. The food vendors in the Grove were out of this world! I ate the most delicious food such as buffalo gator bites, jalapeño hushpuppies, fried Oreos, pad Thai, ahi tuna tacos, and even a buffalo chicken mac n’ cheese egg roll. Okeechobeefest had the best food I’ve ever had at a festival hands down. Heck I’d even buy a ticket just to eat the food.
I headed over to the Now stage and befriended a stranger who was sitting alone. His name was Austin and he became my new best friend. We caught Tycho‘s set and then went to the Be stage to meet up with Austin’s squad and watch Khalid. His friends took me in like I had known them their whole lives. This was truly the magic that people had described to me about music festivals and the one reason I will come back again and again. I had come alone and been adopted by an awesome Squad. We finished the night by watching Tipper, Lettuce, Foster The People, and Bassnectar.
At the end of the set we decided to go back to my new friends’ camp and refresh ourselves for a long night in Jungle 51, the late night house and techno stage. However, we got too tired and fell asleep in their inflatable pool. My night ended curled up in the arms of a group of strangers I just met. That night was probably the best night of sleep I got at the festival.
Night 3: Okeechobee POWOW!
Saturday contained many of the acts I was most interested in and I was on the go all night.
My first act of the evening was revolutionary bass DJ CloZee playing the sunset at the Aquachobee stage. I was first introduced to her music through friends going to Okeechobeefest. After I heard her I knew that I had to see her live. She killed her set at Okee and I bought tickets to BUKU in New Orleans just so that I could hear her again. I would highly recommend seeing CloZee before she begins selling out shows!
Next on my list was The Flaming Lips on the Now stage. Austin and I gave the security guard at the VIP entrance a cigarette and he let us in. It’s the little moments like this make you feel like a rockstar. We laid in the grass while lazer lights shimmied off waves of fog swimming beyond our heads. The lead singer bellowed out a psychedelic cover of the American national anthem. I felt like I was taking a casual afternoon stroll through the time vortex.
Following the Lips we hopped over to the Now stage to watch G Jones throw down. Many of my friends kept raving that I had to see G Jones and wow his set rocked my body. I was right up by the left speaker and his unique blend of glitch bass shooketh my body. My inner bass head was quite pleased.
Unfortunately, I leave G Jones a little early because it was time for the big event of the night: Okeechobee POWWOW! with Snoop Dogg and The Roots. The set was incredible! Snoop Dogg has incredible stage presence, he’s smooth, he’s funny, and the crowd went wild bopping to hits old and new. It was truly a pleasure to be in the company of one of the most iconic rappers of all time. I caught about three-quarters of the set before I left to catch Illenium.
This was my first time seeing Illenium and he was magnificent! I must admit I’m not a casual listener of Illenium but I knew many of the songs that he played. His fans were really going nuts though! Everyone was singing along to his original hits and dancing their hearts out decked out in various Illenium sweatshirts and hats. His mix was well balanced with his softer EDM top 40’s and harder dub sets. I really appreciate a good ebb and flow on the dance floor.
The last act in the Grove was Big Gigantic who closed the night out with a bang! Their unique and driving blend of live performance and electronic certainly makes for a great time dancing. And apparently, I didn’t know this, but one of my friends from high school was playing with the band that night. Such a small world!
I caught one last set before I went to bed and that was the CloZee secret set at the Incendia stage. Incendia is a unique stage in the Aquachobee vicinity that was essentially made of welded steel and pyrotechnic wonders. The stage was framed by two flame-throwing sentinels and two jungle-jim inspired sitting areas with warming fires spewing from the ceiling. Inside the viewing area was also a Lyra for people to practice aerial tricks on. The DJ booth was set behind a sprawling set of fiery coals (or the illusion of coals). I let the soothing bass of CloZee finish off my night and I headed to bed.
My Day Off: Final Call for The Portal
I spent my exclusive day off the only way I know how: eating, sleeping, and vibing.
3 days of partying had left this crowd pretty pooped. You could see it in the rings under the eyes of every passerby. But this crowd was determined to milk every last second out of their Okeechobeefest experience.
I spent the beginning of my day just chilling. I decided to hop over to the Tea Lounge; a shady wonderland beset with a small performance stage, druid-like art works, and free tea. There were lots of people just sleeping in chairs, smoking, and sitting in hammocks. The music from the Pyramid Stage wafted through the trees as I swapped stories with strangers about my Life In Color experience.
Later in the morning I watched Mikky Ekko at Aquachobee, got a little sun, answered my emails that I had been neglecting from the real world, and then headed into the grove. I ate some teriyaki fried rice and fell asleep under a tree in the middle of the Grove. Okeechobee is so safe and comfortable that I had no issue falling asleep in the middle of a field. I trusted everyone around me.
When I woke up I was just in time for The Big Quiet: the first mass meditation experience ever conducted by their organization at a music festival. They presented a live musical meditative experience for those present in the Grove. They were joined by special guests singing and playing and practicing guided breathing and meditation. This was a nice outlet and re-energizing activity after three straight days of work and parties.
I met up with Austin and hung out with the Squad on the beach during Ganja White Night B2B Squnto. The Squad had set up their inflatable pool on the beach like a portable VIP lounge. We laid our heads back in the sun while the sultry wobble of Ganja White Night soothed our aching bodies. We would eventually repeat the same for Ganja’s set in the Grove later that night. A quick note, an inflatable pool is an amazing idea for a music festival for those looking to achieve comfort and secure their space. You can find the one we used at Okee HERE.
Austin and I left the group and went to catch Big Wild and a lil’ Lil Dicky. Big Wild lit the crowd up with his wild combination of vocals, pads, synths, DJ’ing, and live drumming. He was clearly a man of many talents and he knew how to get the crowd wild. Lil’ Dicky got everyone laughing with his famous “American Idol winning” rendition of I Believe I Can Fly.
We finished the night by relaxing in the inflatable pool listening to Ganja White Night, Gramatik, and Zedds Dead. All I can say is that these three DJ’s one after another sent the festival off right. Ripping synths, the deepest bass, and the dirtiest beats rocked our bodies until they simply could be rocked no more. We had been squeezed of every last drop of party we had inside us. We caught part of Arcade Fire, left the Grove, and finished the night on the beach. At this point I fell asleep on my water pack and woke up drenched to the bone in 50 degree weather with windchill. Needless to say I left for my camp and wrapped myself up in my sleeping bag.
Okeechobeefest 2018 was officially over.
Okeechobeefest has set a formidable bar for all future music festivals and events I attend. If you went this year or in the past I know you will agree. If you haven’t gone THEN YOU NEED TO GO. It’s definitely worth the money. And if you can’t afford the experience all out of pocket then volunteer! Volunteering is an exciting and affordable way to attend music festivals. I’m so fortunate to have had the opportunity to volunteer with Okeechobeefest through Kulturehaus.
These are the best words that I could muster to describe this very special festival. The vibes were just all around incredible! The facility is well kept and well run. The food is mouthwatering and savory. The stages and art are all complex and beautiful. The music contained the best sounds in our part of the world. The people were all the best of people. And there was so much more to do than what I could even encompass in this review. The only way to get the full experience is to BE HERE NOW.
My first camping experience at Okeechobeefest 2018 forever changed me by it’s magical ability to create memories I will never forget!
I hope to see you in the Portal next year!
For tickets and information on Okeechobeefest click >>> HERE <<<
For information and contact with Kulturehaus click HERE!
Photos provided courtesy of Kris Krug / Kulturehaus Cover Photo/Photos provided courtesy of Okeechobeefest Media Click the hyperlinks to view more photos of Okeechobeefest!