OKEECHOBEE — H.P. Lovecraft once said “The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.”
I have often struggled with a fear of the unknown, and this weekend, as I readied myself to attend the inaugural Okeechobee Music Fest, was no exception. From the moment the music festival was announced and we knew one of the headlining acts would be Mumford & Sons, I was beyond excited and thrilled about getting a press pass to attend the festival. I didn’t really know any of the other bands playing besides X Ambassadors, but I was jazzed about the music festival in general.
Having never attended a music festival before, I didn’t really know what to expect, and in the days leading up to the festival’s beginning, I began to grow anxious. I’m not in the best of shape, and I knew there would be a lot of walking involved, and I also worried about the crowd and how I would fare.
For whatever reason, Disney World crowds have never bothered me, but get me in a crowd of people where everybody’s crushing together into a small space to try and get a better view, and I start getting claustrophobic. I attended a concert in the past where I’d nearly gotten into a fight because a guy was shoved back into me and in an attempt to protect myself from him crashing into me and potentially knocking me over, I instinctively shoved him away. He got upset and got up in my face, threatening me with bodily harm if I laid a hand on him again. I mean, he was clearly drunk, and I quickly moved away to another part of the venue, but I’m not a confrontational person and wanted to avoid a repeat of that experience.
I can honestly say that nothing even remotely like that happened at the Okeechobee Music Fest. In fact, it ended up being one of the most enjoyable experiences in my life to date, and I am very much looking forward to next year.
My experience began Friday afternoon around four o’clock, when I ventured out to the festival alongside my boss. While parking was a bit of a snafu, and the hike to the Grove left me huffing and puffing and bemoaning the fact that I’d chosen to wear flip flops to work that day, I felt my level of excitement growing as we rounded the corner and I began to hear the thumping bassline of music. The people streamed in behind and beside us in various states of undress (bikini tops and skimpy shorts in March!) and costumery (I would, over the course of the weekend, encounter people dressed as Power Rangers, one dude wearing a Deadpool mask, a woman with golden goat horns that might’ve been a nod to Loki from the Marvel movies, and another woman dressed as a unicorn, to name a few), and the overall vibe felt positive and awesome.
We arrived just in time to catch X Ambassadors’ show, and I have to confess that I’d only ever heard a couple of their songs on the radio. Let me tell you, they were outstanding. Energetic and enthused, the band rocked their way through their set list, and I walked away feeling even better about the weekend. It would be an event to remember.
Trying to find our way back to where we’d parked turned out to be an unexpected event to remember too, but more on that later. We’re focusing on the positives of the weekend right now.
Saturday, I woke up with aching legs and feet screaming not to walk on them, and I began to doubt whether I really wanted to go out to the festival again until Sunday night when Mumford & Sons would be playing. “But Yogachobee!” I told myself, “and the tea garden! And the Ferris wheel and all the food! Come on, it’ll be an experience!” So I rallied myself into taking a shower, gathering up all my gear and began my trek out to the festival grounds.
Once more, a throng of people accompanied me on my walk from the day parking to the festival area, and the weather couldn’t have been more perfect — blue sky, warm sunshine and a slight breeze just to make sure it wasn’t sweltering. Pedicabs weaved in and out of the crowd, carrying festivalgoers back and forth, and once again, the general vibe of the crowd felt upbeat. No troublemakers here. I’d seen the Grove, where the three main stages were, the night before, so I decided to make my way into the Moonlight Oasis, where Chobeewobee Village, Aquachobee Beach and Yogachobee lay waiting.
Confession time — I had every intention of making it to Jungle 51 to check out the crashed UFO and take part in the all-night electronica dance party but I didn’t stay late enough on Saturday. By Sunday, I just wanted to make sure I got a good spot for Mumford & Sons, so I didn’t venture very far away from the BE Stage. There’s always next year though!
I decided to start with Yogachobee. At the entrance into the Moonlight Oasis, a bamboo (maybe bamboo, it looked bamboo-like) structure with benches beckoned. Those benches would come in handy later when I was overcome with incense after my trip into the tea garden and needed to take a break before I potentially hurled. The first thing I saw upon entering the Moonlight Oasis was a tent with a colorful sign out front offering massage therapy. In the cool shade of the tent, people lounged, and in another tent, people gathered on yoga mats.
Making my way past the tents, I paused to take in the melodious chimes of the palace structure. As I drew closer to it, I realized the chimes were tin cans! Talk about an oddly beautiful and inventive way to recycle your canned goods.
A couple of shrines had been set up in a small hammock of trees, and gongs made peaceful, relaxing noises that soothed the stress.
After a while of wandering around and taking in the sights of the Ferris wheel and the Aquachobee beach stage, I had a little rumble in my tummy, so I decided to check out the many food truck vendors lined up. Man, was I spoiled for choice! I ultimately decided on a food truck from out of Knoxville, Tenn. called Savory and Sweet, and I chose the Kitchen Sink taco and a churro. Let me tell you, that was one of the best tacos I’ve ever had — fried avocado, pork, slaw, salsa, cheese and crema, and it was tasty and most definitely savory. The churro tasted heavenly as well.
After walking around a bit more, I needed to make my way back home. Never fear, I knew I would return on Sunday for the main event — Mumford & Sons.
On Sunday, Southernmost Falafel caught my attention for dinner, and I had the most delicious falafel and hummus in a flatbread. For dessert, the Amish Baking Company had donuts and wow, they were so hot and huge and glazed goodness. While I was devouring that tasty treat, I noticed a band taking the BE Stage. I knew it was too early for my favorite band, but curiosity won out and I meandered over to the stage.
I managed to find a good spot relatively up close, and the band came out, started playing. They rocked. This is a family friendly web site, so I can’t add a third word to that assessment, but I’ll let you use your imaginations. I looked up the band’s name on the schedule, and they turned out to be the Avett Brothers. Banjos and violins combine with guitars and drums to create a rocking sound that just makes you want to get up and dance. If I’d been more familiar with the lyrics, I probably would’ve sang along, but the majority of the crowd covered that for me. The Avett Brothers impressed me enough that I will be looking them up and getting their album.
After that, there was a break but I didn’t want to give up my spot, so I stayed right there and struck up a conversation with three of the people around me.
Two were from Sanford and one was from Tampa, and they all had great things to say about the festival and Okeechobee in general. Actually, everyone that I spoke to over the course of the weekend had wonderful things to say, and the woman from Tampa was excited about seeing how the festival would grow and change through the years. She mentioned how exciting it would be in 50 years to have her grandkids saying they were going to the 50th anniversary Okeechobee Music Festival, and how she would sit them down and tell them all about how she’d been at the inaugural festival.
You know, she’s not wrong. That would be pretty awesome. Kinda gives you chills to think about, doesn’t it?
Before long, it was time. The moment I had been waiting for all weekend had finally arrived, and let me just tell you that it was glorious. Mumford & Sons came out on stage and shook me all night long, wink nudge.
They played one of my favorite songs, “Little Lion Man,” which was a thrill to see and hear performed live, and honestly, their entire set was amazing. It’s hard to pick just one moment that stood out as the best. After their set, they brought Tom Morello, formerly of Audioslave and Rage Against the Machine (whom I’d grown up listening to), the Avett Brothers and the Preservation Hall Jazz Band and rocked a few cover songs before bidding the crowd a good night.
Honestly, I think I could’ve happily listened to Marcus Mumford, the lead singer of Mumford & Sons, talk all night in that lovely British accent, but the entire show was excellent.