OKEECHOBEE –“There’s something special about this place,” said Kevin Collinsworth, Soundslinger CEO.
Soundslinger is the company that brings you the Okeechobee Music & Arts Festival. The place is Sunshine Grove, more than 600 acres of beautiful Florida land — stretches of grasslands spotted with oak hammocks, clumps of palmetto and palms, natural wetlands and ponds — in rural northeast Okeechobee County.
The second OMF, which started Thursday, March 3 and continues through today (March 5), sold out all 36,000 available tickets. Add to that number a few thousand employees, volunteers and members of the media, and it easily outnumbers Okeechobee County’s year round census population.
But the festival site also offers opportunities for smaller gatherings and even for quiet reflection.
There’s something special about this place.
Areas within the festival grounds are designated with names that play with the fascination of the word “Okeechobee”‘ which means “big water.”
At AquaChobee, festival organizers used sand mined on the property to turn a pond area into a beach party, with it’s own stage and live entertainment. To add to the fun, AquaChobee has a Ferris Wheel.
ChobeeWobee Village has a variety of vendors as well as “Participation Row,” with booths from ten area non-profit organizations. By having an entry stamped at three of the Participation Row booths, festival goers can enter a free raffle to win a guitar autographed by OMF performers.
At the booth for Martha’s House (shelter for victims of domestic violence), visitors are encouraged to paint their hands with colors to designate what their home life was like, ranging from pink for “loved” to dark blue for “beaten.” The handprints make a giant mural.
Yogachobee features areas for yoga and healing arts, and a wonderful tea garden hidden in a wooden area. The tea garden includes a stage where a steady stream of entertainers provide music in a variety of styles. The garden also has spots for tea ceremonies, and places to just sit and relax.
In one corner of the tea garden on Saturday, a crowd gathered around a man seated at a small table that held a manual typewriter near a sign: “Pick a topic, get a poem.” A line of young women waited their turns to suggest a word or phrase for a poem that the poet, Devan, composed on the spot and then read to them.
Devan admitted that his boss told him he could take a break and enjoy the festival, but that he chose to stay in the garden and continue to write poems because he can’t imagine anything that would make him happier. He said OMF renewed his faith in that Americans still value the written word.
“If there’s a line for me, Blake and Shakespeare will be fine,” he said.
OMF is an inclusive, non-judgemental space where self expression is encouraged and celebrated. Many of the fans use clothing, props and body paint to express themselves. They enjoy posing for photos with other festival fans.
Many fans sport a “sleeve” of paint courtesy of a booth in ChobeeWobee Village.
Others wear bandannas or cloths over their faces, for a variety of reasons. Some explained the cloth was to protect their noses and necks from the Florida sun. Others said it was to keep from breathing in dust or “whatever.”
Some had other explanations for hiding their faces. For example:
“It’s to protect my identity online.”
“My parents (or boss, or children) don’t know I’m here.”
“I robbed a store on the way here.”
The festival continues today. Campers must vacate the campgrounds by noon on Monday.
Editor Katrina Elsken can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org