Photographer by day and bartender by night at the Okeechobee Music Fest

OKEECHOBEE — This is a first-hand accounting of what it was like to live and work at the Okeechobee Music Festival on March 3-6. I was a photographer by day and a bartender by night.

The BRAT Club (Building Relationships Among Teens) group had a great time at the festival, and raised a lot of money for the club’s youth and scholarship programs by working in one of the beverage booths.

The BRAT Club (Building Relationships Among Teens) group had a great time at the festival, and raised a lot of money for the club’s youth and scholarship programs by working in one of the beverage booths.

As board member of the B.R.A.T. Club, I had signed up to work a shift for our beverage booth at the festival. We had a campsite in staff camping where I hung my hat for the next few days. The shift I signed up for was 7 p.m. to 2 a.m. which really ended up going until almost 4 a.m. some nights.

Our booth served water, soda, pre-mixed drinks, beer and cocktails. Working as a bartender was different from anything I had ever done before.

It was so much fun! People were generally happy.

The Ferris wheel at AquaChobee beach was a festival touch and added to the fun.

The Ferris wheel at AquaChobee beach was a festival touch and added to the fun.

Over the weekend, I had kids come up who at 12:01 a.m. had turned 21.They would stick out their ID and say “See it’s my 21st birthday!” Sure was!

This happened almost every night. What better way to celebrate your 21st than seeing your favorite bands live in concert?

The booth was a lot of work, keeping up with inventory throughout the night and making sure finances were in order before I went to the tent.

I didn’t mind. To me anything to do with the B.R.A.T. Club is a labor of love.

Plus the staff made everything go so smoothly.

After my shift, walking back to my tent, I could hear the music coming from the Jungle 51 area. I was exhausted, sore, soaked from the ice water in the coolers but happy.

My first night camping was great, although I froze because Florida decided to become cold as Alaska over night. Then my air mattress popped one night into the festival. I woke up on the ground. I refused to be discouraged and I got dressed for a sunny Florida day, after taking a quick trip to the portable showers — which were not as bad as you might think as it got the job done and had hot water.

Amazing artwork could be found throughout the festival site.

Amazing artwork could be found throughout the festival site.

With a thick layer of sunscreen on this pale red headed Floridian, I returned to the heart of the festival with my camera equipment in hand.

On Saturday, March 5, I got to explore the festival itself. I walked everywhere, seeing all the beautiful pieces of art work, tea room, booths and the beach!

Everything was beautifully done! You couldn’t go 10 feet without finding shade or a place to sit which was a huge help.

In YogaChobee, a vendor offered body paint that glowed under black lights.

In YogaChobee, a vendor offered body paint that glowed under black lights.

One booth really got my attention. After seeing many people walk around with paint on their arms, I ended up finding the booth were they got this done. I was snapping photos when the gentleman asked me if I would like to have it done.

He told me under the black lights at night, the paint would glow. Well what 25-year-old in their right mind would turn this down? So, I stepped up and had my arm painted. The paint would last up to 12 hours!

As I continued my walk, I ran into a group of young ladies who were enjoying a rest spot under the trees and were braiding each other’s hair. As I stopped to take a photo, they looked up at me and simply fell in love with my red curly hair and just had to braid it. They also adorned my face with body jewels and made a flower design on the side of my face. Needless to say I am pretty sure I was partially turned into a modern day hippie. Everyone was so nice, laid back and extremely sweet.

As the sun started to set I returned to trade out my camera equipment for a small nap and a change of clothes for the cool evening ahead of me. I did this every day. Each day I would capture different things and all the different ways people were enjoying the many thing the festival had to offer.

This was truly a moment in life I would not soon forget.

On Sunday, March 6, the last day of the festival. I was so tired I slept in my backseat of my car. Still worth it.

Sunday was the night my favorite band, Mumford & Sons, would perform and for once I had the day shift so I could go and see them.

The crowd at the stage seemed to go on forever.

The crowd at the stage seemed to go on forever.

As time approached for the show, my two friends and I looked for a place to sit as close as possible to the stage and were lucky enough to get a picnic table.

I was so happy to sit. When the show started, we all stood up and I stood on the table to snap a quick photo of the massive crowed.

After taking the camera away from my face, I just stood there in amazement.

There were people as far as the eye could see, screaming, jumping and singing at the top of their lungs with the band. Over 30,000 people right here in my town.

This makes my heart happy. For many people who grew up in Okeechobee, all your teenage life you want nothing more than to get out of this town. Then you grow up and realize how great this little town is, how giving, how kind it is.

All I heard from all of these people during whole festival was how much they loved Okeechobee, how it was so beautiful, unlike anything they had ever seen.

People would say “you must love living here!”

Yes, I do.

On top of a table, staring into a crowd of smiling faces all I could think is how unbelievable this was.

In the good times and bad, this is my town. This is Okeechobee. This is my home.

Reach columnist Tammi Kelly at tkelly@newszap.com

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