Review + photos by L Paul Mann
March 6, 2016 | Okeechobee, FL – As the sun rose on the final morning of the Okeechobee Music Festival, painting a crystal clear sky in perfect pastel hues, young EDM music fans could be seen straggling back to their campsites, with the thumping bass still thundering from the stages. At the same time a different crowd of festival junkies were waking up to perform group yoga and meditation exercises at the sunrise workshops. The morning began with a stiff cool breeze, but quickly turned toasty under the Florida sunshine. Aquachobee beach was again an early favorite gathering spot.
Rock ruled the main stages early on, while many in the millennial crowd were getting their EDM costumes ready or lounging over at the beach. Two bands from opposite ends of the country could be heard competing for an audience in the early afternoon sun. The Los Angeles indie rockers, Shelter were jamming away fiercely while over on the main stage, The New York rock duo The London Souls were playing loud and fierce rock music as well.
But is wasn’t until a little later in the afternoon, when the EDM sound of Kill The Noise filled the air that the first large crowd of young ravers massed on the field. The band, which was the first band to miss the festival the night before, finally arrived to their fans great delight to fill in for the festivals only no show, Fetty Wrap. The crowd responded to the hard core dance music, intensely, in the mid afternoon sun.
A much smaller crowd greeted country rocker Jason Isbell on the main stage at the same time. But for what they lacked in numbers they made up in enthusiasm for the popular singer songwriter and his veteran band.
But for the lions share of festival goers it was all about the EDM and Hip Hop music and even though Fetty was a no show, the massive crowd didn’t seem to mind as they stood in place from the Kill The Noise set to the next one by Fetty collaborator, rapper Post Malone. Malone, who soared to popularity mostly on the back of Sound Cloud tunes, was a huge hit wit the young crowd, beaming a big smile with his gold teeth often. The 20-year old Dallas native played his hits like “White Iverson” and “What’s Up”. His 30 minute set seemed to be a huge hit with the crowd, but fell short musically. He opened up with his most recognizable hit, “White Iverson,” but it quickly became clear he was lip-syncing over the original track, with the recorded lyrics fading in and out until he decided to actually sing some parts of the verses live. But no one seemed too mind. Meanwhile White Denim was playing some great Indie rock in front of a near empty stage.
As the afternoon began to fade, some of the young crowd broke off to join jam band fans at the main stage for one of the best sets of the day by the seminal jam band Ween.
A few other EDM fans broke off to watch Sphongle perform a DJ set. The show included 3d glasses for fans to experience the background video in another dimension, probably one of the most intimate tech tricks of the day.
But most young fans just stayed in one spot waiting for rapper Future to follow Post Malone. With Fetty bowing out, it was left to Future to be the mainstay of traditional Hip Hop music for the day. His collaborator DJ Esco got the crowd pumped before the most high profile rapper of the day took the stage. Future wowed the crowd with his head banging hits like “Shit,” “Move That Dope,” “My Savages,” “F*ck Up Some Commas,” and “Jumpman.” The crowd responded emphatically. Everyone seemed pumped and clouds of smoke sent a distinctive scent through the air. At one point a fan even through a giant blunt onstage, which did not go unnoticed.
Future was followed by Big Grams, the perfect mash up group for the young Okeechobee audience. The group featuring Hip Hop veteran Big Boi and the electronica dance rhythms of Phantogram wowed the crowd meshing the two genres perfectly.
Over on the main stage the jams of Ween were replaced by the big energy Americana sound of the Avett Brothers. This band is always pure fun and exciting to watch live and the had a fierce following, dancing the early evening away.
But the lions share of the young crowd was still over at the far stage, waiting for the final EDM group of the night, Odesza. The stage was inundated by costumed and totem carrying fans, overflowing into the groves where many savvy fans had hung their hammocks in multiple tiers to watch the show. The Seattle duo’s remix of Slow Magic’s “Wait 4 U” created a perfect atmosphere for the frenzied rave oriented crowd. The duo reworked Zhu’s “Faded,” which was fitting for the state of the festival goers after days of non stop raving. The duo played “Something About You” by Hayden James as redesigned by Odessa and euphoric fans danced until the end of the set.
Surprisingly much of the young crowd made their way across the field, joining older music fans who were already at the main stage for the Mumford and Sons final set. It is hard to believe that this top live act has only played in the sunshine state once before. In what has become a common theme for Mumford, the band played a two hour plus set ending with a jam session featuring many of the performers from the festival. The folksy band has become at festival favorite because they understand the slow build up to a resounding finale. Songs like I Will Wait and Little Lion Man blossomed to life as fans sang along, encouraged by singer Marcus Mumford strumming power chords on his acoustic fanatically.
More electric songs like Wilder Mind and Ditmas, amped the crowd further. In keeping with the unofficial liberal political theme of the festival, Mumford dedicated The Cave to THAT Republican presidential candidate: “What the f— are you thinking with Donald Trump? The guy’s a f—ing c—.”, he said exasperatedly.
The final finale was a fitting close to what, by all accounts was a spectacularly successful fist year festival, selling out the 30,000 capacity. The band first brought out Rage Against the Machine guitarist Tom Morello for a fiery version of Bruce Springsteen’s Ghost of Tom Joad, with Mumford smiling as Morello unleashed a searing solo with his teeth, a la Jimi Hendrix. Then the Avett Brothers came out meshing perfectly with the band, followed by Preservation Hall Jazz Band and members of Soulive for The House of the Rising Sun and the Kinks’ You Really Got Me. Guitarist Winston Marshall took over lead vocal duties on You Shook Me All Night Long. “Do I have the instrument for that?” he sheepishly asked Mumford. “I’ll do it falsetto. I’m gonna be f—ing awful. Tonight, I’m gonna do the Bee Gees doing AC/DC.” The crowd roared their approval. Marshal added afterward: “Ladies and gentlemen, I’ve just been fired from Mumford and Sons.”
After one last cover, Unchained Melody with Morello and the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, Mumford said a few words about the festival.
“They’ve done a beautiful thing trying to create a collaborative atmosphere,” Mumford said. “We’d love to come back. We love this place.” The feeling seemed overwhelmingly mutual in the massive crowd.
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