Review + Photos by L Paul Mann
March 5, 2017 – The final day of the 2017 Okeechobee Music Festival dawned cold and breezy with many exhausted music fans passed out all about the festival site. But another day of fantastic music from many genres got people motivated early despite their exhaustion. Even after four days of nonstop partying many committed festival-goers wore fresh new costumes and sported freshly made totems.
Despite technical difficulties, Manchester singer Bipolar Sunshine opened the festivities in Chobeewobee with sweet pop vocals belying his Jamaican heritage. The Delta Troubadours brought a local blues rock vibe as the opening band on the main Be stage. The Gainesville band got a modest crowd rocking early. At about the same time Knoxville band Cereus Bright brought an American vibe to the smaller Here stage.
By late afternoon a large crowd had gathered in front of the Now stage to hear the only reggae band in the four-day lineup, Soja. The eight-piece rocking reggae band from Virginia is a bit of an anomaly. Veterans of the festival circuit they almost always play as afternoon openers for the headline acts. But they regularly draw some of the biggest crowds at their performances. Their infectious sound always turns the crowd into a sweaty mass of reggae dance trance fans.
The music took an even bigger turn with the next group on the smaller Here stage. The truly legendary Blind Boys of Alabama were led onto the stage to sing their uplifting Gospel music that has garnered them five Grammy awards. The four blind vocalists have been singing together since they met in 1939 at the Alabama Institute for the Negro Blind in Talladega, Alabama. The four singers backed by a veteran blues band had the crowd singing and swaying through the set. They were joined at the end by Washington state should singer Allen Stone for an uplifting Gospel finale.
Charismatic Michigan pop rocker Mike Posner played to a huge crowd just after Soja. As the sun was setting, the impish singer bolted out onto the stage three times only to walk off each time, teasing the crowd into erupting into a furious cheer. Backed by a great rocking band the set was full of energy.
The Growlers brought their California jam rock sounds to a twilight performance just as the trees in the forest were lit up for the evening. It was a magical, moody set on the smaller Here stage. At the same time on the main Be stage, the New York City band The Bleachers formed by the musical genius Jack Antonoff rocked for another large crowd. The animated Antonoff raced about the stage playing fierce guitar licks and seemingly making eye contact with nearly ever music fan in the audience. The singer-songwriter has produced, and written songs for some of the biggest pop stars in America. But he is also a consummate showman himself.
Anderson Paak and his new band, The Free Nationals, created a near frenzy in the huge crowd assembled in front of the now stage. The American singer, songwriter, rapper, drummer and record producer from Oxnard, California worked the crowd racing about the stage and chatting up the adulate audience. It is hard to believe that Paak was homeless with his young son and wife after losing his job at a Santa Barbara marijuana farm less than six years ago. Now he is at the top of the food chain with tens of thousands of music fans screaming his name at Okeechobee.
Back across the dusty field with lights flashing in the night sky The Lumineers brought their Colorado brand of Americana music to another huge crowd at the Be stage. Exhausted must fans swayed to their music and chanted the chorus to the band’s biggest hit songs.
As Anderson Park finished his set on the Now stage many tired festivals goers collapsed in place. At the same time, an army of ravers heads towards the stage for what would be the most well-attended set of the final day. While The Lumineers were over playing their Americana brand of Colorado music, another Colorado native was about to take the Now stage in a different direction. Derek Vincent Smith, better known by his stage name Pretty Lights lit up the night sky with his now famous light and laser show. The veteran festival performer brought several other keyboardists and a drummer with him to the show to produce a rich multi-layered EDM soundtrack. The huge crowd loved the music and the light show, staying until the end.
The Nashville alternative rockers, Kings of Leon played the closing set to a smaller crowd. The band played their usual over the top hit-laden set but for some unknown reason ended their set a half hour earlier than their scheduled set time. Most music fans who were watching the entire Pretty Lights set missed the final rock set by the Nashville rockers but didn’t seem to mind.
A happy epilog reported in a local newspaper, local prosecutor Ashley Albright poured over more than 60 drug arrests made at the Okeechobee Music Festival and determined 40 of those had to be dropped.
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