Review + Photos by L Paul Mann
March 2, 2017 – The chaos of modern life is left behind as you turn off the bustling 95 freeway that runs along nearly the entire East Coast and onto the old highway 714. Heading West along the rural road, freeway civilization gives way to one of the last unspoiled wilderness areas in South Florida. The ride into the Okeechobee Music Festival is a spectacular one, with thick green vegetation on all sides. Florida oak trees with hanging Spanish moss blowing in the warm tropical wind and swaying palm trees line the roadway growing ever denser as the road narrows. The trees eventually blend to form a natural canopy of a thousand shades of green that forms a complete cover over the road.
This describes the drive into the Okeechobee Music Festival, one of the most spectacular locations ever developed for any festival. The opening day Thursday, March 2 was greeted with warm temperatures and beautiful white clouds hanging like cotton balls in the sky. As a magnificent sunset lit up the sky early birds for the second annual sold out ever were already sitting in long lines of traffic to enter the festival site.
The first day of the festival is a soft opening much like the massive Bonnaroo festival every June in Tennessee. Okeechobee takes many of its cues from that prestigious event but has transformed them into a uniquely Florida version of a festival. The festival has three main areas of interest. The opening day showcases bands on the Aquachobee Beach stage and DJ’s IN the aptly named Jungle 51. The Beach venue actually has a beach with a small pond where brave souls wander into the murky water at all hours of the night. The music started early on the beach stage, and by the time the sun began to set a big crowd had arrived to hear a blazing set of Sacred Steel Blues by native Floridian, Roosevelt Collier and his band of talented musicians. The mystical sounds of the pedal steel guitar rooted in Black Gospel tradition were transformed into jam band music by the masterful Collier. A sweaty crowd mostly of younger EDM fans responded enthusiastically. By the end of the 90-minute set nearly everyone was dancing. During the set change for the next band Con Brio, the crowd in Aquachobee swelled. A holographic light show in the middle of the pond enchanted many complete with a dancing baby in synch with the heavy EDM sound system at the water’s edge. Other festival goers rode the Ferris wheel or checked out the vast array of vendors. Con Brio, a seven piece funky soul band from California played the next set on the Beach stage. The group may be young, but they play a traditional old soulful style of funk that delighted the dance-oriented crowd. Fronted by the charismatic singer and dancer Ziek McCarter, the band belted out ninety minutes of sweat-drenched soul music. For those into traditional, funky soul beats this band is the up and coming real deal. The could give Bruno Mars a run for his money.
As the evening wore on, there was no doubt what the music genre of choice for most of the young fans on the first day of the festival might be. The late night venue Jungle 51 which features talented up and coming DJ,s along with a few surprise big names, was already jammed before 10 PM and massive crowds waited to enter the enchanting multimedia lit venue nestled in a natural Florida grove of Palm trees. Many hung their hammocks in the trees while others danced in all manner of EDM paraphernalia while DJ’s belted out thumping tunes well into the rising sun the next morning.
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