After taking 2019 off, Okeechobee Music Festival returned this past weekend (Mar. 5-8) in Sunshine Grove, Fla. For the first time in the festival’s history, Okeechobee was co-produced by Insomniac Events, the Los Angeles-based company backed by Live Nation and at the helm of worldwide dance festivals including Electric Daisy Carnival Las Vegas and Michigan’s Electric Forest. It was thus hardly surprising that this year’s lineup leaned heavily on dance acts, which came in addition to huge art installations and even bigger non-dance headliners like Mumford & Sons, Haim and Vampire Weekend. These massive moments came among more intimate sets spread across the 800-acre site.
Here are the 10 best moments of Okeechobee 2020.
Friday Night’s Holy Trinity of Dance: Big Gigantic, Bassnectar and Kaskade
Friday night’s marquee acts all delivered in their signature ways. Big Gigantic went, well, humongous: while fireworks, smoke machines and columns of fire make for great visuals, it’s always the live band aspect, in particular the duo’s sexy sax solos, accompanying the big beats that prove Big Gigantic to be perpetually worthwhile.
Just prior to Lorin Ashton’s flowing hair swinging onstage, a hush cultivated by ethereal new age sounds previewed Bassnectar’s arrival. This calm was then punctured by, what else, a bass explosion. A large portion of fans wore “Bassnectar” jerseys to this inaugural Bassnectar set of 2020, and overall the set was a blast to the solar plexus, happily triggering the nervous system for its duration.
Late night at the HERE stage featured deep house from Nora en Pure, who was followed up by Kaskade. Although certainly not a show for the sleepy, Kaskade’s set felt like a chill Bassnectar after-party where attendees wanted to keep the party going, but maybe not go as hard as they did during Big Gigantic or Bassnectar.
Everything About the HERE Stage
Easily one of the biggest improvements made by Okee organizers this year was moving the HERE stage far, far away from the BE and NOW stages. In the past, these stages were set side-by-side and the noise bleed was a real problem, with crowds caught betwixt Hall & Oates and Joey Bada$$ trying to drown one another out.
Located down a dusty trail — underneath a tent that from a distance resembled a massive rainbow quilt, the wind creating vibrant, multicolored waves on the fabric — thankfully the 2020 HERE stage was its own separate beast.
Party Pupils’ Beach Set
Saturday was still cool, but sunny enough to catch a tan (or a sunburn, ahem), and made for a perfectly pleasant day of debauchery. Universal Funk Orchestra greeted the early arriving aliens with their own space signals from the NOW stage.
However, by far the best place to be was Aquachobee, the mini-beach that sat in the shadow of the ferris wheel. While only a couple attendees braved the icy lake water, the remainder of festival goers revived themselves with a fantastically effervescent set by the dance duo, Party Pupils, who had the crowd bouncing to original songs, and remixes of already danceable singles. Dancing on sand was hell on the calves, but damn if it didn’t make for more resilience in the long run of the weekend. The was a sort of pregame ahead of a big Saturday night featuring Blood Orange, Haim and Vampire Weekend, but no one at Aquachobee was disappointed with the day party.
The Onesie Army Invades the Grove
There were essentially three kinds of outfits at Okeechobee: onesies, birthday suits, and happy mediums landing somewhere in between. During the day, attendees roamed Okeechobee in a dizzying blur of fashion. From couples wearing matching tin foil bodysuits to a man dressed as Borat in a mankini, nothing was off-limits.
But once the sun set, onesie armies marched joyfully throughout the grounds, with posses suited up as Elmo, Sulley from Monsters Inc., Pikachu, Care Bears, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Spongebob Squarepants, Winnie the Pooh, cows, horses, sloths, hella magical unicorns and in random psychedelic patterns.
The Heat of Incendia
Beating the cold was a primary concern throughout the four-day weekend. Men and women in faux fur coats lived their best and warmest lives, while others who came ill-prepared attempted to combat the cold with makeshift winter gear like trash bag dresses and Okeechobee signage worn as coats. Results varied.
In fact, it’s safe to assume the frigid weather only made people dance harder. Nowhere was this truer than at Incendia, a stage that often appeared to actually be on fire. This electronic wall of flames was home to noisy trap demons and feral glitch devils. Adjacent was an open air dome, warmed and illuminated by an ever-raging flame splashing across the ceiling like fiery tentacles as a group of wildlings danced underneath in a scene that could be ripped from a Mad Max film. One of the best, if ephemeral, moments came every time a DJ blasted the crowd with some figurative or literal heat.
Saturday Night Specials
If there was one day for which to buy a single-day ticket, Saturday was it. Early on, Clairo, the 21-year-old songstress, sent out a rush of sternum-crushing beats softened by her tender, girlish vocals. A few hours later, Haim and Vampire Weekend picked up where Clairo left off, each delivering exactly what attendees wanted: the hits. Haim bantered between songs, while Vampire Weekend let the music do the talking, although the latter act did puppeteer the crowd into jaunty dance moves with their twinkling guitar plucking and shouts of “Hey, hey, hey!”
EarthGang Arrives from Outer Space
Although many of the dance acts stood out – Crooked Colours, Moon Boots and Tipper all had particularly excellent sets – it was nice to have an occasional palette cleanser. That came via EarthGang, the Atlanta-based hip-hop duo that didn’t just reset our brains, but melted them with a blistering hour of music that fused the most raucous aspects of a Diplo set with the energy of Rage Against The Machine concert.
Olu and WowGr8 were infectious in their energy, rallying against the one percent and urging attendees to get our money. “This is for all the bulls–t, all the racism, all the sexism,” they announced, before pumping out a pair of back-to-back anti-Trump songs.
The Secrets of The Tea Lounge
The true hidden gem this year was the Lost Tea Lounge. Tucked away in a cluster of trees, the lounge was a shady escape filled with couches, treehouses, modern art and antique furniture. One small stage presented a variety of acoustic sets insulated from the pounding speakers of the (much) larger stages. This tiny wonderland found tired crowds lazily hanging off various edges like the melting clocks of a Dali painting. They rested, relaxed and enjoyed not just the music, but the crowd camaraderie cultivated by such intimate surroundings.
Slenderbodies Save Some Souls
Sunday may have been the day God rested, but for the rest of us OMF, there was too much to do and see. Overcast and dreary, the weather reflected the energy levels of some fans. Happily, Slenderbodies — the California indie pop duo — were on hand with a rescue. Occupying the space between alt-J, Kings of Convenience and fellow festival performers Glass Animals, the understated silkiness of songs like “anemone” and “belong” quietly snuck up on listeners, who began swaying as the duo gently eased the crowd back into consciousness. Akin to slipping out of a delicious nap and into a groovy, sensual dream, this was the musical hangover remedy Okeechobee fans needed.
Elohim Doing it All
A slight drizzle sprinkled the grounds Sunday afternoon, but one-woman band Elohim overcame not only the rain but any existing expectations. A contrast to the grey skies, Elohim was bright and sparkling and as she performed her big single, “Connect.” Much of her connection with the crowd was owed to the diversity of what she did on stage which basically everything. The show alternated constantly: at times she serenaded the crowd with saccharine sweet melodies and then pummeled everyone with chest thumping electronica. As she shouted, “I got love, f–k your money,” it was clear Okeechobee adored this manic and cheerfully bewildering set.