Guest Contributor Jim Schramm
Festivals can sometimes creep up on you for various reasons. The everyday hustle can take over and suddenly it’s upon us. This time around however, it was because of a unique set of circumstances by which literally out of the blue we were heading from Michigan down to sunny Florida for Okeechobee.
While the new unofficial jump off to festival season was absolutely on my radar, it was mostly because of the buzz about its incredibly diverse, stacked lineup. Also, a group of close friends were planning on making the trip, and were excited to continue our somewhat cult following of Pretty Lights and the Live Band. I had not personally made plans to go though, and was becoming slightly annoyed with, and a bit jealous of, all the chatter about the big trip. Then out of nowhere in late February, my amazing girlfriend surprised me with wristbands, an RV pass, and plane tickets for my birthday! I flipped a biscuit, pumped a fist, probably squealed, and may have shed a tear in excitement. Two weeks later we hopped a flight and headed south to begin our Okeechobee adventure.
I have been going to festivals for 17 years, since I popped my cherry at the first Movement, then (and still in my mind) called DEMF in Detroit, Michigan in 2000. Still, I get so damn excited that I can’t sleep for a couple of nights leading up to the event. So, Thursday morning, day one of the festival, we groggily yet somehow wide-eyed set out to pick up our RV we had rented from this old hippie, Mr. Mark. While our little home away from home was quite a bit ricketier than it looked in the pictures, it proved to be an awesome decision by my girlfriend. Turns out RV camping at Okeechobee is in a nearly perfect location! We were smack-dab in the center of the festival grounds with super easy access to everything. Also, our neighbors happened to build a courtyard out of four RVs, and had a group of local Orlando DJs bumpin’ music ‘til sunrise and beyond every morning. And oh-yeah, Snails was their pal and basically our surrogate neighbor; pretty cool.
We arrived on the hottest day of the weekend, a balmy 85°, in the mid-afternoon heat to set up shop. Security was thorough yet friendly on the way in, but once we passed through the initial checkpoint on the perimeter of the grounds, almost non-existent for the rest of the event it seemed. After getting a good lather going while making ourselves at home in the Florida sun, we cracked bottles and beers, made friends with everyone around us, and packed a bag in preparation to go see our first act of the festival.
We headed to the Aquachobee Beach Stage to meet our friends and kick off Thursday evening with what has become one of our favorite bands, TAUK. The heavy, NYC dirty-funk four piece is made up of Matt Jalbert (lead guitar), Charlie Dolan (bass), AC Carter (keys), and the centerpiece on the drum-kit, Isaac Teel. All great musicians, I have always been especially impressed with Isaac, a super talented drummer who is in my humble opinion, “the third best drummer on the planet.” We’ve had a chance to see these guys perform at the Stache, the intimate front room of our home base, the Intersection in Grand Rapids, Michigan a couple of times over the last year or so. They put on two amazing shows for us there, took some time to kick it with us and sign some vinyl each time, and we’ve been watching them build momentum since. They continued that momentum with their beach set as the sun started to go down on night one. The crowd was groovin’ in the sand, soaking in the perfectly intertwined keys, guitars, and hard hitting drums that make up the signature tension-and-release jams of these up-and-comers. After the show, it was great to get in a quick dap and a few words with the band before we ventured on. Starting with some guys that have become some of our favorite humans was truly a perfect way to begin an amazing weekend.
The Grove, site of the three largest stages at Okeechobee, was not open on Thursday, and the lineup for night one was on the light side. We decided to spend the next few hours trouncing around familiarizing ourselves with the lay of the land. Moonlight Oasis, the other half of the venue that was open to explore, proved to be well thought out in its setup, and provided us with plenty to see and do for the night. We scoped out the food vendors around Aquachobee Beach, and spent some time in Chobeewobee Village looking at art and taking note of some of our most desirable merch tents we would hit later in the weekend. Android Jones artwork was prevalent in this area, and amazing to look at! The Tea Lounge area, a series of living-room-like settings plopped in a small jungle area was interesting, and the looming Ferris wheel a constant reminder of the playful carnival-like atmosphere. We even ventured out into GA camping to our friends’ site, which we would affectionately refer to as “Camp B.” After meeting their neighbors, a great crew of friends from San Francisco, we relaxed for a bit before heading back to the venue for a much anticipated first look at Jungle 51.
This proved to be my favorite part of the festival grounds, and a place that I would spend some time at every night (and morning). Words can’t fully describe the look and feel of Jungle 51, but I’ll give it a shot. After experiencing the very open space around the beach and in the village, we walked under the archway into the dense darkness of the jungle. We were greeted by up-lit trees wrapped in reflective armor. The stage was guarded by giant columns clad in glow-in-the-dark electro-glyphics that made them look like they were surging with the energy of the music. And what brought it all together were the lasers! The phenomenal and ever present laser light show created sort of a laser grid over your head; a laser grid ceiling of sorts. Then more lasers shot in every direction, while yet more created a cloud-like feel when combined with the smoke that was piped in at just the right times. These beams of light hit the trees around us, and created these crazy matrix-like moving patterns everywhere. It was visually stunning and extremely engaging to say the least. On top of how Jungle 51 made us feel with the visual aspects of it all, the music was great as well. I’m a big house music head, so I was in heaven with the all-night, every-night house beats until dawn! This stage opened at 9pm on night one, and 11pm the rest of the weekend. The party kept moving until dawn every morning, and we saw the sun come up every day partially because of our beloved jungle. We kicked off our jungle experience with OG AG and John Noseda, a couple of DJs we’d never heard before. They ripped through two dope sets, and showed us a glimpse of what was in store for us in the jungle all weekend.
After our jungle experience, we walked to Camp B with our friends before returning to home base in RV Land in the middle of the night. Just when we thought maybe we’d get a little rest before getting into the weekend, we met some new friends on our walk back. Time got away from us as it can do so easily, and we ended up bumpin’ some beats of our own and choppin’ it up with our new buddies until we finally fell asleep in our super comfy reclining lawn chairs about 9:30am Friday morning. With day one in the books, we got about an hour of sleep before our buds from Camp B came-a-knockin’, wide-eyed, bushy-tailed, and itching to start day two.
After an aggressive day one we felt it necessary to lounge at camp for a few hours to get day two started, and some fellowship and reflection was just what the doctor ordered. We eventually loaded some backpacks and ventured out mid-afternoon to meet the San Francisco Crew in the Grove for 12th Planet. This was also our first trip into The Grove, the self-proclaimed epicenter of Okeechobee. While I enjoyed the other side of the festival grounds, it was cool to basically step into an entirely different setting upon entering The Grove. Home to the three main stages, The Grove was surrounded by a towering tree line and a dense jungle/forest. After spending all of day one at camp or in the wide open, fantastical Moonlight Oasis, it was like going from a small village to the big city. Booming sound, giant light rigs, and huge crowds dominated The Grove. And while this area housed all three main stages, there was still plenty of room to walk around without feeling crowded. There were plenty of restrooms, lots of food and beverage vendors, sufficient water stations, and plenty of shade to take a break from the Florida sun.
The Now Stage was soaked in said sunlight as 12th Planet began. While the west coast dubstep god is not always necessarily my cup of tea, his music is fun to dance to and is always unique and interesting. This set was no different, and our growing group bounced around taking in his diverse bass drops in the afternoon heat. Afterwards we all took some time to scope out the rest of The Grove before reconvening at The Be Stage. As the sun began to go down on day two, we took in the loud, partially annoying, and largely obnoxious set delivered by Waka Flocka Flame; ‘nough said.
By this time in the weekend we had still not seen the last of our hometown friends, so we ventured back to Aquachobee Beach for some Space Jesus. We spotted our buddy’s “Wokeechobeings” third eye totem immediately, and got down to the Spaceman’s dynamic alien future gangster dub beats. We especially dig this guy’s sound and swag, so this was a great set to take us into the meat of night two. After going down that wormhole for a while, we resurfaced and bounced back over to The Be Stage in The Grove for our favorite hip-hop set of the festival, performed by Wiz Khalifa. He dropped every jam we wanted to hear, putting us in an extra OG mood, bandanas up and sunglasses on… at night. We leveled back out with the unique sounds of Australian beatmaker, Flume, before heading back to Camp B to regroup for late night.
Any festival has rumors flying regarding potential “secret sets” throughout the weekend, and Okeechobee was no different. This festival, however, scheduled a series of “special guest” sets at The Incendia Stage opposite The Beach Stage on Aquachobee beach. We affectionately referred to Incendia as “The Fire Stage,” as it was clad in a series of small flames that erupted into enormous fire-breathing-dragon-like blasts on time with bass drops. It was an awesome spectacle to behold! the rumor of the night was that the 2:30am set at The Fire Stage would feature the Master of Funk himself and fellow Michigander, Griz. That same rumor floated around all of day one however, and never came to fruition. A skeptical Camp B thus decided to chill, opting to turn in relatively early in preparation for the second half of the weekend. This turned out to be a predictably terrible decision!
My girlfriend and I continued and sure enough, Griz appeared on stage to the delight of the hopeful crowd. He dropped a somewhat familiar first portion of his set, filled with nostalgic nineties party samples, and created his infamous fun-loving vibe on Aquachobee Beach. We probed around the crowd as this went on, trying to find a way to get close. We finally found a great spot kind of behind / beside the fire breathing stage. Simultaneously the real fun began as Griz invited dub-beat, bass master, SHOOKA on stage. An odd combination to say the least, Griz morphed his style to match the grimy drops of his counterpart, as they proceeded to go back to back for the remainder of the super-memorable set. Once again proving going hard pays off!
On a high from the bad-ass set we had just witnessed, we decided to head back to the jungle for more. We stayed for some dope house beats from female DJs Kim Ann Foxman and Umfang, got our shuffle on, and met some great people from NYC. As we closed in on Camp A back in RV Land, it was clear the Orlando DJ crew was throwing a party of their own, with decks set up on top of one of their RVs. As we got closer it became obvious that it was Snails droppin’ nasty beats on the party below, and he continued until well after sunrise. We gave day two everything we had until collapsing in that same chair around 11am Saturday morning.
Well rested and completely oblivious to what we had experienced while they slept, our boys from Camp B came skipping into our camp early afternoon on Saturday. With just a couple of hours of sleep under our belts again, we somehow mustered the energy to pop right up and get it going…again. Eager to fill them in on what they had missed, we hung out telling stories at camp and prepared for a big Saturday. Admittedly stalling to get some extra rest, we were still at camp when the first act of the day we wanted to catch began. I don’t know if the wind was blowing just right, or what was going on, but somehow we could hear George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic get the funk down from the friendly confines of RV Land. This was a welcome occurrence, as some extra time to rest our legs and get some nourishment in us was much needed.
We finally made our way to the Beach Stage in time to catch most of Brasstracks’ set. Part of the growing movement to incorporate live instruments into EDM, Brasstracks’ self-described “horns, synths, drums” sound delivers a unique, groovy style. Another great act for the beach setting, they set the tone for what was probably my favorite overall night of the festival. Next, it was time to get back over to The Grove for an act that we have been following for a few years now, the ultra-funky Floozies. These guys have really started to hit their stride of late, and they sounded super crispy at Okeechobee! Brothers Matt and Mark Hill complimented each other so well with Matt’s funky-ass guitar dancing around Mark’s intuitive kick on the drums. Their unique sound had us shakin’ our tailfeathers in the late afternoon sun, as we moved into a stacked Saturday night lineup.
Next up was Griz, one of the most anticipated sets of the weekend! Mr. Omnipresent once again, Griz was everywhere all weekend. He put his skills on display making a boatload of appearances in a variety of styles. His Saturday night sunset show was one for the ages. He got right into it, popping off appropriately with one of his bangers, “Can’t Hold Me Down.” He proceeded to set night three off with a perfectly funky array of sounds, highlighted by his signature sax. Just as his All Good Records has leapt on to the scene of late, Griz put his talented fingerprints all over Okeechobee with a vengeance. Seemingly connected to the right brain of everyone in the crowd, he dominated his showcase set, which nobody wanted to end! One of the best shows of the weekend really turned up the volume on night three.
We took a quick breather after Griz rocked us into the night, before coming right back to the Be Stage for the one and only Bassnectar. We arrived to a crowd that was packed in thick! We opted to hang back for this one and take the whole crazy scene in from a little further back than normal. This actually worked out great for us as his light show was massive, sending beams of light in every direction to dramatically take over the night sky. I’ve seen Nectar a whole bunch of times over the years, and a festival setting is definitely my favorite. In true Nectar form he threw down a totally unique, totally immersive, completely engulfing voyage of a set. His transitions were immaculate per usual, and his bass drops of course were dripping all over us.
After an action-packed afternoon and evening, I would have been content to call it a night in most scenarios. Okeechobee however, had a whole bunch more in store for us on this Saturday! Looking back, I’m kind of amazed at the depth of the lineup. There was literally amazing music almost around the clock every single day for the entire weekend; amazing.
We shifted over to the Here Stage and caught some of the PoWow! next. Led by legendary pianist Michael McDonald and Soulive / Lettuce funkmaster Eric Krasno, this once in a lifetime mashup was really cool to watch. We caught appearances from the incredible voices of Gallant, Allen Stone, and Antwaun Stanley, and some more Griz before we moved on.
Take a deep breathe ‘cause the party kept going with Usher & The Roots back at the Be Stage. Usher’s voice and signature slide steppin’ moves proved to be a perfect combination with The Legendary Roots Crew. 90s nostalgia was oozing everywhere! They even dropped in Prince and James Brown covers to cap off what was an incredible set. Part of the squad stayed put for the entire thing while a few of us slipped back over to the Here Stage to witness Ott. He has been on a few festival lineups that I’ve been to, but I’ve somehow always missed him. At the urging of a good buddy, we finally made it to see this crazy-unique sound unfold. I can best describe his sound as middle-eastern laden alien bass music from space. It was pretty cool, and I am glad I finally made it.
At this point we were worn out, but it didn’t matter. The music had taken over our minds and bodies, and we couldn’t stand to be without it. The problem was, we could barely stand! The Camp B boys retired, but my girlfriend and I being the experienced festival-goers we are, came up with a brilliant plan. We stopped at camp, changed our sweaty clothes, packed a backpack, grabbed our hammock, and headed back to the jungle! We set up shop between two perfectly spaced palm trees, put everything we needed within arm’s reach, and plopped down in the hammock. We spent the next couple of hours swaying back and forth, hanging with some more new friends from the Baltimore / DC area. The soundscape was set by Midwest rave legend DVS1, and another Michigander; Detroit’s own Ryan Elliot. We literally shut down the jungle Sunday morning before wobbling back to camp with one of our new buds. Again, the Orlando party was in full effect, and we proceeded to vibe with them until we walked our DC homie back to her camp, and finally collapsed in our RV at flippin’ noon on Sunday. What. A. Day!
Camp B knocked on our door way to soon Sunday afternoon, as had been the trend all weekend. I mustered up enough energy to stumble around with my homies looking for some hot food while my girlfriend rested at camp. I returned quickly though, as I just had to get some more rest myself. We mashed some amazing Chinese noodles, by far our favorite vendor food of the weekend, and crashed out for a couple more hours. It was a delirious slow-motion Sunday to say the least after we went about as hard as you can go for three days plus. With a 9pm Pretty Lights Live set looming, my absolute favorite artist on the planet, I knew I had to recharge to be fresh for my boys. We kicked it at camp for the afternoon until Camp B came back to get us around 6:30pm as the sun went down on the final day of this amazing experience. And while we are on the subject of the sun going down at 6:30, I have to say that fact alone made Okeechobee incredibly unique. I’ve never been to a festival so early in the year on the east coast. The combination of the early sunset and music going until sunrise was downright crazy! For any nocturnal being like myself it was awesome, and totally different, and a bit other-worldly. Looking back, it kind of made the festival what it was. Anyway, on to Pretty Lights…
I don’t even know where to start with how much PL means to me. I’m enamored with his music and his persona, and I can honestly say that he and it has changed my life. The sound he has created, developed, reworked, and evolved is music to my soul. He has ,in my opinion, created his own genre, and it’s something I literally listen to every day. So needless to say, I had been looking forward to this set all weekend, or more accurately since the instant I found out we were going to Okeechobee. We arrived early as planned, and met all the Michigan squad directly in front of the sound stage. A big part of PL’s show is of course the actual pretty lights, orchestrated by the best light technician in the business, Greg Ellis- the Lazer Shark. Our plan was to be dead center, leaning on the fence of the sound stage, smack dab in the middle of the “Shark Tank,” and that’s precisely what we did. Over the last two years or so, Derek Vincent Smith (Pretty Lights) has evolved his sound with two different bands. After the Analog Future Band blew our minds, version 2.0, Pretty Lights Live, has taken it to another level. They’ve “flipped” everything, creating a dark, synth-laden, hip-hop infused, grimy funk sound unparalleled by anything else out there. Their set at Okeechobee continued that evolution, and was absolutely breathtaking. I found myself eyes closed, connected to everything and everyone around me, bobbing in unison with every being in the totally engulfed crowd. It was a beautiful entrancing interdimensional dub symphony from the future. Borahm Lee and Brandon Butler on the keys intertwined flawlessly with the hard-hitting style of Alvin Ford Jr. on the drum kit (“the second-best drummer on the planet”). Turntable extraordinaire Chris Karns scratched in brilliant sample after brilliant sample, and the big man himself, Derek Vincent Smith mixed, built, orchestrated, and produced it all right in front of our eyes. I still get chills thinking about the feels that night. It was truly amazing. Walking away from that set, there was an eerie silence as if everyone was downright speechless after what we had just witnessed. I’ve never seen or felt anything like it: magical.
You’d think that would be the end of it all, but true to form we had to go back to Jungle 51 just one more time! And damn, did they finish strong. We expended every last ounce of energy dancing the next few hours away as we gabbed about that epic Pretty Lights Live set. Nightmares on Wax absolutely crushed, and Lady Blacktronika followed suit. Some killer house was a perfectly fitting way to end the weekend in my favorite place Okeechobee had to offer.
I’ve always felt that each time I go to a festival, it changes me as a person. It reminds me that the world is filled with amazing, uplifting, creative, positive humans. Okeechobee really hit home in this regard, and I’m a more aware, mentally alive, more creatively driven person because of my experience. It’s amazing that in this pop-up microcosm of the universe, we can learn so much about ourselves, the world and people around us, and that the art really matters. And then it’s gone, and it’s up to us, those that were there, that made it what it was, to spread that energy. For a truly inspiring experience, thank you Okeechobee! #wokeAF
Jim Schramm is a festival veteran and all-around bad-ass music lover. Check out his videos from Okeechobee and so much more on his YouTube channel.
Photos provided by Jim and the official Okeechobee Facebook Album