The COVID-19 virus outbreak has already cancelled, postponed or rescheduled several big names festivals for 2020, but the industrywide panic stalled just long enough for Okeechobee Music Festival (OMF) to squeak in its long-awaited return.
Since 2016, OMF has signaled the beginning of festival season for many. Its allure brought in fans from around the Southeast as well as internationally, which might have raised some flags for organizers.
All the same, the festival went on as planned this past weekend with Insomniac running the show for the first time. For its first event since taking a hiatus in 2019, the festival delivered possibly its best "Okee" yet.
What follows are our favorite moments from over the weekend:
The HERE Stage:
In years past, the HERE stage was squeezed between the festival’s main stages, BE and NOW. With Insomniac’s new direction, organizers made a smart move in sending it out of the Grove and transforming it into a towering, deep canopy that could easily be identified as the highlight of this year's festival. With vines and speakers dangling from a nearly 300-foot wooden structure, fans packed inside with their totems (too many to see the stage at times) throughout the weekend to enjoy many of the festival's top electronic acts.
SpaceX During Bassnectar
Since its start, Bassnectar has taken the de facto role of resident DJ at OMF. Last time around he played two sets, but he managed to top it this year within a shortened hour time slot due to a boost from SpaceX. 20 minutes into his set, at 11:50 P.M., the Falcon 9 rocket took off for the 20th resupply mission to the International Space Station from the Space Launch Complex, according to the Kennedy Space Center. While Bassnectar mixed in his unreleased YOOKiE collaboration, “Open Your Mind,” the rocket was visible as it shot through the sky, dropped its fuel, and burst through the atmosphere.
As mentioned, Insomniac’s influence of experiential curation brought a lot to Okeechobee in its return from a year off. All of the stages received upgrades, including the BE Stage, which towered taller than ever before with vines draped from top to bottom. Out by Chobee Wobee Village, the Incendia stage remained pretty much the same, but the Aquachobee stage both looked and sounded better.
The Jungle 51 stage - a secluded, palm tree-enclosed after hours stage for house and techno - was perhaps the most unrecognizable. Before it was a dimly lit area with a small, UFO-shaped stage, but this past weekend it was packed with lights, lasers and giant disco balls hanging before a legit stage and production. This kept the techno heads shuffling through sunrise.
Aside from the flash of the production and venue, festivals still rely on artists to deliver - and boy, did they ever this year at Okeechobee. Thursday night started off with a Bassrush kickoff party at the beach, with newcomers (like Supertask and Huxley Anne) as well as OGs (like Yheti and Caspa) delivering dreamlike performances until sunset. Capping off the first night was a magical performance inside the Grove, where Australia’s RÜFÜS DU SOL dazzled sans drummer James Hunt, who was out with an injury.
The amazing opening night would set the tone from jaw-dropping performances from every genre sect all weekend. While the festival lacked a Kendrick Lamar or Travis Scott this year, its hip-hop headliners (Gunna, Flatbush Zombies, and EarthGang) all delivered rallying performances at the main stages. Alternative acts like St. Paul & the Broken Bones and Mumford & Sons provided big moments, even when groups like A R I Z ON A felt a bit out of place sandwiched between EDM acts.
Return of the Grove
While a looming virus outbreak, limited bathrooms, and totems presented a few of the downsides you could pick at over the weekend, the festival was overwhelming met with positive reviews as most people were simply happy to return to this increasingly iconic Florida festival. While it lacks the expanse of Bonnaroo or the mystical woods of Electric Forest, Okeechobee fronts a venue that competes with the best of them while hosting a lineup that seems to hit the nail on the head for its "OGs" every year. The presence of Insomniac that was once met with hesitation has seemed to have done nothing but boost the festival's reputation as something special. With 2021’s event being a year out from current coronavirus tabloids, we’re more than looking forward to this event returning next March.