Music lovers have been trickling into Okeechobee's Sunshine Grove all week, and Friday, March 4, the main stages officially opened to the public, launching Florida's latest multi-day music festival, with top talent, camping, art installations, and a wellness area dedicated to yoga and meditation.
The four-night inaugural Okeechobee Music & Arts Festival had its soft opening Thursday night at the Moonlight Oasis, where local and nationally recognized acts like Spam Allstars, Skinny Hendrix, and Jam Blomqvist played across three smaller stages to growing crowds of festival people. Though around 40 (mostly drug-related) arrests have been reported by local news outlets by the end of Friday, the sold-out music festival maintains a relaxed, communal vibe as attendees take in ideal subtropical weather and a so far well-orchestrated event with an artist lineup appealing to nearly any taste.
Friday's kick-off presented a solid showing, with performances by living legends like Robert Plant and Hall & Oates bolstering hyped sets from RL Grime and Joey Bada$$. Check back each morning through the weekend as we continue to cover all the festival highlights.
It's been a long time since I rock 'n' rolled. So much of the music festival experience centers around high-production DJ sets and codeine-lean rap beats, but the old Led Zeppelin frontman carried us all back to where he comes from. It was a mixture of Middle Earth mountain music and Eastern ethereality tied together by the hard hand of the Delta blues and plenty of classic Led Zep jams for good measure. Plant's new band, the Senational Shapeshifters, sound really damn good. His guitarist is fluid, versatile, and mean. You can't be Jimmy Page, but he played the role decently. Plant knows how to charm his audience and keep himself happy. He gave us “Dazed and Confused,” “Whole Lotta Love,” and “Black Dog,” but between rockin' blasts he gave new, jazzy interpretations on the old classic, leaving just enough time to finish the jam in the classic familiar style. He was a great crowd pleaser, and he did our memories justice, which is always the worry when seeing a solo set from a certified but very aged rock legend. He may be 67, but he's still got every inch of his love, and we still want to take it. — Kat Bein
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One day, this Jewish guy in his late 20s decided his cubicle job sucked. He needed an escape, so he decided to write and record a rap song about his girlfriend's ex-boyfriend's giant dick. He uploaded it to YouTube and went to sleep. In the morning, it had more than a million views. That dude figured, “Fuck it, I'm going all in.” He quit his cubicle job, wrote some more hilarious songs, and made a crack at the rap game. The surprising thing was, he was actually a really damn good rapper, and it's that mix of irony, comedic timing, and whiplash flows that make Lil Dicky more than a novelty. You might wonder if his humor translates beyond the safe environment of music videos, but once you've chanted along with a crowd of about a thousand how you get your Netflix from your cousin Greg, you know he's in the clear. And he's so damn appreciative, constantly taking time to thank the crowd and tell them what a great night he's having, but of course he does. Only a couple years ago, he was a sad sap in a corporate office, punching numbers into a shitty computer, but not anymore. According to that fired-up set, the Lil Dicky transformation is complete. — Kat Bein
As it turns out, Okeechobee does like bass, and it does like dancehall. I don't want to say anything hasty, but I'm gonna posture that Classixx had one of the funkiest hours of what will be the entire Okeechobee Festival, right out of the gate. From the moment their hands touched the whites of their computerized keyboards, it was a non-stop slew of danceable beats, feel-good vibes, and pre-dubstep, disco-tinged greatness. The soft glow of the purple-hued trees added to the magic as a few hundred bodies bumped and jived to fan favorites. It was the perfect pre-party to Hall and Oates just a stage to the right, but in that moment, the LA duo reigned supreme. They opened with “I'll Get You” and closed with “All You're Waiting For,” bookending the set with their oldest hit and the latest fave. It was a new perfect set, the kind of sound that pulled you in and set your feet to move before you even notice. Our only gripe, we wish we could have had a little more. — Kat Bein
Hall & Oates
The Be Stage on Friday night was old fogey territory. A couple hours after Robert Plant fooled around with many of his Zeppelin hits, his Rock and Roll Hall of Fame brethren Hall & Oates sang more faithful renditions of their '70's and '80's blue-eyed soul. Backed by a six-piece band that, the Philadelphia duo were (a still-blond Daryl Hall and still-mustached John Oates) entered the stage with dueling guitars strapped over their shoulders and went through a dozen song retrospective of their greatest pop hits. The night's biggest cheers came with the saxophone playing that led into "Maneater," but their most passionate moment came when they covered The Righteous Brothers' "You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'." Both Hall & Oates are in their sixties and didn't seem quite sure what to make of the young crowd hoisting flags and juggling glowsticks. At one point Hall said, "If you know anything about us, you'll know this song." There was a bit of indifference, so when he finished "She's Gone," he tentatively asked, "Are you guys enjoying yourself so far?" By the time they came back out for an encore and went into "Rich Girl," they seemed satisfied that the youngsters approved. — David Rolland
Playing his first-ever Florida show, saxophonist Kamasi Washington lived up to the media hype that he could be the man to make jazz relevant again. The Los Angeles native who appeared on Kendrick Lamar's To Pimp a Butterfly (and who will hopefully make a guest appearance during Lamar's Saturday night set) killed it on Friday night. Dressed in a purple and gold trimmed graduation robe with one of his feet seemingly constricted by a walking boot, Washington brought a charisma and a sound that kept the relatively small crowd transfixed. Backed by two drummers, a trombonist, keyboards, and an upright bass, Washington radiated a joy rarely seen, grinning widely whenever one of his band members took a solo. He brought on his father a flutist into the mix for several songs during the hour long set and were often times joined by a woman singer who gave the affair a sultry R&B flair, most especially on the song "Henrietta Our Hero," a beautiful tribute to Washington's grandmother. This was a treat for jazz lovers and a must see for jazz haters. — David Rolland
Portugal. The Man
You could tell there were a lot of non-Floridians at Okeechobee. When the temperature gets below sixty at night anyone from the Sunshine State knows you're not supposed to be shirtless or in bikini tops. I know alcohol keeps you warm, but even Portugal. The Man was wearing hoodies. And they're from Alaska. The five piece took the stage at 12:30 in the morning and pleased all the night owls not dancing to Bassnectar. They opened with "Hip Hop Kids" to loud roars. Singer John Baldwin Gourley's falsetto voice makes them reminiscent to early Radiohead. The trippy visuals projected on the screen coupled with their willingness to mix in thrash guitar on a cover of "Ain't No Sunshine When She's Gone" or messing around with a classic like The Beatles "Helter Skelter" gives them an art project vibe at times. By the end of their set it was a wildly popular art project. The crowd filled up with revelers digging the last act still on one of the main stages at the end of the Okeechobee Festival's first full night. — David Rolland