The excitement leading up to Okeechobee Music and Arts Festival was unreal. As the first large-scale event to kick off both the new festival season and the new decade, music fanatics were ecstatic and eager to be going back to their element at Sunshine Grove. After all, it was the first time the event had been held at the grounds down in Okeechobee County, Florida since 2018 due to some financial hardships by its parent company, Soundslinger.
After a long, cold winter, and a newfound partnership with Insomniac, Okeechobee’s long-awaited return was finally dawning. Sunshine Grove was quickly filled with 40,000 Okeechobeings, as they’ve come to nickname themselves. All were ready to break free from their hectic daily lives and become fully immersed in the abundance of music, art, and living for the present moment. As a firm reminder of such, Okeechobee’s central message, “Be Here Now,” was spread generously across the entire venue.
Kicking off March 5, the energy throughout the long, four-day weekend was truly unparalleled—even for past iterations of Okeechobee. At the time, however, no one could have possibly been prepared for the fact that Okeechobee would be the last event for a while. Quite the opposite, attendees went to the grounds under the idea that Okeechobee would be the kick-off to another busy festival season.
Festival season has quickly come to a halt, stopping before it even started. Fans are doing their best to remain hopeful amid the current coronavirus pandemic and the banning of large gatherings as a result of the spread.
With coronavirus defining our not-so-distant future, attendees of Okeechobee’s triumphant return are finding themselves extremely grateful to have been able to experience the magic that was shared amongst so many lovely radiant souls beneath those palm trees. They find themselves equally grateful for the music that bounced so beautifully between them and the trees all weekend long.
It’s a good thing that Okeechobee taught so many to “be here now.” It’s always been the festival’s mantra, as well as the name of their three separate main stages. That message, along with a newfound sense of un-attachment, and learning to appreciate the beauty in everything has put this unprecedented pandemic into a more positive perspective. Mindsets shifted drastically over the course of the festival. The messages that proliferated the grounds were loud and clear: BE. HERE. NOW.
Three simple words that we carried close to our hearts all weekend. Three words that are now helping us navigate the sudden changes in our day-to-day lives due to the coronavirus pandemic. Three words that are vital toward bringing a sense of calmness, peace, and appreciation through these uncertain times.
Ah, the beauty of being, free of fear, anxiety, and judgment. If one truly opened themselves up to it, Okeechobee provided its guests with a place to effortlessly be their truest, most authentic selves. Not only was everyone accepted here, but they were greatly appreciated, and unconditionally loved. Once we took that acceptance and love, and truly saw each other, our strengths, our fears, we were able to connect with others on an even deeper level, bringing us closer to our higher selves. It was this form of just being, mixed with the sense of community at this year’s edition, which made Okeechobee truly unforgettable. There was such a strong feeling of a universal unifying love that was omnipresent at all times, allowing us to simply be.
The magic of Sunshine Grove allowed for surrender to naturally be where our feet were, to be connected to the ground and the energy in the air. It’s a concept that is so important yet easily forgotten or taken for granted. Okeechobee was the biggest breath of fresh air and the start of a truly beautiful transformation into the present moment. Being able to freely run around under the hot Florida sun, was a true gift. To be able to roam barefoot across the ground, with toes tangled in the green grass, or feet buried in the warm sand of the beach was as uplifting and refreshing as could be. It also provided a way of grounding deeper into the earth’s surface and reconnecting with our roots. This was one the most important messages that transpired that weekend.
Everything at Sunshine Grove was centered around bringing people into the present moment. Between the music, the interactive art, all of the wonderful people in attendance, and the workshops, it wasn’t hard to surrender one’s self to the present. Indeed, turning inward and taking a deeper look within had never been easier. Attendees were brought together to play different games and activities, take part in fun tea parties, and let their “inner child” truly run free. The festival’s yoga and workshop offerings helped attendees find direction and a path toward healing, allowing them to take that home with them.
The music repeatedly signaled for us to collectively step into our minds, allow our thoughts to run freely, and bring awareness to the eternal beauty of the present. That message couldn’t have been clearer. It was seen, felt, and heard.
Bassnectar dropped his new “Open Your Mind” track to the backdrop of Tesla’s SpaceX rocket was simultaneously being launched into space. Though it was completely happenstance, it couldn’t have seemed better planned. “Mind Tricks” and “Teleport Massive” were also featured in that hour-long set. The bass demigod also debuted some hefty new “raw, unfinished” material around the 15-minute mark. While the universe aligned us, the music united us. The sounds undoubtedly brought fans to places they had never been before.
Transcendental music was pumped throughout our veins and the speakers for four days straight. Mersiv‘s set did exactly what the Denver rising star is known for. That is, to urge listeners to come fully into the present moment and heal through different sound frequencies. People meditated, practiced reiki, and got down in their own unique ways throughout the entire set. It was a very awakening and inspiring experience for many.
LSDREAM’s set was similar. He called it a cosmic sound bath. While most people were dancing, some found themselves laying down, and a few even received a sound bath from a Tibetan sound bowl floating around the crowd. Like a ripple effect, a collective sense of healing washed over us. G Jones and Yheti also engaged in their different forms of sound manipulation as well as conscious lyrics to reach out and transform the minds of many.
Tipper’s spectacular set under the full moon allowed those to reconnect those minds with their bodies, moving and grooving around, surrendering to the flow of life. Coupled with Franctaled Vision’s mind-bending visuals, along with lasers projected overhead, and the full moon beaming through the tent of the Here stage, Tipper’s set was one memorable weekend highlight.
Upon entering the “Be” and “Now” stages, just beyond the security checkpoint, there are several doors with funky patterns scattered amongst the trees. They are meant to symbolize that as one door closes, another opens. Although it’s unsure when the next festival or event will be, Okeechobeings were left with the know-how to “Be Here Now,” and use this time to go further within. Presence, gratitude, and appreciation for life are a few of the key lessons attendees left Sunshine Grove with after the four-day weekend.
Acceptance, non-attachment, and a simple shift in perspective shared collectively among so many of us served as a gentle reminder that the current global crisis is another cycle of death and rebirth. It’s a transformation, a metamorphosis, a regeneration. The synchronicities and signs proved time and again how connected humans are to one another and the earth and how interrelated everything is in life. If there’s one thing that Okeechobee taught it’s guests, it’s that if you’re living in the here and now then you’ll always be where you need to be, receiving the messages you need to hear the most.
It’s important to find gratitude in the present moment and hold onto the lifelong memories created over that four-day weekend, knowing that this too shall pass and we will all be together again dancing under the lights and lasers soon.
Featured photo: Ivan Meneses/Insomniac Events.