The weirdos were out in full force at Okeechobee Music & Arts Festival. Minds were pushed as far to the edge of sanity as socially acceptable. In festie land, anything goes.
George Clinton and his legendary Parliament Funkadelic lit the fuse on Okeechobee's rocket ship Saturday with a funkdafied performance on the Now stage. Though the freaky-deaky frontman shaved his rainbow locks, he still runs the wildest musical circus in town. Parliament's singers, musicians, and dancers are a ragtag gypsy troupe whose colorful stage presence mimics the music's freewheeling and playful nature. Nearly naked ravers covered in glitter gyrated to Parliament's uplifting and empowering sound. The band members ripped through roaring sax, guitar, and drum solos, as the MC led the place in a game of scat call-and-response. By the time they played “We Want the Funk,” the funk was surely within everyone.
Gallant also brought soulful funk to the Be stage and heated things up with his cool, Prince-like falsetto. He cried into the mike, threw himself around the stage, and gave every ounce of himself to his performance.
Around the corner on the Here stage, young brother-sister duo Tennyson was equally lost in the work. But instead of offering sensual R&B grooves, they gave Okeechobee high-grade cuteness. With brother Luke Pretty on keys and sister Tess on drums, Tennyson evoked intense emotion through a seemingly at-ease and innocuous delivery system. It’d be easy to dismiss their cuter-than-thou persona if they weren’t so endearing and didn’t have the musical chops to back it up. There's whiplash between thinking, I can’t believe this twee-ass electronic music actually has song titles like "Tomato Land" and "Slipperz," and being stunned at the sheer talent on display. This was a genuinely unique act.
Back at the Now stage, Sleigh Bells gave one of the hardest-rockin' sets of the day. Singer Alexis Krauss exuded raw feminine power, while across the way, Griz gave the jam-band-loving bass heads the analog/electronic funk fusion they craved. When the music stopped and thousands of fans stormed the porta-potties for a post-Griz wiz, many got caught up in Jacob Collier's passionate playing.
Snails released the vomit on the pookie-headed bass hordes, and Rae Sremmurd inspired many a booty to drop it low, but there was never quite a performance like the breathtaking set from Solange. A radiant artist and queen in her own right, Solange blew minds via her synchronized, esoteric dance moves and divinely feminine strength. Every move, clap, and sashay that she and her crew performed was immaculate. Unfolding under the watchful gaze of a single blood-red circle suspended at the center of the stage, Solange's show – undoubtedly rehearsed – appeared effortless. Her whole band was dressed head to toe in glowing white. The only thing more satisfying than hearing A Seat at the Table performed live is watching a crowd of people collectively lose their shit to “Losing You,” Solange’s career-defining 2012 track. Her cover of Selena's “I Could Fall in Love” didn't hurt either.
No doubt the largest crowd of Saturday came for Bassnectar. A good 70 percent of attendees must be die-hard bass heads. Decked out with their flags and LED totems, looking like a large army ready for the attack, they came together en masse at the Be stage. If Bassnectar one day called on his bass heads to rise up and do anything, he could easily take over a country. Good thing he uses his powers for good and keeps it strictly posi and very, very loud.
It must have been strange for the bass heads as they wandered out of Bassnectar's set into the yacht-rock swag of the PowWow with Michael McDonald. The Steely Dan singer soothed souls like a sweet wine cooler on a breezy beach day. He was joined onstage by Solange for a rendition of “What a Fool Believes,” and Griz came around for cool covers of Michael Jackson's “P.Y.T.” and Al Green's “Love and Happiness.”
Yet even with all of the incredible artistry and legendary performances, nothing came close to the magic of Usher and the Roots' headlining collaborative performance. Women squealed, and hard-looking dudes dropped their veils of authority. The crowd screamed along to every word of “Let It Burn,” “Confessions Pt. 2,” “You Got It Bad,” and Usher's seemingly endless list of absolute classics. Let's hope this was not his last time performing with the Roots. Questlove, Black Thought, and the whole band delivered perfect grooves and fresh alternative melodies, like the Caribbean take on “OMG.” With a pick stuck in his hair, Usher worked the stage and lived life to the fullest with the audience.
The band bowed out a bit ahead of schedule, which meant even more people wandering over to catch the end of Porter Robinson's anime-kid fever dream. The Worlds producer took attendees on a journey of highs and lows, sweet melancholy, and teeth-crunching noise. “Thank you so much. This has been absolutely magical,” he told the crowd. “This is one of the best sets of my life.”
On Sunday, battered, sun-burned, and covered in a thick layer of dirt and dust, music lovers were determined to enjoy every last drop of festivities whether or not their bodies could keep vertical. Campers broke down and hauled out at various points of the day, choosing to avoid the traffic while the super dedicated stayed to see the whole event through.
Tampa-based band Merchandise got things started for those about to rock on the Here stage at 12:30 p.m., and at 2:30 p.m., New York City's The Knocks turned the day's dial to disco and dance at Now. “We didn't come here to build walls,” singer JPat dissed Trump into the mic. “We don't care what race you are, what religion you are, whether you love that boy or that girl.” The Knocks only cared about grooving, and that's what they came to do.
Aquachobee was the perfect place to catch a little Miami surf rock with Jacuzzi Boys.
Back at the Now Stage, things were heady for Soja with perfect Sunday reggae-inspired vibes. A man in the general admission section spent the hour live-painting a beautifully-intricate blue and orange mandala, because even if you're in a large crowd, there's room for inspiration. Mike Posner took that vibe and ran with it for an even larger crowd that came to see the “Cooler Than Me” man and his merry band. His sax player was almost a second front man, running up and down the stage, climbing the drum kit and letting loud solos rip. Posner himself enjoyed a good jump on the PA, living his wild green-haired rock fantasies to the fullest.
The Here Stage went to church with the Okeechobee Gospel Soul Experience, but nothing was sexier than the funk and soul of Anderson .Paak and his band The Free Nationals. .Paak stunned the audience when he jumped on the drums and rapped to his own beat. The next minute, he was down at the edge of the stage jumping and jiving with the front row.
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Joey Purp kept the hip-hop hitters coming hard just after The Free Nationals ended at the Here stage, while The Lumineers gave folk lovers a break from the heavy beats. Anyone searching for bass found it at Pretty Lights.
All the bassheads from Bassnectar's day two performance had one more chance to get weird to his live mix of heady jams and dubstep darkness. D.R.A.M., on the other hand, brought a different brightness to his Here Stage with a surprisingly sensual set marked with the exclamation point of hits “Cash Machine,” “Cha Cha,” and a double-dose of “Broccoli.”
The final moment was Kings of Leon. The headlining band appealed to old fans and new with a set of hits that span the last decade and a half. “Taper Jean Girl” was a mid-set favorite, although “Sex on Fire” and “Someone Like You” were the moments everyone gathered had waited for. There was music until 6:30 am for the wildest partiers among us, but most people slowly and stiffly gathered to sleep in their tents one last time before started the long journey home.
All in all, the second year of Okeechobee was a success. Yes, the crowd is dirty. Yes, we won't get our full voices back for another week, but we have once more proven that Florida can hang with the best of them on the festival circuit. We came, we saw, we hopefully didn't leave too much trash. Next year will surely be even more glorious.