Okeechobee Music Festival 2017's Biggest Schedule Matchups

The music gods have smiled upon us.
The music gods have smiled upon us.
Photo by Terry Beeman
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With only days to go, general-admission three-day passes to the 2017 Okeechobee Music & Arts Festival are sold out. Still available, though, are the four-day Portal Passes for $279. It's a bargain compared to Florida's other mammoth festival, Ultra, whose tickets normally retail for about 400 bucks apiece. So what are Okeechobee attendees getting for their green? Well, plenty of green (as in open space, you stoners) and a lineup that dives headfirst into a jumble of genres.

Most festivals present often-painstaking choices about whom to see and whom to miss. At Okeechobee, thankfully, those scheduling conflicts are minimal. The fest's three stages — Be, Here, and Now — are lined up like ducks in a row, which minimizes the distance that attendees must travel between sets.

Still, even after the two-hour drive north, music fans face tough decisions this weekend. Here's how to choose:

Cold War Kids (Friday, 9:45 to 10:45 p.m.) vs. Wiz Khalifa (Friday, 10 to 11:15 p.m.):You might think audiences for these two acts wouldn't normally overlap. But plenty of listeners are genre-hopping bunnies, especially ones who buy tickets to a festival as diverse as Okeechobee. Cold War Kids make the sort of blue-eyed indie rock that's jangly but can also jangle some nerves. For the past 11 years, ever since "Hang Me Up to Dry" and "We Used to Vacation" made it onto hipster mixtapes everywhere, Cold War Kids have written efficiently introspective jams — until, that is, with their latest, "Love Is Mystical," which incorporates a Florence and the Machine type of flair. On the other hand, Wiz Khalifa pals around with Juicy J, Snoop Dogg, Travis Scott, and Ty Dolla $ign, smokes almost as much pot as the Doggfather, and dresses up as Batman for his son Sebastian. Whom would you rather hang out with?

Winner: A bit of everything from the buffet. A half-hour of midtempo rock 'n' roll coupled with a half-hour of midtempo hip-hop seems like a chill way to enjoy your evening high.

Joywave (Friday, 1:15 to 2:15 a.m.) vs. Vulfpeck (Friday, 1 to 2:15 a.m.): Here we have one of the more unexpected conflicts. Both Joywave and Vulfpeck are damn fun. Joywave likes to troll audiences by performing its hit single, "Destruction," two or three times in a row. At first it's unsettling and then confusing, before it becomes absolutely hilarious. It's their own private Rickroll, and it works. Vulfpeck is more straightforward in that it's a group of old-school funk and soul aficionados talented enough to put a fresh, modern sheen on their chosen styles.

Winner: Joywave. They're clever, cocky, goofy, and entertaining. Vulfpeck might have better chops, but when it comes to live performance, Joywave lives up to its name and then some.

Usher and the Roots (Saturday, 11:45 p.m. to 2 a.m.) vs. Porter Robinson (Saturday, 12:45 to 2 a.m.): Here's a classic battle between the foundations of music and the future of music. Usher and the Roots are a dream team, blending the purity of live instrumentation with a voice that might as well be an instrument. But what of the fans looking for a proper EDM rager? Porter Robinson has earned rankings among the top DJs in the world and seems to be in a point of transition; earlier this year, he essentially disowned all but 11 of the tracks in his 12-year catalogue. Will Okeechobee offer a glimpse in what's next for him? This conflict is a Sophie's Choice-level decision.

Winner: Usher and the Roots. Hands down. Apologies to Porter Robinson, who puts on a killer show, but this combo in this setting is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Besides, without the Ushers of yesteryear and trailblazers like the Roots, there wouldn't be a Porter Robinson.

Sometimes the music gods smile upon us and bless a festival with a schedule so perfect it's as if a celestial Rain Man precisely counted the minutes it would take to dance, pee, buy a beer, and find a viewing spot not blocked by a seven-foot NBA player. And sometimes the music gods amuse themselves by having us sprint from stage to stage, bellies full of $10 Budweisers and weed brownies.

The following is for those latter moments. The sets may not be in direct conflict, at least not for the entirety of the performance, but they are the equivalent of switching off a movie before finding out how it ends.

Solange (Saturday, 8:45 to 9:45 p.m.) to Bassnectar (9:30 to 10:45 p.m.) to PoWow! (10:15 to 11:30 p.m.): Solange had arguably one of the best albums of 2016, even better than her sister's in some ways. (Don't @ us, Beyhive.) That makes her appearance Saturday afternoon at Okeechobee an unmissable stop for anyone desiring to hear some truly hypnotic soul. But allowing your senses to settle into any one comfort zone isn't allowed at this fest, so Bassnectar is the logical-ish next stop. And if last year's mind-blowing PoWow! performance was a barometer of what to expect this weekend, regardless of this year's performers, it'll assuredly be something special once again.

Bleachers (Sunday, 6:15 to 7:15 p.m.) to Anderson .Paak (7 to 8 p.m.) to the Lumineers (8:15 to 9:30 p.m.): Then there's Sunday, which might be the most balanced day of the weekend but is also the day for which you should be training. Early on, things aren't so bad for fans planning to ping-pong between the blues, rock, and soul of artists such as Allen Stone, Futurebirds, Jacuzzi Boys, Soja, and Moon Taxi. But the schedule gets far more aerobic after that. Don't bother with the blankets and chairs once dusk approaches. Bleachers, with Jack Antonoff's songs about love and self-improvement, are bound to put on one of the more joyous shows of the weekend. Immediately thereafter, haul ass to the Now stage for a good spot to catch Anderson .Paak and the Free Nationals, easily one of the can't-miss sets of Sunday, and all of Okeechobee, before closing in on the final miles of this marathon with the Lumineers, who will set the tone for the festival's closers and main headliners, Kings of Leon.

Yes, the fight with the hordes of people also trying to carve out their own space at each of these sets will be formidable, but keep it simple: Have your go-to drink, plan an easy escape, and move like all of your best memories depend on it. Because they do — at least for this year.

Okeechobee Music & Arts Festival
Thursday, March 2, through Sunday, March 5, at Sunshine Grove, 12517 NE 91st Ave., Okeechobee; 305-673-3330; okeechobeefest.com. Tickets cost $229.50 to $599.

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