A music festival is “magic trickling down into your soul.” - Vivian Nguyen
She has a voice made of crystals. The spotlight behind her casts a mysterious shadow upon her cheeks. Her eyes are illuminated, and the contour of her wispy hair flows with a gentle Florida breeze. Her small hands outlined by the glow of yellow light. In this moment, Nicole from Hundred Waters is infinite, and forever engrained in pixel form. As their set comes to a close, I find myself yearning for more. Ari and I look at one another in mutual agreement as we head backstage. I see Nicole, Trayer and Zack, in the flesh. A predictable shortness of breath follows, and I have to remind myself, “Do not be a fan girl, they are just people.” I approach with a big smile on my face and a thumping in my chest.
A picture is worth a thousand words, but music has the potential to be worth a million. Given an experience as indescribable as Okeechobee, I need all the storytelling assistance I can get. You will find that I’ve included at least one song per heading that I hope will set the scene for each particular section. Assemble your tea cups, sprinkle some honey, and enjoy your sip of Okeechobee Music Festival.
Prologue: Girl at the Rock Show by Blink 182
Rewind to summer 2010, where I experience my first Warped tour rather unconventionally. I face an assembly line of hungry musicians ready for my 16-year-old self to bless them with a scoop of pasta. If you told me that in 6 years, I would be on the other side of the table, I would tell you to stop playing with my heart. But it happened, and I went from being the girl at the rock show to a tour manager and photographer at Okeechobee Music Festival.
Backstage Dimension: With a Little Help from my Friends by The Beatles
All it takes is a tap of my wristband, a high pitched beep of approval, and I’m behind the scenes of Florida’s inaugural Okeechobee Music and Arts Festival. This is a whole new dimension filled with artist trailers, catering, and a whole lotta good vibes (not to mention free snacks AND a juicer - WHAAT?!).
My favorite places, unsurprisingly, are the artist compounds, where all the musicians performing each day have their own trailers and go to socialize before and after their sets. Skrillex is to my right taking a drag out of his cigarette and signing a guitar. Mac Miller is laughing and bonding with the members of Portugal. The Man. Miguel just changed my life with his captivating performance and is now walking to his trailer just a few feet away. I’ve casually passed by Marcus Mumford, Robert Plant, John Oates, and Dr. Dog. It all seems very peaceful in the most beautifully chaotic way.
When I feel my feet give out, I submerge into the exceptionally comfortable sofas and take a much-needed chill session. To my surprise, Kyle from Portugal. The Man casually sits next to the crew and I. We talk for what seems like hours, covering many topics, such as feeling bogged down by the monotony of school. It’s an evening enriched by a mist of carefree living and camaraderie, an experience I never realized was in my cards.
Tour Manager Duties: Siberian Breaks by MGMT
Broadly speaking, I was the liaison between artist relations and Flat Land. I handled tasks ranging from getting Fae a new wristband, to delivering merch to their booth, to ensuring there’s an adequate amount of La Croix in their trailer (slightly chilled, thanks). But this is not my resume, so here’s the reality of my experience:
Sleep deprivation rests on my eyelids,
Hunger swims around like a shark in my stomach,
And the soles of my feet have lost all sense of touch.
But my eyes are wide open
And my heart is beating so fast,
I feel nervous the world will hear it.
I am standing on the main stage of Okeechobee
Fingers clasped around my camera
I look out into a sea of enlightened individuals.
I see waves of tye dye
And some familiar faces.
It’s a beautiful crowd out there.
This moment of quiet
Before they begin their set
Instills a sense of happiness,
And a stream of “I cannot believe that this is happening,”
On repeat all weekend.
In this moment of unfamiliar silence,
I wave hello in disbelief
And introduce myself to a dream
One I never believed I’d be able to achieve.
An extensive celebratory fam hug ensues as I can barely contain my tears. I look around at these beautiful people, realizing I’ve fallen in love with all of them this past weekend. We walk excitedly back to the trailer, pop open a case of Sierra Nevada and toast to the unexplainable rush of inhabiting the same stage as Robert Plant and Kendrick Lamar the evening before, and Mumford and Sons later tonight. I don’t think I’m alone in saying that this was one of the best moments of my life. It’s a rarity to truly see your hard work pay off to such a grandeur extent. I know we all felt in over our heads approaching this festival, but in the words of Kevin Parker “This could be the day that we push through, this could be the day that all our dreams come true,” and it was.
Okeechobee Vibes: Man in the Sixties by Balue, Closer by Slow Magic
We are 40,000 individuals, each possessing a different story. Okeechobee was a family of strangers stitched together by a thread of undying love for music and art. If I could describe my experience in one word, I would have to go with astronomical. It was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced.
I thought “home” came with a front door, but this has made me realize the power of feeling one with strangers. I walk around amidst a kaleidoscope of personalities, cultures, religions, beliefs, political affiliations, but none of that seems to matter as we all chant “we gon’ be alright.” And I think that’s where the true beauty of music lies, in its ability to bring together individuals despite their many differences.
It was difficult to transition back into “real life” after such an extraordinary experience. I went through my own post-festival funk, which consisted of living in my soft Okeechobee t-shirt, instagramming way too many concert photos (sorry, not sorry), and binge-listening to all my favorite acts.
Getting to taste a small sip of my dreams was strange and surreal, and it all happened so fast. But I could get used to brewing myself a cup every morning. The most valuable lesson I learned is something I’ve known in my heart since my very first concert; this is the industry for me. I want this to be my life.