Festival season began at Okeechobee Music & Arts Festival in Okeechobee, FL on Thursday, March 1st. In just three years, Okeechobee has become the top destination for music festival-goers in the state of Florida. The festival has hosted headliners such as Skrillex, Mumford & Sons, Kendrick Lamar, Kings Of Leon, Usher, and the returning yearly staple, Bassnectar, since its start in 2016. Miguel (2016), Michael McDonald (2017), and Snoop Dogg (2018) have hosted their own PoWoW! lineups at the festival, proving to be the biggest and most unique set I’ve ever witnessed.

The festival’s organizers have perfected the formula of creating a diverse lineup to cater to everybody. EDM, hip-hop, indie, and pop staples were set to perform at each stage, with up-and-comers placed in-between. For non-campers, the walk to the festival grounds are quite a hike from day parking. But, the ease of navigating the festival itself, along with the shuttles that the festival offers, makes it all worthwhile.

Upon arriving at the festival, EDM artist Lophiile (Ty Acord, ex-ISSUES) had bass-driven sounds filling the air of the grounds as he played the HERE stage, located in the middle of The Grove. Slated to play at the same time as Flipturn (BE stage) and Leon of Athens (NOW stage), each act drew in their respective crowds, with a fair amount of people at each, despite it being a triple-clash. Flipturn, an indie band from Fernandina Beach, FL, played the main-stage to a few hundred people. Their sound reminded me of Hippo Campus, who were also slated to play the festival an hour later, mixed with Two Door Cinema Club, and they really got the crowd going with their indie tinge. Leon of Athens, a solo artist based out of London, delivered a whimsical set that fans of Bastille and James Bay were guaranteed to love at the NOW stage.

Stream our official Spotify Okeechobee Music & Arts playlist!

Hippo Campus took the NOW stage by storm, generating the biggest crowd I had seen all day. Opening with the catchy and whimsical “Way It Goes,” winning the crowd over immediately with their charm. Dressed in pastel yet bright colorful clothing, the band’s appearance and sound intertwined to create a colorful set to the eyes and ears of those watching. The deeper Hippo Campus got into their set, the bigger the crowd grew. Playing other fan favorites, like “baseball” and “Suicide Saturday,” the group made their hour-long set one to remember.

As Hippo Campus ended, more people started to flow in to The Grove, kicking up dust and bringing in the weird. Totems, flags, and signs filled the sky, whether they represented their college, favorite artist playing the festival, or memes, each was different and had something memorable about it. People put in a lot of thought to their signs, adding lights, bright colors, and catchphrases to instill them in your mind.

The trek to the HERE and NOW stages had an echoed soundtrack of Sylvan Esso’s “Die Young,” the duo’s hit that many will recognize. Set to perform at the HERE stage was Ella Vos, with the start time being the same as Jai Wolf, performing on the NOW stage. Both two very different acts, and both drew in their respective audiences.

Check out the official 2018 line-up announcement video.

Judah & the Lion took the stage at the perfect time of day: golden hour. The sea of people docked at the BE stage flowed like waves when J&TL ambushed the stage with “Booty Wurk.” The band came prepared with a choreographed dance to coincide, getting the crowd amped up for the remainder of their set. As the sun dipped lower and lower behind the concertgoers, it created an orange glaze over the band and crowd, making for a picture perfect moment to witness at Okeechobee. The band’s energy was remarkable, especially vocalist Judah Lee’s. Collectively jumping, gracing fans at the end of the catwalk, and singing along with those that lined up to see them, it was clear that J&TL will not grow tired of doing what they do anytime soon. Their set was refreshing, packed with a punch, and had everyone off their feet whether they were in the crowd, or straggling toward the back.

Across The Grove is the Moonlight Oasis, where Jungle 51, Aquachobee Beach & ChobeeWobee Village thrive. A ferris wheel, plethora of vendors, food trucks, people, and places to relax encompass Moonlight Oasis and those that inhabit it.

The BE stage was studded with some of today’s biggest artists. Khalid, a 20-year-old solo artist from Texas who began to climb the charts in early 2017, entered the stage smiling wide to a crowd that seemed to go on forever, and the smile hardly left his face throughout his set. Opening with “Saved” and “Therapy,” Khalid went straight into his ballads that the crowd sang back in unison. To get the crowd going, he performed “Hopeless” with cheerleaders on stage, happy as can be, turning the set into a party with rich beats that are unique and fresh. Khalid also was sure to get intimate in the middle of his set, pulling out a stool and singing a song and a half stripped down to let his fans shine. And of course, a set wouldn’t be complete without “Location” and “Young Dumb & Broke,” which both made the crowd come together and sing so loud that they overpowered the vocalist.

Playing the main stage last before Okeechobee’s staple, Bassnectar, was no one other than Halsey. Coming equipped with her theatrical tour set-up: fog, stairs, and beautiful lighting included, the singer entered the stage from the top of the stairs dressed in all-white. Wearing a bold statement on the back, “THE YOUTH WILL ALWAYS WIN,” Halsey did not hesitate to use her voice for greater good. After performing “Eyes Closed,” “Hold Me Down,” and “Castle,” the singer spoke out about the horrific shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, which happened about an hour and a half south of the festival, a little over two weeks before the festival. Halsey told her fans that they were in a safe space at her shows, forever, regardless of the events that have happened in the past, and regardless of your race, skin color, gender, identity, and so forth.

Her crowd was by far the most diverse and passionate, letting themselves show their true colors and sing their heart out with their favorite star. Halsey was able to make an enormous mass of people feel so at home, every single person around me and those that I passed had a smile on their face and a glisten in their eye. She knows how to put on a phenomenal show with songs picked from her extensive track list, performing them perfectly to the point where they sound better live than they do recorded. Adding some humor into her performance, she asked the crowd what their least favorite song ever was, before performing a stripped down version of her hit with The Chainsmokers, “Closer.” The voices of the audience echoed for miles and could be heard from the parking lot.

Fans were gifted an incredible first day in The Grove with their favorite artists, and the following two days could only get better from there.