Okeechobee Music Festival, Day 3, wraps up with Mumford and Sons
For all the Rock and Roll Hall of Famers and all-star jam sessions the inaugural Okeechobee Music and Arts Festival threw at fans on Friday and Saturday, it was the fest's final act on Sunday that served as its ultimate trump card.
Mumford and Sons are THE rock act you book if you want to run with the big boys of modern rock festivals; by snapping them up for only their second-ever Florida gig, Okeechobee organizers were lobbing a gauntlet directly at any doubters.
But by the time they went onstage, it almost didn't matter. There had already been enough positive reviews and unique, memorable moments to ensure Okeechobee would leave a lasting impression on the 30,000 fans who came out. A nightcap by one of the world's most popular bands was the icing on the cake.
Mumford and Sons excel at festivals because they understand the slow build and grand release, the escalation of a campfire singalong into an exhilarating communal experience. Songs like I Will Wait and Little Lion Man bloomed to life as fans sang louder and louder and louder, exhorted by singer Marcus Mumford slamming out power chords on his acoustic.
Even more electrified songs like Wilder Mind and Ditmas, which seemingly had nowhere to go from the start, yet found new levels of passion in a live setting.
Mumford dedicated The Cave to a certain Republican presidential candidate: "What the f--- are you thinking with Donald Trump? The guy's a f---ing c---."
But he was a lot more neighborly near the end, when he brought on a cavalcade of guest stars for a festival-sized finale.
First came Rage Against the Machine guitarist Tom Morello for a hellfire and brimstone version of Bruce Springsteen's Ghost of Tom Joad, with Mumford grinning giddily as Morello uncorked a searing solo with his teeth.
Then came the Avett Brothers, Preservation Hall Jazz Band and members of Soulive for The House of the Rising Sun and the Kinks' You Really Got Me, followed by guitarist Winston Marshall being pressed into lead vocal duties on You Shook Me All Night Long.
"Do I have the instrument for that?" he asked Mumford. "I'll do it falsetto. I'm gonna be f---ing awful. Tonight, I'm gonna do the Bee Gees doing AC/DC."
Then afterward: "Ladies and gentlemen, I've just been fired from Mumford and Sons."
After one more cover, Unchained Melody with Morello and the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, Mumford shared a few kind words for Okeechobee.
"They've done a beautiful thing trying to create a collaborative atmosphere," Mumford said. "We'd love to come back. We love this place."
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The rest of Sunday at Okeechobee was much more than one big buildup to the Mumfords, although with fellow Americans deities Jason Isbell and the Avett Brothers delivering their typically stellar melodies and harmonies on the main stage, that corner of the fest did feel a little like one of their Gentlemen of the Road tour stops.
Isbell, in particular, sounded incredible in the bright, setting sun, slinging southern fire and ash in Decoration Day and 24 Frames, and wringing pain out of heart-wrenching tunes like Use Me For Good and the devastating Speed Trap Town.
"They're doing a great job with this festival," Isbell said. "I hope they do it again. I hope we come back."
The rock scene on Sunday was once again all over the map. There was the amplified, smoke-addled weirdness of the reunited Ween on the main stage at dusk. There was the frenzied mod-punk dance party of White Denim; the swirling dream-pop of Youth Lagoon; and the blistering retro-rock of the Shelters, a snarling hybrid Britrock, surf-rock and punk, including covers of Dick Dale and Donovan.
On the hip-hop front, Trap Queen crooner Fetty Wap was a late no-show — New York DJ Kill the Noise, who couldn't make his set Saturday night, filled in — but another rapper drew a big enough crowd for them both.
A day after performing on Saturday Night Live, Future unleashed all kinds of madness on the Grove, from topless shoulder-surfers to an enormous lighted blunt tossed from the crowd to his partner DJ Esco, who promptly hit it hard. Bodies pumped and bounced as Future's hazy croak boomed across the lawn on Same Damn Time, Stick Talk, March Madness and Trap N----s.
And almost as intriguing as Future was Big Grams, the indie pop/hip-hop super-trio of Phantogram with Outkast's Big Boi.
Performing in front of a dazzling array of lights and lasers, they bounced and blitzed their way through a matrix of danceable synth-rap, as well as reimagined twists on Outlast hits Ms. Jackson and The Way You Move.
And Seattle electronic duo Odesza proved why they're near the top of many festivals' wishlists with a gorgeous set combining hypnotic, twinkling electro-soul; live instrumentation (including a brass section); and dazzling lights that brought out a virtual forest of glowing totems in the crowd.
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So will Okeechobee be back in 2017? It seems like a slam-dunk bet. The setting lived up to all the hype; it was clean, well-maintained, eminently walkable and somehow ineffably Floridian, woven seamlessly into the state's natural fabric in a way few events of this magnitude ever can be.
The music, too, was unforgettable. Organizers went for broke by booking Mumford and Sons, Kendrick Lamar, Robert Plant, Skrillex and Bassnectar. And each act paid dividends with a stellar set. Whatever organizers paid for all that talent — and you have to assume it was at least mid-seven figures — it was worth it in spades for fans, who have to be wondering how Okeechobee can top it next year.
With first-year attendees and artists likely to leave singing its praises, Okeechobee's statewide impact -- already substantial in 2016 — will surely grow even bigger over the next 12 months.
It already had an impact on Bangarang, a Tampa rap-rock sextet that won a band battle to open Okeechobee's second stage on Sunday. They went all out on the experience, hiring a documentary crew to film their trip, giving away stacks of CDs, and showing plenty of love to their hometown and home state during a set before hundreds of fans.
"It's pretty badass," rapper Senyo Fugar said backstage, coming down from his set. "All these bands, all this music, all these people. There's not one person out here with any ill will."
There's your first testimonial, Okeechobee. Start printing those 2017 flyers now.
-- Jay Cridlin