Review: Okeechobee Music Festival, Day 2, brings Kendrick Lamar, Skrillex, an all-star 'PoWoW' and more
Near the end of Saturday night at the Okeechobee Music and Arts Featival, Skrillex grabbed the mic and gave it up for "one of the most amazing bands that ever existed in the history of bands!"
Behind him, jamming out to Earth, Wind and Fire's Let's Groove, were Mumford and Sons; Preservation Hall Jazz Band; members of Arcade Fire, Hall and Oates, the Meters and Soulive; Miguel, Kamasi Washington and more. And lest we forget, Skrillex was there, too, fresh off his headlining set and shredding and scratching away.
Organizers promised music history at Okeechobee, and they sure delivered it with their first-ever late-night PoWoW, which grew from a curated jam session into a once-in-a-lifetime commingling of the stars. On any other night, a headlining set by superstar rapper Kendrick Lamar would dominate the news, but ... did you see that lineup? Don't we have to start there?
It started innocently enough at midnight, with musical director John Oates leading the band -- Preservation Hall Jazz Band, the Meters' Zigaboo Modeliste and George Porter Jr., Soulive's Eric Krasno and Neal Evans and DJ Chris Karns -- through Led Zeppelin's Kashmir. Then co-host Miguel sauntered in to Marvin Gaye's Inner City Blues.
"You know there's nothing but legends on this stage -- minus me," said the grinning singer.
Next came Arcade Fire singer Win Butler for rousing, brass-tacular renditions of David Bowie's Fame and Rebel Rebel.
"David f---ing Bowie: He lives!" Butler said.
Washington came out for Allen Toussaint's jukey, jivey Night People. ("He gives David Bowie a run for his money," Butler said of Toussaint.) Modeliste took the lead on People Say, as Butler hung back in the regimen of percussionists. And for once, Oates got to sing lead on Hall and Oates' I Can't Go For That (although, to be fair, Miguel was pretty great at it, too).
The set was almost all feel-good, sing-along party music -- Hotline Bling, Iko Iko, Don't Stop Till You Get Enough (featuring a cameo by a dancing Mac Miller). The power of Preservation Hall even turned an oddly stormy and militaristic version of Neil Young's Ohio (complete with Miguel ad-libbing "Four dead in Ohio! Four dead in D.C.! Four dead in Baltimore!") into a show-stopping centerpiece. When Washington started wailing out a solo on I Can't Go For That, even a giddy Miguel had to break out his phone to make a movie.
But all of that was a prelude to an insane encore. First, Sunday headliners Mumford and Sons joined the band for the Clash's Rock the Casbah. Then came Let's Groove -- and by this point, enough time had passed for a sweaty Skrillex to make his way from the main stage to grab a guitar and start picking along. When the strings ripped out, he took a seat next to Karns and started scratching a turntable.
Over the course of the 20-plus-minute Let's Groove, Butler and Marcus Mumford banged along with a team of percussionists. Skrillex grabbed every instrument he could, trying to find something to play. Oates and Miguel took turns coaxing every musician onstage into a solo. Modeliste got the last one, an explosive drum solo that sent the super-duper-uber-group into the wilderness, and put Night 2 of Okeechobee in the history books.
It was, exactly as organizers had promised, a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Holler when you come across a bootleg.
The other big news of the day? A headlining set by King Kendrick Lamar, whose surprise new album untitled unmastered. was the talk of the Internet Friday.
Striding out like he was about to deliver the State of the Union, K.Dot teased everyone, approaching the mic, backing away, stroking his stubble until the crowd was good and stoked. And then: For Free? (Interlude) and Wesley's Theory, both from from his Grammy-winning album To Pimp a Butterfly. The crowd loved it; as Lamar noted, this was his first show in Florida since Butterfly dropped last spring.
The crowd went understandably nuts for Lamar's older material, such as B----- Don't Kill My Vibe or m.A.A.d. City. But it felt right to hear Butterfly blossom to rich, colorful life amid Okeechobee's wilderness, as Lamar's band drew every ounce of soul from jazzy, melodic tracks like Complexion (A Zulu Love), Hood Politics and These Walls.
Many Butterfly songs, Lamar performed at a stationary microphone, gesticulating his arms as if untangling the issues before him. But on the more electric singles -- the irrepressible i, the valedictory show closer Alright -- he couldn't help but move around. On King Kunta, Mac Miller could be seen dancing in the wings, and on Alright, Lamar dragged him onstage so they could bounce joyfully together.
"This is the livest motherf---ing show on planet Earth!" Lamar shouted.
He even managed to tap into Okeechobee's stated mission of community and healing. During the depression saga u, he saw a fan rapping along in the front row and demanded he join him onstage, testifying that he could tell when that song truly resonated with a listener. They danced together as Lamar made the crowd cheer harder and harder for his new favorite fan.
"As long as I'm standing on this stage, as long as I'm writing these words, you will always have somebody to relate to," Lamar told the crowd.
The one thing Lamar didn't really do was delve into untitled unmastered. -- a curious move, since the whole world was watching. But that's K.Dot for you, always delivering the unexpected.
You can basically break Okeechobee's lineup into thirds: Rock, jazz and jam, and hip hop and EDM. They all move the needle in different ways, and offer three ways to break down a full day of performances.
Big beat-seekers got not only full sets by Lamar, Skrillex and Miguel, but also earlier tastes of more underground talents like experimental hip-hop/production duo Shabazz Palaces and funky Boston newcomer Michael Christmas, playing what he said was his first-ever festival.
Rock ran the gamut from the eerie, ethereal synth-folk of Twin Limb to the cheery trop-pop sensibilities of Givers to the combustible psychedelia of Dr. Dog.
Described in Okeechobee's program as an alt-country rocker, Tennessee songsmith Rayland Baxter grooved the early afternoon away with the smoky, sax-powered Temporary Queen of a Bad Time, on which he sang about loving a Deadhead woman at a music festival. In the crowd, hippie nymphs blew bubbles as a dude in red undies and a John Deere cap twirled and flounced about in the pit.
But no one rocked quite like Deer Tick, whose freewheeling set of whiskey-drenched rock veered from grungy rockabilly to border-town Buffett territory on Cocktail.
"We don't have a new record or anything," frontman John McCauley said. "We're just gonna do whatever we feel like."
And for the jam-band set, the big winner was the sound of New Orleans. The "Here" stage featured a handful of Louisiana favorites, including the vaunted Preservation Hall Jazz Band, Crescent City veteran Walter "Wolfman" Washington and modern brass ensemble the Soul Rebels.
And then there was the legendary Booker T. Jones, a key figure at Stax Records and "a man who has paved the way for many, many bands you see here today," said his drummer, Darian Gray.
Jones opened with his classic 1968 theme from Hang 'me High, before rolling off a string of classic covers: Hey Joe, Don't Let Me Down, his own 1962 sizzler Green Onions. He even slow-burned through a gospel take on Purple Rain.
The crowd for Booker T. was criminally small, though festival co-founder and site developer Clifford Rosen did make an appearance. Everyone else had to be elsewhere, it seemed. Here, there's just too much going on.
Other observations from Day 2 at Okeechobee:
Win Butler gave the crowd a little PoWoW preview earlier in the night, orchestrating a set under his moniker DJ Windows 98 on Aquachobee Beach. He opened by tapping a cowbell as the Preservation Hall Jazz Band and a cadre of costumed revelers marched a second line through the crowd, then grabbed a mic and duetted with saxophonist Clint Maedgen on a funky, grooved-out rendition of Bowie's Fame.
Another of the night's big unscripted collaborations came when Miguel, during his sweat-soaked solo set, brought out Mac Miller to perform Weekend.
Or at least, that's what Miguel thought was going to happen.
Instead, Miller got up there, mumbled a few lines, and blanked on the rest.
"I forgot it," he said. "I'm not gonna lie, I'm f---ed up right now."
It happens, Miguel told the crowd afterward. Performers write so many songs, so many verses, it's impossible to keep them straight.
"I apologize," he said. "It's a human moment."
Donald Trump was up the road in Orlando on Saturday, so it was only right that he got a couple of shout-outs at Okeechobee.
During his ridiculously energetic set, Mac Miller introduced his hit single Donald Trump thusly: "F--- this motherf---er! F--- this motherf---er with every ounce, every pound. Because this s--- is getting close! So f--- this motherf---er. Tell everybody: F--- this motherf---er."
Later, during the PoWoW, Butler said the Canadians of Arcade Fire feel the pain of this election.
"You guys want to move to Canada when Trump gets elected, we'll welcome you with open arms," he said. "Even if you're Muslim or Mexican."
And later: "Just don't come crying to me when it happens. This s--- is up to you. It's f---ing Florida. It's literally up to you."
There are worse ways to wake up than a morning in Chobeewobee Village.
Out here, a short walk from the lakeside brodown of Aquachobee Beach, you had dozens of festivalgoers doing yoga in the shade, while nearby the Classen Quartet performed string versions of hits by Ellie Goulding, Calvin Harris and Muse.
Adjacent to a palm grove nestling about 30 hammocks sat a ramshackle temple bejeweled with recycled bottles and cans, around which people slept, swung, stretched or scribbled in their diaries, as an automated soundscape of chimes and gongs played overhead.
Hammock life, by the way, is totally a thing here. Where you see two trees -- or even a car and a stop sign -- you'll find a hammock (or occasionally a tightrope). There are even hammock spots within view of the stages -- a nice and unexpected touch that helps the festival site feel unique and connected to nature.
another early-morning observation: People at music festivals don't wear watches. Everyone seemed to wake up about the same time, and had to scramble for their (probably dead) phones.
"Anyone know what time it is?" a camper in the next tent yelled to no one in particular. "Eight-thirty," came a distant call.
And we'll do it all again Sunday.
-- Jay Cridlin