2019 music festival set for March 7-10; Dates to match Spring Break for many college students

OKEECHOBEE — The fourth annual Okeechobee Music and Arts Festival is planned for March 7-10, 2019 to coincide with spring break week for more than 1.7 million college students.

As in previous years, the campers will be admitted to the Sunshine Grove festival area in northeast Okeechobee County on Thursday (March 7) and must leave no later than Monday (March 11).

The change from the first weekend in March to the second weekend in March was approved at the June 5 meeting of the Okeechobee County Board of Commissioners.

Okeechobee County Sheriff Noel Stephen, Fire/Rescue Chief Ralph Franklin and Okeechobee Agri-Civic Center director Matt Dorriety told the commissioners they are on board with the date change.

Attendance was down at the 2018 OMF, and organizers believe the spring break dates were a factor.

The first music festival, OMF16, attracted nearly 35,000 people, including paid admissions, on-site staff, artists and guests. The second festival, OMF17, attracted a total of approximately 41,000 throughout the four days, including over 32,000 paid admissions.

This year’s festival drew 34,000 persons with about 26,000 paid admission.

Kevin Collinsworth, Soundslinger CEO, said about 87 percent of those who purchased tickets to OMF18 were 18-34 years of age.

Even though attendance was down this year, both county and Soundslinger officials said the event was a success.

“Most things went pretty smoothly,” said Okeechobee Planning Director Bill Royce.

He said the third annual Okeechobee Music and Arts Festival (OMF18) was held on the first weekend of March 2018. Festival attendees began arriving on Thursday, March 1 and left by Monday, March 5. Festival concerts began Thursday afternoon at the Aquachobee Beach stage.

Most festival concerts occurred on Friday, Saturday and Sunday at the main stages at The Grove as well as the Aquachobee Beach stage and the nearby Jungle 51 stage. The festival concluded with the primary headline artist playing Sunday evening at The Grove.

Following the festival, county staff met with representatives from the Sheriff’s Office, Health Department, Fire Rescue and Emergency Management to discuss operational aspects of the festival, specifically which aspects could use further review and improvement in anticipation of the 2019 Okeechobee Music and Arts Festival.

For OMF19, it is anticipated that paid attendance could reach 40,000.

Mr. Royce said the working group of county staff approved the idea of moving festival to second weekend of March with paid attendance of up to 40,000 with total on site of about 45,000.

“We were thrilled this year with how everything went,” said Mr. Collinsworth.

He said moving the box office to the Agri-Civic Center helped the whole weekend go smoothly.

“It was definitely a big improvement,” he said.

The third OMF featured 103 artists, he said, including Arcade Fire and Bassnectar.

“People were very happy with it,” he said.

Most of those who attended the festival were from South Florida, Mr. Collinsworth said, but they had attendees from every continent with the exception of Antarctica.

The economic impact to Okeechobee County was $14 million; the economic impact over three years is $48 million.

In 2018, $290,134 was paid to Okeechobee County including $77,313 in ticket fees and $212,821 paid to reimburse expenses by the sheriff’s department and fire rescue. For each of the 25,771 tickets sold, the county received $3.

Over the past three years, about $320,000 has gone to local nonprofits through their participation in the festival.

Mr. Collinsworth said the festival promotes recycling and reducing landfill waste. This year there were no plastic straws on site. After the festival, they donated leftover food to Treasure Coast Food Bank. The Warrior Center collected about 4,500 pounds of camping gear left behind by the festival fans.

Thirteen local nonprofits were featured in Participation Row at OMF 2018.

Every nonprofit provides a positive interactions with festival fans, said Mr. Collinsworth.

He said the HeadCount booth registered 1,400 voters.

The festival’s toll free hotline for noise complaints only received two calls.

Outreach to the neighbors including hosting barbecues to allow neighbors to ask questions and voice their concerns before the event, putting up fences, putting up some light towers and adding security at their gates, he said.

Sound monitoring improvements were successful in reducing noise complaints from neighbors.

He said they used stage orientation to mitigate the level of sound leaving the property.

“Delay towers helped keep us pointing the sound where we wanted it,” he explained.

The festival also changed some hours of operation and some set times to reduce noise problems. NoizCalc Software helped shape the sound.

“Each year has been a learning process,” he continued, “the artists booked, time they play, weather are all factors in controlling sound.”

The 2018 OMF included three marriage proposals – one by a skywriter – five weddings, 68 yoga classes, “almost 300 performances, and one heck of a show,” he said.

Commissioner Kelly Owens complimented Soundslinger on the way they have worked with and listened to their neighbors.

“My concern is moving to the weekend the same as the rodeo,” said Commissioner Hazellief.

“Rodeo can’t change. To get contestants to travel it has to be the same weekend as Arcadia. If the hotels and motels are full, we won’t have any place to put those contestants.

“This is the one time of year our places are full,” he said.

Mr. Collinsworth said he has spoken to the Cattlemen’s Association and they had no problem with the music festival being the same weekend, as they draw a different demographic.

He said the music festival will use more hotels on the coast.

“The only other concern I have is the strain having all of these events on the same weekend will put on our infrastructure,” said Commissioner Goodbread. “The music fest is pretty much all hands on deck for the fire department and the police department. Having both events on the same weekend would probably be overstrenuous on our public safety men and women.” He noted the youth livestock show also starts that weekend.

Sheriff Noel Stephen said all concerns were taken into consideration and he is comfortable with the new festival dates.

“I am at the comfort level I think the security inside the music festival is sufficient,” said the sheriff.

“I think it is time I can back off and let music fest take over their own security now that I know it is adequately provided. It’s on Soundslinger to make sure they maintain that level.

“We have looked at everything,” he continued. “We think we can make it work.”

Fire/Rescue Chief Ralph Franklin agreed.

“This year we brought in some outside agencies to help reduce the burden,” he said. “I am comfortable with the numbers.

“In regards to the rodeo, we knew we had to supply a unit for them but that is not a 24-hour operation for several days,” he explained, adding the rodeo only needs EMS support during the performances.

“From fire/rescue perspective, we are comfortable with it being on the same weekend,” he said.

Matt Dorriety said the music festival will not interfere with the Youth Livestock Show or the county fair.

“Operations for OMF will start on Tuesday before their show. They will be out of there by midnight on Friday,” he said.

“If it follows the same pattern as last year about 80 percent of the people who came through there were on Thursday,” he explained.

He said the livestock show small animals will come into the Agri-Civic Center on Friday from 3 to 5 p.m.

“By then the music fest traffic will be very light,” he said. The large animals won’t arrive until Monday.

“I expect very minimal interference with the livestock show,” said Mr. Dorriety.

“The fair will be setting up in the circle during that time,” he explained. “Most of that equipment is brought in during the night.

“That movement does not involve the perimeter road where the music fest traffic is,” he said.

“I think everything can co-exist at the Agri-Civic Center,” said Mr. Dorriety.

Commission Chairman Terry Burroughs said the events attract a totally different demographic.

In regard to local hotels, most of the business has already been driven to the coast due to pricing, he added.

In the public comment period, Robert Keefe of the Warrior Center said “I think that what they are doing for the community and the nonprofits is a phenomenal thing. in regards to the new dates, make it happen!”

“The show this year was fantastic,” said Jonathan Bean, executive director of Martha’s House,

“It’s also an arts festival,” he said. “There is so much creativity going on the whole time not just on the stage but throughout the whole place. There is creativity you won’t see anywhere else in the county.

“It has a tremendous amount of impact on the people there. We also get to expose our organizations to the people who come. This year we had 30 to 50 people ask us how they could volunteer, how they could help. I was able to refer them to the local organizations in their communities where they can volunteer and help,” he explained.

“As far as the date change, I am all for it,” he said.

Rachel Heddings Big Brothers Big Sisters said the festival was a great opportunity for the agency. She said they were able to connect with individuals who had been involved with the BB/BS program all over the country.

Courtney Moyette of the Substand Abuse Coalition said they “were really surprised at the number of people who were receptive to us,” at the festival.

“We were able to talk to them about ways to build our coalition better and to reach a population we aren’t reaching,” she said. Due to the funding raised at the festival, the Substance Abuse Coalition has been able to host Friday Night Done Right events three times a year, providing a free night of fun to 380-479 kids each time.

Friday Night Done Right events are open to local children in grades three through six.

Without the funds from the festival, they could only host one event a year.

As a resident, she said she appreciated the efforts to reduce traffic issues during the festival weekend.

“I drove back and forth each day and there were no problems at all,” she said.

OMF encourages Summer of Service

On June 6, Okeechobee Music Festival staff will volunteer in their local communities of Okeechobee, Miami and New York to kick of the OMF Summer of Service.

Festival organizers posted the following message on June 4:

“Upload a photo of your volunteer experience, community project or service project and show us how you’re getting involved for a chance to win a pair of VIP passes to OMF19. Each time you volunteer and upload a new pic, that will count as another entry, so get out there and show us what you’ve got.

“We’ll be rewarding inspiring projects throughout the summer with OMF merch and other surprises. Join us and over 60 million volunteers in the United States to show that special Okee Love.”

The festival’s involvement in community service included the OMF18 Participation Row. In addition, area volunteers earned money for nonprofit organizations by running the beverage booths at the festival.

Over the past three years, OMF18 benefited 25 nonprofit organizations for a total of $313,955 donated to the nonprofit partners. In addition, the HeadCount booth registered 2,600 voters.

Following the four-day camping festival, OMF staff and volunteers rescued food which went to area food pantries and programs to feed the poor.

In addition, camping gear was rescued with the help of the Warrior Center. The camping gear will go to homeless veterans and others in need. In 2017, some camping gear recycled from OMF17 was given to those left homeless by hurricanes.

The 2018 festival also took another step toward sustainability by banning the use of plastic straws, eliminating an estimated 70,000 straws that would have wound up in the landfill.

To enter for a chance to win VIP tickets for OMF 2019, follow the link at https://okeechobeefest.com/.

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