Music festival’s future is unclear

OKEECHOBEE — Okeechobeings: It’s bad news.

“It’s pretty safe to say there won’t be a festival this year,” said Okeechobee County Administrator Robbie Chartier.

At the Nov. 8 meeting of the Okeechobee County Board of Commissioners, Ms. Chartier said the Okeechobee Music Festival has not applied for a permit for the 2019 OMF.

“It will be interesting to see what will happen in the future,” she said.

County officials will meet with music festival representatives on Nov. 13. County Commission Chairman Terry Burroughs said county officials will listen to what they have to say.

“It’s a preliminary meeting to find out what they will do,” he said.

Since Labor Day, when it came to news on the Okeechobee Music Festival (OMF), the silence has been deafening.

Traditionally, the festival had released the initial lineup of artists in October.

This year … no lineup has been announced and no tickets are on sale.

On Sept. 14, the website (billed as the “number one source for Electronic Dance Music”) reported rumors that the 2019 OMF has been canceled.

“After the festival’s first year, the original founders resigned, leaving the company to others.

Now, we’re not sure if we will be on the lake ever again,” the website states. “In addition, sources have said that the parent company of Okeechobee — Soundslinger LLC — has been ‘shuttered since Labor Day’ and employees have been laid off. While the company still owns the festival land, there is no talk of an Okeechobee 2019. While the parent company is up in the air, there is also speculation that someone else will be taking over the rights to the festival for the next year.”

The last message shared on the OMF Facebook page and twitter was on Sept. 13, stating “Hang in there … info coming soon.”

In the first year, OMF 2016 tickets sold out by the first day of the festival. Organizers were pleased with the event, although they said it did not generate any profit. At the time, the organizers explained such festivals do not usually make money until the third year.

According to information shared at Okeechobee County Commission meetings, 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.

The 2018 festival drew 34,000 people, with about 26,000 paid admissions. At the time, organizers speculated the timing of the festival had hurt attendance in 2018, since the dates did not coincide with college spring break.

Fans of the festival — who call themselves Okeechobeings — considered it a destination event. They came for the atmosphere and the experience as much as for the music.
The festival had originally been scheduled for the first weekend in March so that it would not conflict with local events such as the Speckled Perch Festival, the Cowtown Rodeo and the Okeechobee County Fair, all traditionally held the second and third weekends in March.

At its June 5 meeting, the Okeechobee County Commission approved Soundslinger’s request to move the festival from the first weekend in March to the second weekend in 2019, in order to coordinate it with spring break for many colleges. County commissioners at the time noted that after their initial arrival and stop in Okeechobee for supplies, OMF fans tended to stay at their campgrounds on the festival site in rural northeastern Okeechobee County, and traffic conflict with other events would be minimal. They also noted the festival drew a different crowd than the other local events, so it was not competing for the same audience.

The OMF 2019 dates were approved for March 7-11, 2019, by the county commission. The county also agreed to a plan that called for up to 40,000 people in paid admission and a total crowd on site of up to 45,000.

The commission also gave permission for organizers to hold a second festival in the fall in future years.

The economic impact to Okeechobee County in 2018 was $14 million; the economic impact over three years was $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 county sheriff’s office and fire rescue. (For each of the 25,771 tickets sold, the county received $3.)

Over the past three years, $313,955 has gone to local nonprofits through their participation in the festival.

In June 2018, OMF promoted the “Summer of Service,” offering fans a chance to win VIP tickets to OMF 2019 “by taking positive action in your community.”

On Aug. 13, OMF’s social media page encouraged fans to join the Soundslinger Team to help with the International Coastal Cleanup Day at Historic Virginia Key.

On Aug. 28, OMF posted a photo from the 2018 OMF.

On Labor Day weekend, a Battle of Bands took place in downtown Okeechobee, with local bands competing for a chance to audition at Destination Okeechobee in February for the opportunity to play at OMF 2019.

Since Sept. 13, there has been no word from the organizers, and no response to the newspaper’s calls, emails and messages.

A story in the Sept. 13 edition of the Miami Herald reported a proposal from a group including two of the original founders of OMF2018 — Steve Sybesma and Paul Peck — for a three-day Miami Beach Pop Festival in November 2019.

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