‘The world is watching’: Music festival plans on track

OKEECHOBEE — With the inaugural Okeechobee Music & Arts Festival just five weeks away, festival organizers are busy getting everything ready for the event.

At the Thursday meeting of the Okeechobee County Commission, festival property owner Clifford Rosen thanked county staff for their support.

“I want to express gratitude to the county and to the team effort that is not just us, it is everybody who is making it happen. It wouldn’t happen without that support,” he said.

“It has been a pleasure to work with everybody,” said Mr. Rosen.

“There is a lot to get done. There are always things to work out, but I am very comfortable,” he added.

“We have a lot to do, but we are on target for that.

“I am really happy that the New York Times listed Okeechobee as one of the top places to visit in the world this year,” he added.

“We are truly putting on a lineup and a festival that is among the best in the country, right in line with Coachella and Bonaroo, thanks to Steve (Sybesma) and his team,” Mr. Rosen said.

“The intent of this was to create a world class music festival,” said Steve Sybesma,

“We have over 100 artists. We have some of the top artists in the world,” he said. “Our festival lineup is as good as any in the country.

“It’s very difficult to get artists to believe in you in the first year of the festival,” he continued.

“My partner Paul (Peck) came from Bonaroo. One of his specialties at Bonaroo was creating the superjam.”

He said the “superjam” concept is to bring together artists who have not worked together before, to create a unique music experience.

At the Okeechobee Music & Arts festival, this musical collaboration will be called the “PoWow.”

“We will have some of the artists on the show and some special guests to come in just for this,” he said.

The music festival will have five stages. Three main stages will be in the open area near the lodge. One stage will be near the newly-created beach and the “jungle stage” will be in a clearing in a wooded area.

Mr. Sybesma said the festival will offer a unique experience. The beach area will have a Ferris wheel and a place to relax.

“The area we call YogaChobee will have daily classes for yoga and sustainability classes,” he said.

“We have instructors coming in from all over the United States.

“We will have a tea area where you can relax.”

There will be street performers throughout the festival area, he said.

“There will be a lot of entertainment.

“The world is watching,” he said.

People are coming from all over the United States as well as from other countries.

“This is something the county of Okeechobee will be proud of,” he said.

“It’s going to be good for all of us.”

Mr. Sybesma, who is from Indiana, said he fell in love with the property at first sight.

“Okeechobee is a very special place,” he said. “The beauty of the land will be reflected in the event.

“We have some of the top people in the world involved in the preparation of the event. They say this is one of the best festival sites in America.

“We think it is a great place for the next best festival in America,” he continued.

One thing that is special about this site, he said, is that this is the only festival site in America that has six miles of paved roads.

“It’s convenient for the campers to come,” he said. “We also have a lot of high ground because of Cliff’s development of the property through the years, and we did work on the site this year to fill low areas.”

He said the lighting effects in the woods will be spectacular.

“What we hope is a partnership to the community, we hope this is a big benefit to the community.”

Mr. Sybesma said they don’t expect to recoup their investment in just one year.

“It’s a massive investment on our side,” he said. “It’s not something we come in here and do one year. First year festivals traditionally don’t make money.

It’s something that we have to build on over several years.

“We have to build a community of people who want to come back and grow the festival.”

Benefits to the county

The festival will have some direct benefits to Okeechobee County.

The festival will pay sales tax, including the 1 percent sales tax that goes to the county, on tickets and food and beverage sales.

The festival is also involved in some charity initiatives. Two dollars from each ticket sold will go to charity, with the money divided between Okeechobee Communities In Schools, Feeding South Florida, The Nature Conservatory and Headcount (a voter registration drive).

“Our goal is to create a holistically sustainable festival,” he said. “We want to work towards a zero waste event. It won’t happen the first year, but we are doing things such as using biodegradable cups.”

“We’re confident the overall effect to the community will be very positive,” he said. “We are excited to be here and appreciate the support you have given us.”

Local businesses will benefit even before the festival, he continued. Hundreds of people will be staying in the hotels and eating in the restaurants.

Community members also have the opportunity to volunteer at the festival, allowing some who could not afford the ticket price to participate and enjoy the event. He added that they won’t be able to use all of those who offered to volunteer as they had more than 3,000 applications.

Spectrum, the vendor in charge of beverages, has encouraged nonprofit organizations to work in beverage booths, where they will earn money for their nonprofit organizations. These teams of volunteers will be allowed to camp on the site.

Traffic plan in place

The festival property will have four entrances, including two for general public, one for vendors, one for VIP and emergency vehicles.

“My job is to make sure everybody gets to and from the fun without a detriment to your community,” said Susan O’Rourke, a traffic engineer from Stuart.

Ms. O’Rourke said she has been working with the sheriff, planning department, school board, St. Lucie County roadway department, St. Lucie County Sheriff’s Office, the State Department of Transportation and the City of Okeechobee to coordinate the traffic flow plan.

Festival goers will come in from U.S. 441 and SR 70.

“Right now we think about 60 percent of traffic will come in on U.S. 441,” she said.

This traffic coming from the north, will turn on N.E. 144th St.

“We are going to have staff at the intersection of U.S. 441 and 144th St.,” she said. She added they will also have a tow truck on site.

Another traffic team will be stationed on SR 70 at N.E. 128th.

Ms. O’Rourke said they will install changeable message signs throughout the area about a week before the event.

“We anticipate traffic on SR 710 to SR 70,” he said.

Staff will be at the intersections with walkie-talkies, “so if something happens, we can respond quickly,” she said.

“We have it under control to the best of our ability. We have a lot of backup plans, let me assure you.”

Emergency officials comfortable

County Fire/Rescue Chief Ralph Franklin and Okeechobee County Sheriff’s Office Major Noel Stephens said they are both comfortable with the plans.

“We will still have a full shift on duty to handle 9-1-1 calls,” said Chief Franklin. “We have some outside people coming in for the festival. There will be a member of my command staff on the scene throughout the festival.”

He said they will be conducting some training in the next few weeks in anticipation of the festival.

Major Stephen said the OCSO has been in communication with their counterparts in Tennessee who handle the Bonaroo festival.

He said he is comfortable with the security and traffic plans.

“It will not deplete or take away from those services our tax payers pay for during that weekend,” he said. “We’re going to utilize outside counties to provide traffic and security at the event.”

After the festival, county staff will meet with festival staff to review plans for future festivals.

“We will learn from what this first event will bring,” said Maj. Steven.

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