Thousands of fans arrive for music fest

OKEECHOBEE — On Wednesday morning, when Okeechobee Walmart associates found someone asleep in a hammock in the trees next to the store, they took it in stride.

The 2018 Okeechobee Music Festival opened Thursday. Fans started arriving by the carload on Wednesday in anticipation of four days of music, camping, yoga and fun in the sun.

By Thursday, the Walmart parking lot was packed, and some folks who arrived during the night had set up campsites in the grassy area near the parking lot.

The festival site opened at noon on Thursday. It is expected to attract 40,000 fans.

Music festival fans from all over the United States arrived in Okeechobee on Thursday in anticipation of the opening day of the Okeechobee Music Festival. Photos by Katrina Elsken.

This is the third year for the annual camping festival, and Okeechobee store managers were ready for them.

Yvette Henson, manager of the Okeechobee Walmart store, said even before the fans hit town, they saw an increase in sales as Okeechobee residents opted to shop early and avoid the crowds.

Most of the festival fans will arrive by Friday. Based on the experience of the first two festivals, fans will stop in Okeechobee for supplies before heading out to Sunshine Grove in the northeastern part of the county.

Samantha Messina, Natalie Davenport and Madeline Ward (left to right) took turns driving 30 hours from Michigan to arrive in Okeechobee on Thursday morning. Like many other festival fans, they stopped at the Okeechobee Walmart for supplies before heading to the festival box office at the Okeechobee Agri-Civic Center. Photos by Katrina Elsken.

Ms. Henson said she worked with OMF 2018 representative Holly Mixon to choose items that festival fans want, keeping the festival’s “leave no trace” goal in mind. Items like sleeping bags, tarps and sun hats were easy to find on the stores “action alley” aisle.

“We used sales data from last year to make strategic purchases,” she said.

In the past, they have found those who attend this festival prefer healthy foods, said Ms. Henson. The store has plenty of fruit, juice and other organic food choices in stock.

Camping supplies are always in demand. Fans who carpool from out of state often don’t have the space to bring sleeping bags and tents with them. They buy gear in Okeechobee, stuff everything into the vehicle and make do with the cramped conditions for the 20-mile drive from the city to the festival site.

“They also forget things,” said Ms. Henson. “Or the weather will change while they are here.”

Walmart associates said the festival fans they have met were very nice, friendly, respectful and well-mannered. While some folks in the parking lot left some trash Wednesday night, other festival fans were out picking up trash on Thursday morning.

At the front door, the greeter was all smiles as he welcomed shoppers on Thursday morning. “This is my favorite day to work,” he said. “They are a pleasant group of people.

I love to come to work when the festival is here.”

He said he enjoyed seeing their colorful attire and watching what kind of items they purchase. One shopper left with a pillow and a case of beer, he noted.

“If I were 50 years younger, I’d be going to the festival with them,” he said.

Music festival fans gathered in the parking lot of the Okeechobee Walmart. This group included fans from Denver and from Michigan. Photos by Katrina Elsken.

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