One Year Later… March 5-8, 2020: Okeechobee Pulls Off Last Major U.S. Festival Of 2020
Jason Koerner/Getty Images – No social distancing or masks required:
Fans enjoy the good vibes at Okeechobee Music & Arts Festival at Sunshine Grove in Okeechobee, Fla., on March 5, 2020.
In between city officials canceling Miami’s Ultra Music Festival and Austin’s South By Southwest on March 6 and Goldenvoice postponing Indio, Calif.’s Coachealla and Stagecoach festivals on March 9 because of fears of the coronavirus pandemic, Florida’s Okeechobee Music & Arts Festival managed to pull off its 2020 event. The March 5-8 festival at Sunshine Grove in Okeechobee, Fla., marked the last major 2020 U.S. festival to proceed as planned – held just a week before the CDC officially recommended the cancellation or postponement of all events for more than 50 people.
Okeechobee, which was produced for the first time by Insomniac in partnership with founder Soundslinger after the festival took a break in 2019, featured a lineup topped by Mumford & Sons, Vampire Weekend, Bassnectar, Rüfüs Du Sol, Kasksade, Haim, Glass Animals and Big Gigantic.
While small-scale gatherings like In My Elements have successfully hosted intimate events during the pandemic with a two-tiered COVID testing process and other promoters have held scaled-back concerts in recent months by implementing COVID-safe requirements including reduced capacities, social distancing and facemasks, in early March 2020 details about COVID safety were hazy. The CDC hadn’t yet recommended wearing face coverings when out in public and at that point, the focus was on washing one’s hands to stay safe, as people started stockpiling hand sanitizer and bleach wipes.
Organizers of Okeechobee submitted the following statement to Pollstar to share what it was like to put on a festival in the early days of the pandemic, right before the entire concert industry came to a halt.
“There was no sign of COVID-19 in the US when we began loading in for the Okeechobee Music & Arts Festival in mid-February, but we kept a close eye on what was developing internationally. At that time, China was in the thick of it, and Europe was beginning to see warning signs. As we got into March, we kept up-to-date with local government briefings, especially in New York and Florida, and were in close communication with Okeechobee County officials and police.
Our number one concern was always the health and safety of our ticket holders, staff and artists. COVID-19 had not really hit the State of Florida by the start of the festival, but we scrambled to get our hands on as many hand sanitizing dispensers as we could. We also disseminated safety precaution tips focused on personal hygiene and hand washing through our communication channels to our community.
The show went off without a hitch, and the energy was electric. For those four days, what happened outside of OMF stayed outside, as we lived by our motto ‘Be Here Now.’ Strangers danced and frolicked as if they were family, some fell in love, while others laughed and enjoyed themselves, making new memories for life.
We feel incredibly lucky to have been able to gather one last time and successfully pull off the show, and we believe that sentiment was shared by everyone present. As far as we know, to this day there have been no reports of anyone contracting the virus at the festival.
We want to thank all of the first responders who are braving the elements and give a message of hope to all the people who have been affected by tragedy or unemployment, specifically in the live event industry that’s been hit the hardest with almost 12 million people experiencing hardship. There is a light at the end of the tunnel, and we will rebuild, catch up on lost time, and come back even stronger. Human connection is what makes us feel alive, and it’s essential to mental health and well-being.
Sending our love until we can meet again at Sunshine Grove.”