OKEECHOBEE — Thousands of college students on spring break along with other music fans gathered in northeast Okeechobee County March 5-9 for the 2020 Okeechobee Music Festival. Final attendance numbers were not available at press time, but according to festival organizers, more than 30,000 were in the crowd.
The festival featured performances by more than 100 artists, amped up with spectacular light shows and pyrotechnics. Most of the festivalgoers spent the weekend camping on the 600 plus acre festival property, but single day tickets were also available this year.
During the daytime, temperatures were warm enough for some to sunbathe at the man-made beach dubbed Aquachobee. When temperatures dropped into the 40s at night, fans layered on more clothing and wrapped themselves in blankets. Some campers, familiar with the extremes of Florida’s winter weather, brought portable tent heaters.
Recent concerns about the coronavirus prompted festival organizers to increase the number of hand-washing stations throughout the festival grounds and place more hand sanitizer dispensers in all bathroom areas. They also added more signs reminding all to “Wash your hands!”
“The experience with the new company went very well,” said Okeechobee County Sheriff Noel Stephen. “All in all, I think it was a success.” He said the problems this year were minimal. The biggest traffic problem was on Monday when thousands of campers left.
“It took four to five hours to get everybody out of here,” he said.
The sheriff said the Osceola County officials also had a traffic snarl to deal with in Yeehaw Junction with so many of the festivalgoers getting on the Florida Turnpike there.
The sheriff said, as with previous festivals, the bulk of the arrests made at the festival were of those stealing from festivalgoers. Pickpockets often work the crowds at big festivals, targeting cellphones and credit cards.
“We know to look for them,” said the sheriff. “They work all weekend, stealing, and we try to target those folks.”
The sheriff said there were some drug arrests before the festival.
The sheriff noted that each year of the festival has been different.
“I hope moving forward, they can improve the venue not only for the festivalgoers but also for the promoter,” he added.