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Published: 2016/02/17
by Rob Slater

Okeechobee Dreaming with Paul Peck: The Big PoWoW!, Jungle 51 and Much More

You might not be familiar with the name Paul Peck, but if you were to list your most memorable music festival experiences, chances are Peck had a hand in several of them. For years, Peck worked closely with the Bonnaroo SuperJam, curating many notable moments and unlikely collaborations.

These days, Peck has his sights set on a new endeavor, the inaugural Okeechobee Festival which is slated to kick off festival season on March 4. Peck took with him the Superjam idea, teaming with Miguel and Arcade Fire’s Win Butler for the PoWoW! along with curating a lineup that, as he says, features a fair mix of legends along with artists currently dominating the conversation today.

Read on as Peck shares his vision for Okeechobee, talks about the artists involved and the entire experience coming to Florida, hopefully, for many years to come.

One of the things I’m most curious about is the site and how you picked it. What attracted you to the site? What did you like about it?

I wasn’t really looking to make a career change. The first thing I said when I took on this project was that I’m not interested in being involved unless the site is absolutely exceptional. It’s the one thing that you can’t manufacture. It’s either there, or it’s not there. You can always bring in artists and great tunes and great vendors and tons of art, you can do that anywhere. But if the site is next level, then you have that opportunity to do something super, super special and meaningful.

The first thing I was told when I made that statement was that this was the best site they’ve ever seen. I was still a little skeptical. But I went down and saw the property myself and my mind was just exploding over the possibilities. And I hadn’t even seen the beach or that jungle area, or this amazing wooded area. It is just the most beautiful festival site I have ever seen.

To me, it’s not just about the music. Great music and a beautiful location are what festivals are about-they’re almost hand in hand, like a glass of wine with a great meal. That is what I felt had the opportunity to do. We could establish a venue in Florida that was of the caliber of The Gorge, or Red Rock, or places like that where you’re like “Holy shit! I can’t believe this is real!”

The more I saw the site, the more I connected with the property, and the more I realized what could happen there. Aside from being beautiful, this site is very, very functional. For instance, you can splash around in the water and hang out at the beach while watching the band play, and that to me is kind of like a wow experience. And this is during March, so it’s not going to be incredibly hot like it is in July or August, even May. March is optimum weather.

We want to create a destination for a very wide variety of fans. In my mind, it’s not just the ultimate spring break destination; it’s the ultimate vacation destination. This is going to be the most fantastic vacation ever. It’s one of those situations where you step outside of reality into a natural wonderland and there’s going to be art everywhere and tons of great music.

One of the things about the property that is so special and so unbelievable is these areas that have different looks and different feels and different vibes to them. The property has tons of these areas, and pathways, and camping is unbelievably comfortable. We have this one area that really looks like a tropical rainforest, and that’s going to be Jungle 51. Jungle 51 is going to run counter to Okeechobee beach, which goes from 9am-9pm or until sundown. And Jungle 51 fires up at sundown, so you can have all night dance parties in the jungle. Another thing about the property is that you can see a million stars because it’s so clear out there at night, you can just feel the depth of the constellations on top of you. So again, it’s just sort of a major paradise – like you could do nothing in the way of art out there, and it would still be the most stunning place ever. There will be electronic dance parties every night, and those’ll go until dawn. And then at dawn we’ll go back over to the beach to the water and another band will be playing there in the morning and it will be great.

You mentioned the functionality of the site—was it used previously for another event or purpose?

At one point it was used an equestrian ranch, and then in the mid 2000’s it was actually developed for housing. The road is one of the things that’s going to allow us to operate the event in an incredibly effective way. Everything is located toward the central venue, and there’s camping everywhere. It’s unbelievably convenient for fans and also for us to run a really efficient operation there. It’s not going to be the festival where you have to do tons and tons of walking every day. You’re going to be fairly close to your campground at all times.

The three main stages placed on that property, we’re going to call them “The Grove.” The property as a whole is called “Sunshine Grove,” because the center of it is the grove. The beach and the jungle are in an area that we’re calling “Moonlight Oasis,” because it will be open around the clock.

The Grove is the area where the three main stages are going to be. Everyone will come from the campground and see these beautiful pathways through the forest. They’ll light up and you’ll come through it and it’s going to feel like a transformative experience. You walk through these pathways and appear on the other side. It’s just this amazing open stage with tons of grass, trees, and it’s all wide and it’s open and it’s flat. There’s a beautiful natural tree line around it, which is just mind-blowing.

You’ve talked a lot about the overall experience for the festivalgoer. How important is that in today’s music festival culture?

It’s so important. An amazing concert can be inspiring in and of itself. But then you bring this other piece into it, the surrounding environment. A whole curated experience that is meant to take you out of reality and put you in a different space. That’s the type of experience where the music and the fans and the artists can take everyone collectively to another level.

This isn’t like a festival for one type of music, this is a festival for people who just want to come out and experience stuff. If you want to come out and have an experience and see everything. It isn’t for one type of music fan, it’s something we’re creating for everybody. That’s what it’s all about.

To me, that’s when I have the most meaningful experiences is when I stumble upon something or connect with a type of music that I didn’t know that I connected with before. That’s when you grow as a person, when you feel a different kind of inspiration that you didn’t expect, or you meet somebody new that you connected with, and you never met someone like that before. Or you see a piece of art in a certain way because of the frame of mind you’re in or because of the time of the day or because of the experience you just had. What we’re really trying to do here is create a special experience for people and provide inspiration that people can take back out of it to their regular, everyday lives. It’s a really big opportunity because this place is so special and because it’s in Florida, and because the weather that time of year is so special. I want to create something different, something meaningful, and something a community that we form around. I think the first year that we do it is going to be really, really special.

Florida has had several festivals come and go over the last decade or so with very little success. What will be Okeechobee’s staying power?

It’s the site. The site is just next-level. I don’t think there’s another site like this in the country and certainly not where the weather is as beautiful as it is this time of year. What we’re creating is a bit of an old-school experience. A lot of us live in cities and we don’t get the opportunity that often to go out and see nature. This is an opportunity to not only go out to nature but to have world-class, A-level entertainment to enjoy in a place that just has unbelievable natural beauty. I think that’s what sets this festival apart from every other festival in the world. It’s just different like that.

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