Okeechobee Music & Arts Festival co-founder Paul Peck has been carving out his unique space in the music industry for almost twenty years. As one of the masterminds behind the now famous Bonnaroo SuperJam, Peck has curated insane once-in-a-lifetime performances with just about everyone under the sun, though deep down he’s just another diehard music lover and true fan of creative collaborations at heart. Now, he’s brought his talents over to the inaugural Okeechobee Music & Arts Festival, taking place March 3-6 in beautiful Okeechobee, FL. We went in-depth with Paul about the experiences that have led him to this point in his career, and what fans can expect and get excited for with this new venture (hint: a lot).
Live for Live Music: You’ve been doing this for awhile and you’ve done some very cool things in this space. What was your background before getting into the festival industry?
Paul Peck: Basically I was a college kid in New Orleans, and before I got to New Orleans my music taste was kind of limited. I liked Phish, Beatles, Grateful Dead, and classic rock. When I got to New Orleans it just opened my eyes to how many different kinds of music I could connect to and that I was inspired by. And from that point it just diversified my music taste. Got there and thought I liked one kind of music, and after a minute in NOLA realized I like just about every type of music. So at that point I was really inspired and I started really diving into the local music scene.
I started producing shows as a sophomore in college, and they were always these collaborative things. I loved Tipitina’s and knew the guy who ran the club, and I was begging him to give me a date because I had this idea to get all of my favorite musicians – some of them I knew, some I didn’t, but these were my heroes – to play all of my favorite Stevie Wonder songs. I wanted to get a lot of horns on it and make it a big thing. The club didn’t really believe in the idea, but they eventually gave me the date when something else cancelled. I put on the show and promoted it, and it had members of Galactic, members of Jon Cleary’s band, all of these amazing vocalists, including Walter “Wolfman” Washington, who’s also on the Okeechobee lineup. Basically the show sold out but it was totally understaffed. There were like two security guards there so it was complete chaos. But that was kind of my first taste of how a special show with improv energy could feel. Being a part of that and helping to create that experience was unlike anything I’d ever done.
From there, I started doing all of these SuperJam-type shows in New Orleans, which is how I first got to know the guys from Superfly, who were also promoting shows down there at the time. As soon as I graduated college I started working for them. The next summer we did the very first Bonnaroo. So next thing I know I’m at Bonnaroo doing a SuperJam! For the SuperJam the very first year of Bonnaroo we were just like, so at this time on the second stage on Sunday we’re gonna just have a bunch of backline there and that’s gonna be the SuperJam. So show up Stanton Moore, or show up Michael Kang, or Michael Franti. We got Bela Fleck, North Mississippi All-Stars, Robert Randolph, all those guys and we continued to build it up over the next bunch of years. Ever since my first show it was like, let me create something really special that I want to see, something I would be inspired to see. And that just keeps it organic and keeps it noble. That’s always been my mentality when producing these things. Because ultimately, I get to watch it too! And that’s the payoff. You put together a great show and get to stand out in the crowd and watch the show with the crowd and feel the whole crowd’s energy mix with the energy the artists are creating onstage until the entire venue is just buzzing with this indescribable electricity.
With Okeechobee, we have the PoWow!, and the idea is that we’re going to get these amazingly talented artists together and we’re gonna allow them to vibe off each other and share energy and see where it takes us. There’s something really spontaneous and exciting about that, because they don’t know exactly where it’s gonna go, I don’t know where it’s gonna go as the producer, and the fans sure don’t know, but we’re gonna find out together at the same time. And that’s kind of what a festival is all about, it’s like we’re all coming together to form this little world, and what that world is gonna be and what’s gonna turn into, we’ll find out together. We’re all a part of it, and I love that.
L4LM: What’s the process like of building a collaborative show like this from the ground up?
PP: Usually it involves me begging a super talented artist that I love for years to do this, and then ultimately the stars will align and they’ll wear down and say “Yes, I’m down, I have the time, I can concentrate on it, let’s do it.” And then from there the question turns into, “Tell me what you would dream of playing in front of an amazing audience, who you’d dream of playing with, what are your dreams for this?” And they’ll have some ideas, and I’ll have some ideas, and new ideas will spin out of that. It’s a true collaboration right from the start.
When I talked to Skrillex for the first time about his SuperJam at Bonnaroo, I was like, “What do you want to do with this? Who do you want to play with?” And he was like, “Well you’ve done this before, so why don’t we start there.” And I said, “Well, let’s explore each corner of your influences. When I look at your show I hear rap influences, I hear reggae influences, I hear punk influences, I hear rock influences. So let’s get some people that represent these worlds, and let’s bring them together with you and create a live mixtape with an amazing band that connects the dots between all these different types of music and different vibes and energies. I think that’s what you’re all about.” And he was like, “Amazing, amazing. My first memory of music is The Doors.” So I was like, “Why don’t we get Robby Krieger from The Doors?” And I did some research and saw that Robby Krieger and John Densmore from The Doors had this project in the 80s where they covered Bob Marley and reggae music. So I was like, “That’s an interest of yours too. Why don’t we get Damian Marley?” And I asked him who else he would want to get and he was like, “Is there any chance we could get Lauryn Hill?” And I was like, “Probably not.” But we went to her together and she did it! He had a million ideas for that show, he was such a creative force. He’s kind of a vibe master. The types of people I like to build these shows around are vibe masters. My best shows are the ones where someone sets a vibe and then everyone in the band can kind of get on board. One of the challenges with this type of show is that in a short period of time you have to create a new identity for this group of 8, 10, sometimes 12 people. And they all have to be willing to play nice with one another. So it’s all about bringing the right type of people, and if you put them in a comfortable situation with good energy and good support you can do something special. And that’s kind of what it’s all about for me.
With Okeechobee and the PoWow!, I want to take what I’ve done with the SuperJams to the next level. My goal with this festival is to set a new standard for creative programming full of collaborations and special moments that are completely unexpected and rare. The entire mission of the festival is to allow these moments, connections and experiences to unfold in a collective environment where we are all in this together, in this sort of Never-Never Land, fantastical world that we’ve all created for one another. And that’s kind of what I love. As a music fan, I’m always in search of those types of special moments. And I like taking the initiative to create those moments so I can experience it with great artists and great fans. That’s a really special thing for me.
L4LM: What made you want to branch out from Bonnaroo and go out and start your own festival?
PP: I felt like I was really blessed and fortunate to have been taught the festival business by the visionaries behind Bonnaroo and to be able to have those experiences. It just felt like the right time to make a change for myself, and this perfect pathway unfolded for me. I came across this property in Florida, and it’s hard to make that change sometimes, to go away from something comfortable and good, but I started feeling like maybe it was time for me to go in my own direction. So I went and saw this property and after seeing the first one percent of it, I was just so blown away by the natural beauty and breathtaking feel of this property, and I quickly realized that there’s never been a live music venue like this. It’s unparalleled. And for me it’s always been about seeing great music, but if you can see it in a really special place, that makes it infinitely more powerful and special, and that was what I thought we could build here. I had this experience in college where I went to Greece and saw Steve Winwood with one of my best friends on top of a mountain outside of Athens, and I think Okeechobee is going to be that type of experience. People are just going to be like, “Wow”. Because it’s just one of those things, no matter where you stand on the property, you’re blown away by how beautiful it looks from that perspective. And there’s a lot of room for a lot of people to have that experience throughout the weekend while seeing some of the best bands in the world. And then the fact that it’s Florida in March, it’s Spring Break. It’s just a perfect time of year in one of the most beautiful places in the country. So it just kind of came together like that.
L4LM: What else really makes Okeechobee stand out from other festivals?
PP: There are no sound ordinances, so I don’t know what other festival provides music literally around the clock. We’re going to have music 24 hours a day, all-night dance parties throughout the festival grounds and all day grooves on the beach. There’s this big dance space in a tropical jungle, and that’s going to be one of the sickest features of the festival. It’ll go from 9 PM-9 AM every night. And it’s all really well-curated, hand-picked, underground techno & deep house DJs from around the world. Just like the rest of the festival, that area was developed with a great deal of love, care, and thought. It wasn’t just thrown together based on who’s available. It all has a thread to it and sort of tells a narrative story. We really want this to be a place for music discovery, where you’re gonna discover the next band that really inspires you and becomes your new favorite band. A few years later you’ll see them on the main stage headlining the festival, but you can always think back to when you saw them with a couple hundred people and had that lightswitch moment with the band. I remember having that moment with My Morning Jacket at Bonnaroo, and Kings of Leon at Bonnaroo. That’s the experience I want to present to people. You come knowing that you love Mumford and Sons, but then you discover like, 17 bands from other styles and genres and it just expands the scope of what kind of music speaks to you and what you connect with.
L4LM: What act are you most excited to see?
PP: Oh my gosh. Well, I’m probably most excited about the PoWow! to be honest. We’re not quite ready to announce the artists (hopefully by next week), but it’s going to be one of the biggest and best shows I’ve ever done. I’m really, really excited for this collaboration, because it’s going to combine some really talented artists in a totally new context, and give them an opportunity to reimagine some of the music that has inspired and been the soundtrack to all of our lives. Beyond that, on the bigger side, I’m incredibly excited to see Kendrick Lamar in this setting. Kendrick has grown so big so fast and I am constantly impressed by the caliber of music he releases. Right now, in my mind, he is one of the most inspired and inspiring artists in the world. I am definitely excited about Odesza and the opportunity to see Robert Plant play Led Zeppelin songs in this amazing setting is going to be very special. I’m excited for the Big Boi/Phantogram project, I love Portugal. The Man, love Lettuce, Kamasi Washington. Love White Denim, Marian Hill is incredible, The Heavy is awesome, we have Dr. Dog and Lil Dicky on the bill which is pretty awesome. The Soul Rebels are one of my all time favorite bands. Dungen hasn’t toured America in like five or six years, they’re an incredible Swedish rock band that we were able to pull. The Shelters, who are this really killer rock band. All around, I’m really pleased with the lineup we were able to put together for the first year, and I think it’s going to be a really special experience.
L4LM: What other sort of unique features will you have on site?
PP: There’s tons of stuff. We’re bringing in all these incredible art installations from all over Florida and all over the country, including some burning man style art from the West Coast. There are two main parts of the festival: The Grove, which is where the three main stages are, and then you pass through the forest that surrounds the Grove and you’re in this other part of the festival called Moonlight Oasis, which has Jungle 51 (our all night jungle dance party) and Aquachobee (an all day beach stage with live music, a Ferris wheel, and areas for fans to lounge out, chill and swim). And then next to that we have something called Chobeewobee Village, where there will be a lot of art installations, intimate performances and comedy… just a little vibey area to hang and relax. And then there’s also Yogachobee, where we’ll have yoga, meditation, spirituality workshops, massages, healing, and a tea sanctuary in this beautiful wooden area.
I’m just really excited about how beautiful the site is. There’s trees everywhere, tons of natural shade, the camping is going to be super comfortable and lush, really a next-level camping experience. The property is just perfectly suited for a music festival and camping event. And for a big four-day festival with this level of talent, when you look at other comparable festivals around the country, our festival is a lot less expensive, and our site is just truly unique. I think it’s going to be a very evolved camping experience and a way to just escape the real world into this fantasy wonderland where we’re going to bring all this amazing music and just vibe out for four incredible days together. I just can’t wait to show everyone what we’ve been working on.
**Purchase tickets to Okeechobee Music & Arts Festival here!**