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Vibe up, arrests down at the sold-out Okeechobee Music Fest

A massive music festival in Okeechobee is underway. Traffic is impacted along 128th street and State Road 70 heading into Okeechobee County, as well as along SR 441 and 120th Avenue in Okeechobee.

At most all times, there more than 5 stages filled with music and crowds here enjoying it as 36,00+ people have paid $200 or more for a ticket inside. Then add on another 4,000 in staff and volunteers.

With a production this big, it doesn’t come without some growing pains.

This year’s new approach to enforcing laws, the sheriff says, is keeping arrest numbers down, and the crowds content.

Okeechobee Music & Arts Festival 2017 Lineup

•Kings of Leon.

•Usher & The Roots (A Rare Co-Performance)

•Bassnectar.

•The Lumineers.

•Flume.

•Wiz Khalifa.

•Pretty Lights (Live Band)

•Sturgill Simpson.

“It’s a great vibe here,” said Josh Lawrence, who drove here from Lake Erie College in Ohio, "16 hours in a car."

"We drove like 20, a little over 24 hours to get here," said Alexa Idzkowski, from Western University Michigan. "Like what is in Okeechobee? That was the reaction to everyone I told I am coming here are like, 'Where's that at?' I’m like, in Florida."

The event is a major earner for local taxpayers, even if the incoming traffic gives the locals a delay. With an economic impact of close to $17 million, Okeechobee Music & Arts Festival, or OMF 2017, comes with added income for most businesses in town, including those in uniform.

"We are calm and just monitoring here—that’s intentional. That is just the presence alone to let everybody here know we are here and to have a good time, but it's gonna be a good safe time and we are just monitoring," Sheriff Noel Stephen with the Okeechobee Co. Sheriff Office said. "We've had to duplicate our operations out here than what we have in town even more than we have in town."

With 50 deputies on each shift making overtime, the sheriff's office alone earns an extra $120,000 in detail pay.

"Everyone is all nice. No one is beefing with anyone or anything like that," said Matthew Czerny, from Cleveland, Ohio.

Inside OMF, there’s been no issues and no arrests. Outside the gate, the warning is clear.

"That is all by statute. There's sign before the amnesty box. It notifies everybody coming on the premises there's going to be a search for illegal narcotics and there's an amnesty box and then they get to the narcotics K9 and the officers for the search so they've got every ample opportunity," Sheriff Stephen said.

Deputies are told to arrest only those with large amounts of drugs, or those suspected to be trafficking, but to only confiscate the drugs from recreational users.

The amnesty box is new this year to lower the amount of arrests and any drugs from coming inside. And it’s working. The sheriff says they are down to only 2 trafficking busts in the first 2 days, down from 40 arrests last year during the entire festival.

"There is a little bad impact to traffic. A little bad impact to sound and noise but all in all I think its beneficial to Okeechobee county," Sheriff Stephen said.

And it’s a good time for the music lovers. Performances begin around noon and the forest dance party goes late into the night.

The producers of the event, Soundslinger, even hired sound engineers to come in and recalibrate all the stages to make sure the speakers and the bass were turned away from nearby homes, so as not to bother the neighbors this year.

Neighbors who complained last year of noise were also offered a trip by producers this week to any destination, all expenses paid.

Friday’s performances include sets from Galactic, Wiz Khalifa, Cold War Kids, Perpetual Groove, Vulfpeck and more. Then, on Saturday, Okeechobee hosts George Clinton & Parliament Funkadelic, The Floozies, The Revivalists, GRiZ, Sturgill Simpson, Bassnectar, Usher & The Roots and many others. The festival concludes on Sunday with sets from Allen Stone, Soja, Anderson.Paak & The Free Nationals, Moon Taxi, The Lumineers, Pretty Lights, Kings Of Leon and more. Head here for the full schedule.

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