Destination Okeechobee, a highly anticipated battle between six bands, will debut Friday at the High Dive, where a group’s chance to play at the Okeechobee Music & Arts Festival is in the hands of the audience members.
“We’re really excited to host this event, as it’s the first time that it’s happened in Gainesville,” said Pat Lavery, the owner of Glory Days Presents and the High Dive promoter. “It’s being hosted by the 2016 Destination Okeechobee winners Flat Land and Locochino.”
Each band participating in the battle earned its battle round spot by beating more than 3,200 artists across the country. Winners of the battle will be chosen directly by the audience.
Attendees will have the chance to enjoy a large variety of music, as the line-up includes a diverse group of musicians, from innovatively creative Bass Music to nostalgic fist-pumping New Wave.
MarSHen, a DJ duo fronted by Ronnie Laws and Ted Hogan, will be another act performing at the battle of the bands. A collaborative act composed of energetic sets and revolutionary electro-bass house style, the two have been impacting the electronic music scene since April 2016.
“The biggest takeaway we have from this journey is that whether we are playing to a room of 10 people or 10,000, this is what we love to do,” MarSHen wrote in an email. “The feeling of seeing a dance floor move and jive to your song selection while thinking about what to play next to keep the vibes going is indescribable.”
Initially, MarSHen entered Destination Okeechobee as a way to gain more exposure but was blown away by the constant positive feedback from their fans.
“Our success in the first round of this competition is owed entirely to our support base,” the band said. “We wouldn’t be here without our fans in Orlando, Gainesville and beyond.”
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Gainesville DJ Tyler Stofel didn’t have to travel far to perform at Destination Okeechobee, but his journey to reach this point wasn’t so straightforward.
“I quit my job to pursue music, which was a decision that took me about 6 months to make,” Stofel said. “The biggest thing I’ve learned since then is to never be afraid to go after something you’re passionate about.”
As Side Trakd, Stofel quickly made a name for himself within Gainesville’s club scene and witnessed firsthand the city’s growing love for electronic music.
“I think a DJ winning this (Destination Okeechobee) round would help shed some light on the successful electronic music scene that we have in Gainesville,” Stofel said.
Lzrkmmndr, a prominent Gainesville DJ and producer known as Mr. Bambu in the beat community, shares Stofel’s goal in making the public aware of Gainesville’s drive for electronic music.
“If I won this competition, it would perhaps show that there is some vibrant and cool music happening here in Gainesville that is not punk and indie rock,” Bambu said. “For me, it would certainly be validating and a huge leg up in my musical journey.”
Heavily inspired by rap music and bass frequencies, Lzrkmmndr, pronounced “Lazer Kommander,” has a sound described by Bambu as bass heavy future heartbreak beats.
“I just try to delve into the miasma of human emotion and create sound that compliments that,” he said.
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While most of the musicians are from Florida, two of the bands traveled from out of state to compete.
“We don’t have the hometown advantage we’d get here in Indiana, but we can still win and make it to the festival if we put in the work and do our best,” said Danny Steinmetz, the Julia Kahn Band’s bass player.
The band is made up of Steinmetz (bass/guitar), Julia Kahn (vocals), Vinny Corsaro (guitar/keys) and Zane Turi (drums).
“We all met in high school and started playing together senior year,” Steinmetz said. “When we graduated we all went separate ways initially, but eventually all wound up back up again and took it more seriously, getting more shows and recording our songs.”
Similarly, The Sunsets won’t let distance stand in their way to take the stage at Okeechobee.
The Alabama-based band is composed of Torsten Dryden (lead vocals/keys), Brian Jones (rhythm guitar), Daniel O’Donnell (saxophone/backing vocals), Breihan Dryden (drums), Devin Gordy (lead guitar/backing vocals) and Allen Poore (bass).
“When we signed on to come to Gainesville, the talent-buyer warned us that we would have a home field disadvantage as all the other bands are from Florida,” said Torsten Dryden, The Sunsets’ lead vocalist. “We didn’t mind that at all as our music speaks for itself. Music is universal, and we want to share ours with the world, and in this case, specifically Florida.
Dryden described the band’s sound as a mixture of dance rock and new wave, heavily inspired by John Hughes films and themes of beauty, freedom and love. Theband’s music reflects the rose-tinted nostalgia of the ’80s, while including a raw and realistic portrayal of life.
“There are certain themes that we cover sometimes in our music that deal with social anxiety, as it relates to relationships, as well as addiction and relapse,” Dryden said.
While acknowledging that winning the competition would mean the world for the band, Dryden said that meeting new people, the other musicians and having the chance to perform was more important.
“We deflect egotistical nonsense with the fun of playing to make our friends, fans, strangers and ourselves happy,” Dryden said. “We would absolutely adore the chance to play Okeechobee, but it’s up to our wonderful High Dive attendees at the event to vote us to victory.”
Doors open at 7 p.m. for the 7:30 p.m. show. Tickets can be bought in advance for $6 at ticketfly.com or for $8 at the door.