OKEECHOBEE COUNTY, Fla. — Get ready to feel the beat!
The Okeechobee Music and Arts Festival is back, and that means big crowds this coming weekend.
At the Crossroads Restaurant off State Road 70, they’re preparing.
"This week, we’re waiting for it," said Erica Goggans. "We’re waiting to see what’s coming."
The event kicks off Thursday, March 5 at Sunshine Grove, located at 12517 NE 91st Ave. in Okeechobee.
A stretch of rural Okeechobee County, north of S.R. 70 and east of U.S. 441, will see some of the biggest traffic of the year this weekend.
"We want the people's experience to Okeechobee to be as safe and as good as it can be," said Sheriff Noel Stephen.
Stephen said traffic control and narcotics interdiction are two top priorities, focusing more on drug dealers as opposed to personal possession.
"85 to 90 percent of these people are 18 to 25, college age mostly. They’re here to have fun. There are folks that are going to come and prey upon them," said Stephen.
Amnesty boxes will be set up at entrance checkpoints at the festival for people to dispose of any illegal drugs, no questions asked.
Sheriff Stephen said the festival brings 40,000 people to the county each year, nearly doubling the population.
The festival’s impact is felt throughout the community.
Jonathan Bean is the Executive Director of Martha’s House, a domestic violence service group that was invited to set up a booth at the event, one of several non-profits encouraged to share their message with festival goers. His agency left with multi-colored hand print canvases.
"With the goal we want them to understand what healthy relationships are. That’s our message. We want people to have healthy positive relationships with each other," said Bean.
Sheriff Stephen said traffic will be at its peak Wednesday night and Thursday as overnight campers arrive, all the way through Sunday and Monday when the festival wraps up.
To learn more about the Okeechobee Music and Arts Festival, click here.