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Okeechobee Music and Arts Festival begins

The first day of the Okeechobee Music Festival has been going smoothly, spokeswoman Cyndi Putnam said.

The chance to go to a brand-new music festival was too good to pass up for a Boca Raton couple.

Ari Kerlew, 44, and his wife, Laurel, 52, found out about the Okeechobee Music and Arts Festival through a blog and decided to make the nearly two-hour trek north to camp out for the four days of nonstop music.

"This is a ground-floor experiment into the summer festivals, so we're going to be here for the first one," Ari Kerlew said. "It seems pretty professional, and it's set up well."

He looked around at a crowd of people, most of whom appeared to be in their 20s, but said everyone's been friendly.

"I'm glad it's not just about drinking," he said. "They're here for the music."

The visitors have come from across the country, including Illinois and California, and from around the world.

Amy Peniston, 24, flew in from Bermuda with her dad, David, 58, whom she calls her best friend.

"I make [my dad] come," Amy Peniston said. "He's awesome. More people should bring their dad to festivals."

Peniston also brought her friend Sarah Gosling, 25, of Bermuda. She's been to the Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival several times, and with the same organizers running this festival, she hopes she has a similar experience.

"I think they have a pretty good range [of music] here, but I'm bummed that they don't have any reggae," she said.

With the same group were Elsa Carruthers, 17, and her brother Coner, 19, both of West Palm Beach. They've both been to Bonnaroo, but they're glad this festival is closer to home.

"Bonnaroo in Tennessee is 14 hours, and this is only an hour, so it's fine," Elsa Carruthers said.

In its first year, the Okeechobee Music and Arts Festival will present more than 100 acts, including Grammy-winning rapper Kendrick Lamar, former Led Zeppelin singer Robert Plant, British rockers Mumford & Sons and electronic-music artist Skrillex. By late Thursday night, all passes to the 30,000-capacity festival had been sold, Okeechobee spokeswoman Cyndi Putnam confirmed. No single-day tickets will be offered.

Despite the gates not opening until about 10:30 a.m., Putnam said she arrived to find a stretch of cars had already formed at 6:30 a.m.

"It's Day 1 of Year 1 of the festival, but Mother Nature is looking out for us," said Ken Weinstein, the festival's publicist.

It may be a new festival, but the two promoters behind it are veterans. Paul Peck has booked and managed Tennessee's Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival for more than a dozen years, while Steve Sybesma has produced Shanghai's STORM Electronic Music Festival.

Okeechobee includes three main stages — still in construction Thursday afternoon — as well as a sandy, manmade beach called Aquachobee and a clearing called Jungle 51, where all-night electronic dance music parties are scheduled.

Most attendees spent the first day of the festival setting up tents and exploring the 800-acre site.

Putnam said that as the morning crowd moved in, things went smoothly.

Private security guards working with the Okeechobee Sheriff's Office will provide around-the-clock security. Medical staff will also be available 24 hours a day.

The festival kicked off at 4 p.m. Thursday in the Aquachobee Beach area with the Miami Beach High School jazz band. Miami-based Latin-funk band the Spam All-Stars performed at 6:30 p.m.

Seventeen of the acts are from Florida, organizers say.

"It's all about the experience of helping grow young artists, so we really did a very good job of getting local artists in the state of Florida," Putnam said., 561-243-6607 or Twitter & Instagram @adamsacasa

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