From rehearsing in a construction warehouse to taking the stage at Okeechobee Music & Arts Festival, Jacksonville-based band Sauce Pocket has made strides in leaving its mark on the Florida music industry.
The five-man band secured an all-expenses-paid spot to perform at this year’s Okeechobee Festival from March 2 to 5 in Sunshine Grove. To do so, it won a battle-of-the-bands-style competition Jan. 20 at Vivid Music Hall in Gainesville.
Founded in 2016 in Miami, Destination Okeechobee is designed to give voice to underrated artists, said Carlos Saavedra, Sunshine Grove community liaison for Okeechobee.
Inspired by artists like BADBADNOTGOOD, Goose and Lettuce, the self-proclaimed “jam band” describes its distinct sound as psychedelic space funk with jazz and hip-hop influences, said 29-year-old drummer and percussionist Riley O’Brien.
“We try to take our music to different places and explore new sounds,” bassist Taylor Ivie said. “It’s always fun with these guys to push the boundaries of music.”
Presented by Lucid Nightlife and Vivid Music Hall, Okeechobee representatives attended Gainesville’s concert to scout untapped talent across Florida, said Lucid Nightlife owner Matt Collins.
“So many amazing artists can be overlooked at times,” Collins said. “Our goal is to try to shed some light on their music and provide them with an opportunity.”
Judged on musicianship, stage presence, originality and crowd participation, Sauce Pocket competed against six other performers, including Velvet Meadow, Bambii Lamb, Jupiter Troupe, OUTEREDGE, Sooza Brass Band and XARISSA, he said.
Supporting local bands cultivates a sense of community among music lovers across Gainesville, said Elly Saurez, a competition attendee and fourth-year University of Florida student.
The cozy environment of a smaller venue also offered a more intimate experience between guests and the bands, she said. Adorned in festival attire and pashminas, the ambience and the crowd reminded Saurez of a real music festival.
Gainesville is one of three locations in Florida chosen to spotlight upcoming artists through Destination Okeechobee. The others are St. Petersburg and Miami.
Thousands of musicians in November submitted applications with their tracks for a chance to compete in the concerts. From there, judges narrowed their options to select six or seven artists per location, he said.
Saavedra also said Destination Okeechobee does not function as a popularity contest, but rather a way to expose talented artists to lineup recruiters regardless of whether they win or lose.
“This is not a make-or-break type of competition,” he continued. “In the past, we’ve had bands like Madwoman who didn’t win but were still invited to play in Okeechobee’s lineup.”
Gainesville-based indie band flipturn competed and won Destination Okeechobee to secure its first ever festival slot in 2018, just two years after the band’s inception, he said.
Now, flipturn has amassed enough success to tour across the country, landing spots to perform this year at notable festivals including Lollapalooza, Hangout Music Festival, Electric Forest Festival and Governor’s Ball Music Festival, he added.
From artists like Billie Eilish to Post Malone, Okeechobee — which welcomes about 35,000 attendees each day — has provided a platform for emerging musicians to skyrocket their careers. Curating a lineup that not only includes big-name headliners but also showcases hidden talent is essential, he said.
Sauce Pocket, comprised of members Riley O’Brien, Taylor Ivie, Steven Rose, Jeremy Prince and Kaleb King, claimed victory after performing two lengthy, experimental songs filled with kaleidoscopic sounds and jazz-influenced improvisation techniques.
“We were all in shock at first,” Ivie, 29, said. “When they told us to come up on stage and toasted us with champagne, I was just stunned.”
The band’s humble beginnings trace back to October 2021 with O’Brien and keys and synth player Kaleb King. After attending a few open-mic jam nights at a local venue in Jacksonville together, King turned to ask O’Brien, “Hey, want to start a band?”
Sauce Pocket began rehearsing in a construction company’s warehouse on the riverside of Jacksonville before gaining traction to tour across areas of North Florida and South Georgia, O’Brien said.
“It seems like the paths aligned just right for our band to form,” he said.
For saxophonist, flute and key player Jeremy Prince, jazz plays a major role in the defining sound of Sauce Pocket, as it requires a delicate balance of compromise and understanding between players.
“Jazz forces you to listen and stay present,” he said. “There’s a lot of interdependence because everyone individually trusts themselves as musicians. We can all take risks in our improvisations because there’s a lot of integrity, respect and mutual trust between us.”
O’Brien added that playing live shows frequently allows the band to amplify its stage presence and grow into its signature sound.
“We can be avant-garde but also touch on a lot of sounds that really resonate with people well.” O’Brien said. “We take a little bit from everything and make it our own — and I love that.”
Sauce Pocket anticipates its second studio album titled “Fondue” will be released in early February, a month in advance of taking the stage at Okeechobee.