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Since 1982, SunFest has grown from a quaint jazz and arts festival to something worthy of Bob Dylan, James Taylor, Sheryl Crow, Black Crowes, and now Weezer. As headliner for Wednesday's New Music Night, the alt-rock superstars help kick off five days of music on Flagler Drive in downtown West Palm Beach. Attracting nearly 300,000 visitors last year, SunFest has blossomed into the largest waterfront music and arts festival in Florida.
In addition to the rockers behind "Buddy Holly," the third installment of the "mini music festival within a festival" features performances from a New York pop-punk band with a local connection, We Are Scientists, as well as Atlanta groove specialists Constellations and psychedelic rockers Gringo Star, alt-rock revisionists Crash Kings (Los Angeles), twangy post-punk act These United States (Lexington, Kentucky), and a band mixing Strokes cool with Beatles harmonies, Locksley (Madison, Wisconsin).
While Weezer may not be classified as a new act per se — 16 years have passed since the iconic "blue" album — its angular riffs and catchy hooks have proven influential. Just ask Keith Murray, frontman for New York's We Are Scientists. "If you can measure the amount of love I have had for bands throughout my life, Weezer may be number one," the affable musician tells New Times. "We've never played anywhere near Weezer, and we are not yet jaded to the point where we can say that playing on the same bill as one of our idols does not blow our minds."
Weezer veteran rhythm guitarist Brian Bell says he's flattered to hear Murray's praise: "As a teenager, I set out to make music. That was one of my goals: to be part of something great."
SunFest marks the start of Weezer's whirlwind summer festival season, which includes New Jersey's Bamboozle Festival, the Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival in Tennessee, and the Reading and Leeds Festival in England. But SunFest has a populist appeal that Bell can appreciate.
"Festivals like Reading are kind of snobby," he says. "They are not all too receptive to American bands." The last time Weezer took the stage at Reading in 1996, the audience pelted the band with a monsoon of mud balls. Bell envisions SunFest as a happier affair: "Instead of mud balls, I picture a lot more beach balls will be thrown around."
We Are Scientists' SunFest appearance is a homecoming of sorts for Murray, who grew up in Cooper City in Broward County. "I'm good for about 40 tickets," says the 1995 Cooper City High graduate regarding his aunts, uncles, cousins, and old friends who plan to make it out to the show. As a result, Murray wishes his band visited South Florida more often. The trio has played South Florida only once before — a sweltering gig in '06 at Miami's now-defunct Studio A.
Both acts are hard on the heels of album promotion. Weezer's latest effort, Raditude, was released in November and debuted at number seven on the Billboard 200. The album showcases the band fully embracing a pop sound like never before. "[Weezer lead singer Rivers Cuomo] is really excited about pop right now; this is his version of it," says Bell.
Meanwhile, We Are Scientists' third album, Rules Don't Stop, is slated for a June release. "We wrote songs designed to be as compelling as possible live," says Murray, adding that they crave a visceral response right away. "I think we would rather have people jump around to our tunes and later talk intellectually about how good they were."
We Are Scientists takes the Tire Kingdom Stage at 8 p.m., and Weezer plays the Bank of America stage at 9. Find more SunFest coverage featuring the Flaming Lips, Nas, Damian Marley, Sean Kingston, and Iyaz in next week's New Times, including a rundown of the fest's remaining four days.