I may have skanked most of the walk from the front gate of SunFest to the Ford Stage where the Tallahassee ska band Trial by Stone was working hard to get the slowly awakening early-afternoon crowd moving. With the perfect weather on SunFest's most anticipated day of performers, the people did indeed get moving.
Throngs of people, of every age, were everywhere. The high school set, which was large and in charge Saturday, gathered at the far south end of the festival near the FPL stage as Trial by Stone was finishing and Jumbo Shrimp was preparing to take the stage. Jumbo Shrimp — a five-piece psychedelic rock act from North Palm Beach — played to the biggest crowd that bassist Angel Leiser has seen in the band's three years of existence.
"My dad put me on his shoulders at a James Brown concert when I was 4," Jumbo Shrimp lead singer Ben Rothschild told the crowd toward the end of their set. "And now I'm on a stage at SunFest."
All five of the Shrimp dropped their instruments to take a selfie before leaving the stage, and this was after tearing "Shout" — one of three covers in the set — a new one. If you think teenagers don't listen to or make rock ’n’ roll music anymore, check out the feedback- and reverb-filled originals this band writes, and then rethink your horrible assumption.
A solid third of the crowd must have been somewhere between sixth and 12th grade. The tweens and teens wandered aimlessly, wide-eyed and screaming at each other because everything is amazing. Most had an agenda of what they were trying to see, although the ones who were sticking with parents kept a slightly tighter schedule.
Boca Raton resident Kim Washko had both her sons there Saturday. Her 17-year-old son was off doing 17-year-old things while Ryan, 12, stuck by his mom, wondering who the hell Eddie Money is. As the '80s legend was taking the stage, he dragged her toward reggae band Soja and eventually Damien Marley, whom he was most excited to see.
"I love Eddie Money," Washko said. This was her seventh time at SunFest. "But I'm here for him."
The deep crowd waiting for Eddie Money felt the same way. While there were plenty of kids laying on blankets eating food no sane doctor would ever recommend, this set was for adults who have been jamming to Money since he was a shiny young penny.
Money delivered an inspired set, making clear that he was happy to be in West Palm and thrilled to see an overfilled field in front of him. Money got his people laughing by telling almost as many jokes as songs he played.
Damien "Jr Gong" Marley attracted a crowd that filled every inch of space available in front of the stage, and the tightly packed crowd that was the most diverse in age, gender, and any other demographic descriptor of person, managed to fill the air above said crowd with a heavy cloud of smoke. As one can expect, they erupted with cheers when Marley asked, "Do you love marijuana?"
The most interestingly diverse crowd at SunFest on Saturday could probably be found during Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros uplifting, fun set. If any band was basking in playing to screaming people, it was these guys and girls. Lead singer Alex Ebert took requests, handed the microphone to one guy so he could sing, and then jumped off the stage to swipe a girl's phone and take video for her.
Teenagers, most especially high school girls, screamed and danced while their fathers stood stone-faced, either baffled by or annoyed at the weird guy singing and dancing on stage in super tight flower-print pants. From one Dad to all the skeptical ones out there — especially the ones older than my 33 years — big ups for standing with your kids. We know you'd rather have seen Money and Marley.
There was a point in the afternoon, after that mid-day crunch of big names, where the space between the stages was much more full than that in front of the stage. As fans fueled up, they also needed to make a decision of which headliner to see: Schoolboy Q, Stone Temple Pilots, or Hozier.
Since I'd been surrounded by people older than me during Money, and younger than me during almost everything else, I wanted to see if people in their late 20s and early 30s would show up in force, so I planted myself in front of the mid-festival Tire Kingdom stage for Dreamers, who indie rocked the fuck out of the crowd before STP stomped onstage. The two bands have been on tour together for the last month.
One of the biggest acts of the '90s alternative nation, STP punched the crowd in the face with first song "Vaseline," and then ran through a set covering all the big hits off Core, Purple, and Tiny Music. Former Linkin Park frontman Chester Bennington kept telling the crowd he "fucking loves this stuff."
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Bennington, who returns to his other huge band, Linkin Park, for some touring this summer, closed out STP's spring tour by jumping into the SunFest crowd for a dialed back version of "Plush." He then led a sing along while lead guitarist Dean DeLeo played the song and bassist Robert DeLeo and drummer Eric Kretz watched with glee. Chester held out the microphone for nine year old Gavin to lead that sing along, as has become a habit for him when he spots a kid singing along near the front row.
At the end of a long day, the only question the people of SunFest seemed to have on their minds while walking back to their cars was: "Do we really get to do this again tomorrow?" That's a resounding "hell yeah!" for all of us.