No amount of pouring rain or scorching heat could keep about 130,000 party people away from this year’s SunFest in West Palm Beach, where fans flooded in for four days of music, booze and mud.
Three stages with stellar sound systems offered everything from rock to rap and reggae to country, featuring artists like One Republic, Keith Urban, G-Eazy, Diplo and Earth, Wind & Fire.
Fans switched between rain boots and sunblock throughout the weekend, braving fields of flip-flop-stealing quicksand and paying $8 to use portable bathrooms that were only slightly less frightening than the free, pitch-dark porta-potties.
Fortunately, an endless supply of alcohol, including a floating bar with a line about a thousand people long, kept revelers sufficiently happy between sets.
But not everyone walked away unscathed. Fans who braved the rain for a Sunday-night show by Tears for Fears left scathing messages on the band's social media accounts after it canceled its performance at the last minute due to inclement weather. And headliner Keith Urban was forced to Uber from Miami to West Palm Beach after the weather shut down his plane's entry into Palm Beach International Airport. He gave fans the play-by-play on social media until he hit the stage, albeit a little late.
Before the rain came on Saturday, the party kicked into full gear at 3 p.m. when Ludacris burst onto the stage in front of a crowded field of die-hard fans with “Welcome to Atlanta” and “Number One Spot.” Luda powered through his set, playing hit songs like “Area Code,” “Pimpin’ All Over the World,” “Act a Fool” and the chart-topping collaborations “Money Maker,” Yeah!” and “Glamorous.” In the midst of his show, he announced to uproarious cheers that he will begin filming Fast & Furious 9 this summer.
At one point, he called for the Asians, Latinos, and black people in the audience to shout out, but received little response. He laughed, saying, “There is a reason why Luda has sold over 20 million albums — will the white people make some noise?” The crowd, dominated by sunburned 30-somethings, went ballistic.
Meanwhile, at a stage not far away, a very different scene was unfolding as older fans, some wearing rainbow-colored wigs, shimmied and shook to a very different Atlanta band – the B-52’s.
Decked out in a shiny blue jumpsuit and signature bouffant hairdo, Cindy Wilson beat mini-bongo drums as the band whipped out faves like “Rock Lobster,” “Private Idaho,” “Roam” and a funky version of “Love Shack” that was blended with riffs from War’s “Low Rider.”
The B-52’s were in prime form. While musicians half her age rely on engineering to boost weak vocals, Kate Pierson, donning a gold lamé dress and flaming red hair that matched her lips and eyeshadow, belted out the unique raw sound that has kept the band relevant for over 40 years.
Fred Schneider got the crowd fired up with his theatrical dance moves and slide-whistle, joking in his singsongy voice, “Thank you for coming today. If we didn’t have you here, we wouldn’t have an audience.”
Florida rapper RetroRev took the stage just as rain warnings began to flash across the big screens. Peppy, vocally talented, and lyrically intriguing, he offered song after song about being faithful, loving your wife, respecting others, taking care of your children and being a good person.
Almost no one was there. Maybe it was the rain.
AfterMidNight didn’t fare much better. A few people lined the front of the stage, but otherwise, the band couldn’t seem to draw a crowd. Despite an upbeat stage presence, the performance was often off-key and largely forgettable, sending more people fleeing than were arriving.
But all that changed when Des Rocs hit the stage next. In what became the most talked-about surprise of the day, the largely empty field came alive as the new rock trio from New York attracted passersby like millennials to craft beer.
From the first note, captivating lead singer Danny Rocco owned the audience, ripping on his guitar, singing, and whipping around in a high-energy performance that can only be described as an amalgamation of Paul Stanley, Billy Squire, and Elvis.
Songs like “Outta My Mind,” “Here’s to the Darkness,” “Let Me Live/Let Me Die,” and the new “SLO” confirmed that the Sony entertainment lawyer-turned-rock-star made the right choice.
Rocco had off-the-charts charisma and sick talent the likes of which are rarely seen – except by those who may have recognized him from SunFest 2016 when he played with his former band Secret Weapons. During the hard-hitting “Give Me The Night,” Rocco climbed onto a bass drum and hoisted a cymbal into the air while the drummer continued to play before jumping down in a gravity-defying leap. The mind-blowing set left a gaggle of new-acquired fans slightly stunned and craving more. Rocco’s departing words? “I’m Des Rocs, and I’m not fucking around.” He wasn’t.
Neither was Papa Roach, which came out hard and fast with its mega-hit “Last Resort,” followed by “Help” and “Getting Away With Murder.” Singer Jacoby Shaddix tore from one end of the stage to the other, at one point jumping into the audience during “Elevate.” He later dedicated "Traumatic" to “the savages in the mosh pit” in front of the stage.
As the sun set, the entire vibe (and aroma) of the festival changed as pot-smoking boys and teenaged girls in jean shorts and tube tops descended on the main stage for Diplo.
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Fresh off his performance at the Billboard Music Awards after-party in Las Vegas, the DJ drew the largest crowd of the day. Fans danced, drank and smoked to electronic dance music peppered with samples from songs such as Los Del Rio’s “La Macarena,” Usher’s “Yeah!” Avril Levine’s “Girlfriend,” A-ha’s “Take On Me,” OutKast’s “Hey Ya!” and “High Hopes” by Panic! At the Disco.
Streamers billowed from overhead while pillars of smoke and fire shot up from the stage floor in front of three massive video screens showing animations like rainforests, endless doorways, and a naked woman sitting on a mushroom.
Tracks like “Heads Will Roll,” “Crank That,” “Earthquake,” and Travis Scott’s “Sicko Mode” delighted a crowd that included a guy in a green and yellow dinosaur costume, a child in a glowing, rainbow unicorn horn, and countless barefoot fans awash in body glitter.
Diplo wrapped up the night with “Get it Right,” which is exactly what he did. Now if only everyone could find their shoes.