Much like South Florida itself, SunFest is all at once charming, freaky, laid-back, and totally intense. The five-day music festival has been calling the picturesque waterfront of Downtown West Palm Beach its home for nearly 40 years.
It might suffer from a mild case of identity confusion — drawing everyone from your hippie grandma to your 8-year-old EDM-loving little brother to experience dozens of acts across every genre and level of fame — but that's all part of what makes SunFest so unique.
Here's our recap of what worked and what could have been a bit better this year at SunFest.
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Winner: The Eatery
New to the festival this year was a revamped and rebranded food court dubbed The Eatery, which incorporated input from the Palm Beach Food & Wine Festival to offer a more elevated and diverse selection of menu items for hungry fest attendees. Highlights from the new menu included the boneless Nashville hot chicken, a surprisingly tasty gluten-free Margherita pizza flatbread, hash brown waffles, and thick spear-cut fried pickles served up with a zesty Sriracha ranch sauce.
Winner: The '80s, '90s, and '00s
New Wave heroes
The Roots, who have now reached mainstream popularity due to being the house band on The Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon, essentially played an almost two-hour jam session with insane instrumentals, including a killer sousaphone. Rick Springfield played his coveted “Jessie’s Girl,” and Duran Duran performed a rousing cover of “White Lines (Don’t Do It)” by Grandmaster Flash. Catering to fans of all ages is what SunFest is famous for, and once again it did it successfully. While younger millennials reveled in bass-fueled, DJ-backed acts like Steve Aoki and G-Eazy, radio hits from the last four decades had a huge presence.
Loser: The Captain Morgan Barges
We can understand the appeal of the three floating barges sponsored by Captain Morgan, which provided a 21-and-up alternative to the family-friendly festival and blasted EDM music all day long. Still, they reached capacity at an alarming rate, resulting in long, slow lines to get in as day turned to night and attendees sought a change of scenery while waiting for each headliner to take his or her turn.
Winner: Prince Covers
Since the musician’s shocking passing April 21, numerous singers and bands have been paying tribute to him with their versions of Prince’s classic hits. The SunFest lineup certainly didn’t forget about the virtuoso from Minneapolis. Jeremy Ellis, performing with the Roots, stood in while they took a much-needed break by remixing “Kiss” and “Let’s Go Crazy” on his push synthesizer, driving the audience wild with uncontrollable beats and buttons. Capital Cities played a disco-pop version of “Nothing Compares 2 U,” and Train performed “Purple Rain” while bathed in purple light. Simon LeBon of Duran Duran even remarked that the world was “a little less funky” now while donning purple. With many of these artists unmistakably influenced by His Royal Badness, it was no surprise they honored him well.
Winner: Crop Tops
Even when the skies were overcast, temperatures throughout the festival weekend didn't let up, reaching into the upper '80s and bottom '90s during the day with barely a salty breeze providing relief from the stifling humidity. SPF and hats were major for surviving the heat, but were it not for the ubiquitous crop top this year, we're not sure SunFest could have existed, allowing hoards of teenaged girls to stay cool without baring all.
Winner: The Setting
When the evening came around and temperatures finally did cool, guests walked onto the South Cove Natural Area boardwalk to eat some food, enjoy the weather, and take in the sounds of bands on the JetBlue stage. Even nearby paddle boarders looked on and danced precariously, raising their paddles in the air, and boaters stopped to listen as well.
Loser: ZZ Top Fans
ZZ Top fans were let down when SunFest announced last week that the band would be canceling its Saturday evening performance due to bass player Dusty Hill fracturing his shoulder. Luckily, festivalgoers were treated to the impromptu addition of rockers O.A.R., whose jam-style set fit in perfectly as a closing set sandwiched between rising rapper G-Eazy and uplifting indie-folk act Fitz and the Tantrums.
Winner: Vape Pens
While a younger generation of SunFest attendees opted for cloud-forming blunt-smoking sessions in the pits in front of stages in order to keep a low profile, a slightly more sophisticated set of pot smokers opted for sleek vape pens, which allowed for
Winner: Our Wallets
Usually by this point in festival season, we're experiencing some pretty serious PTSD as far as our bank accounts are concerned. The gut-wrenching feeling of waking up after day one of a three-day festival weekend to discover you've already blown through all your cash and charged an ungodly amount on chicken tenders and tall-boys is familiar to many. That's why we're grateful SunFest has managed to keep its prices low, not only when it came to tickets to the fest, which started at $40 for a single-day pass, but also for food and drinks within the grounds. Beers started around $6 while frozen cocktails ran at $10, and the variety of above-average food options didn't set us too far back, either. Add to that a free bike valet and a partnership with Uber for $10 off your ride home, and we're counting this as a serious win!