Wednesday was the first night of SunFest, a five-day, beer soaked music festival at the West Palm Beach downtown waterfront. Fans of old school white-folk rock and roll reveled in the day one lineup, which consisted of five acts: the Vagabonds, Surfer Blood, Dick Dale, Kid Rock, and Cake.
It was around 6:45 when we arrived, and most of the patrons were just trickling in. West Palm Beach's Surfer Blood was onstage with some surfy power-pop. The audience was mostly sitting on the lawn waiting for Dick Dale to start at 7, at which point many of them left.
Sadly, Surfer Blood's performance was mostly flaccid (especially when compared to Dick Dale's upcoming erect guitar onslaught) and singer John Paul Pitts sounded like his voice was a tad weary. He wasn't completely hitting the high notes on "Swim." I've seen them perform more than a few times, and this definitely wasn't their most impressive outing. They played with little energy, and the world was mostly passing them by.
Dick Dale was a different story. Always a consummate showman, 76-year-old Dale brought the guitar thunder to the main stage. The mostly older crowd (the younger kids were drinking beer and waiting for Kid Rock to come on) ate up Dale's old man ramblings and young man guitar work.
Bikers bros, ex-hippies, and mamas and papas were all lightly dancing to Dale's expert guitar-picking. He played some of his classics, like "Misirlou" and "Let's go Tripping," along with a steady stream of covers. Eddie Cochran's "Summertime Blues" was especially distortio-heavy, he soaked "House of the Rising Sun" in crunchy reverb and even did his best Johnny Cash impersonation.
When there are peaks, however, there must be valleys.
Cake played the other stage. Full disclosure: Cake has never been a favorite of mine. I've never quite "gotten" them, and have always found their ironic, faux-ska reggae thing to be tedious. I know that the lead singer doesn't really "sing," but rather does a deadpan chatter over the band's chilled-out rock and blaring trumpets. I know that's his "thing," but it doesn't make for much of a show, especially following Dick Dale.
These young whippersnappers could sure learn a thing or two about performance from Dale. The volume on their set was quite low. I couldn't remember a single moment of their set once it finished. However, the crowd absolutely loved them. People were dancing. Even the younger kids who didn't really know who they were. Upon interviewing, I couldn't find a bad thought about the band or performance from anyone. Even when I really started leading the the interviewee with questions like, "Wait... You really like this?"
When the night's headliner, Kid Rock, took the stage, the place went nuts. Kid Rock comes from the Dick Dale school of giving-a-fuck-about-your-concert. He fed the hungry crowd exactly the meal they'd ordered.
I'd heard tale of Kid Rock's shockingly good live shows, and was not disappointed last night. The hour-and-a-half-long set included classics, covers, and a few of his newer songs, all performed with his trademark energy and zeal. He had a full backing band, including wonderfully talented gospel singers.
He played with the crowd the whole time. At one point, he yelled, "I can do some of that Justin Bieber shit, too," and proceeded to do an incredibly goofy impersonation of the Beeb's dance moves. Everyone cheered wildly.
He blasted through his rap-rock repertoire and eventually even took to the turntables, doing a live mixing sesh. He rapped over Rush's "Tom Sawyer." It all felt pretty '90s, but it was nice. I also enjoyed how Kid always started off covering a song, but then transitioned into his own music with the same chords. It was creative. For example: The Allman Brothers' "Midnight Rider" morphed into "Cowboy" and "Werewolves in London" into "All Summer Long."
He had more humourous crowd-pandering moments with statements like: "Rock and roll, you drunk fools at SunFest!" and "All I want to do is play my music for my family down in West Palm Beach! And play it LOUD!" He then launched into the finale with "Bawitdaba." People left drunk and happy. And that's what festivals are all about.
Word to the Wise: If you're going to SunFest, here's a tip: Sloan's Ice Cream has two dollar beers.
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