The Five Best Acts at SunFest 2017

Photo by Dennis Leupold
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Coachella made headlines in that other sunny state, but South Florida is no slouch on the festival circuit. With the development of newer events such as Okeechobee Music & Arts Festival, III Points, and Rolling Loud and the evolution of mainstays such as Ultra, the original Miami megafest, South Florida offers a wide range of genres and artists at big gatherings.

This week, SunFest returns to West Palm Beach with a lineup worth the hike up I-95. The festival offers many more chances to catch rock bands than competing festival lineups, which tend to rely heavily on pop and electronic acts. Established bands such as Weezer, Blink-182, Widespread Panic, and X Ambassadors will make guitars great again and play alongside up-and-coming local talent like SunGhosts and Alex Di Leo.

Here's a rundown of the best acts to catch at SunFest 2017.

8:30 p.m. Friday, May 5, on the Ford Stage

It seems like Tinashe has been the "next big thing" for years. The quintuple threat — singer, actress, dancer, songwriter, and producer — had minor roles in films and TV shows before pursuing singing. A failed stint in the girl group the Stunners led Tinashe to take greater creative control of her music on some buzzed-about mixtapes. Her debut solo album, Aquarius, yielded the sleeper hit “2 On,” featuring Schoolboy Q. The song was big enough to get the remix treatment from Drake, who bumped Q’s feature from the track. Follow-up singles fizzled out, but Tinashe’s hustle game was recognized by pop's reigning princess, Britney Spears, on their cheeky collaboration “Slumber Party.” The two went stiletto-to-stiletto in the song’s racy music video. With her sophomore album coming later this year and a much-hyped forthcoming stint on the TV show Empire, Tinashe’s star is surely rising, and it would be wise to catch her at an event like SunFest before she starts selling out arenas. Her career trajectory and blend of R&B-based pop are reminiscent of another star who took some time to find her footing before becoming the “Only Girl in the World”: Rihanna. Tinashe is still at the “Pon de Replay” stage of her career, but it won't be long before she finds her “Umbrella.”

Ben HarperEXPAND
Ben Harper
Courtesy of Shore Fire Media

Ben Harper & the Innocent Criminals
8 p.m. Thursday, May 4, on the Tire Kingdom Stage

Voices like Ben Harper's are crucial for society’s healing during times of division and strife. His voice communicates the weariness of a never-ending fight for progress, but it also pushes forward steadily, guiding listeners through rumination and declarations about the fraught times in which we live. On his latest album, 2016’s Call It What It Is, he reunites with his backing band, the Innocent Criminals, and they don't shy away from the issues at hand. “They shot him in the back/Now it's a crime to be black,” he sings on the album’s title track. “There's good cops/Bad cops/White cops/Black cops,” he continues before name-checking Trayvon Martin. “Call it what it is/Murder.”

Rebel and a Basketcase
Rebel and a Basketcase
Machete Bang Bang / Lindsey Byrnes

Rebel and a Basketcase
7:45 p.m. Saturday, May 6, on the JetBlue Stage

If you stop by the JetBlue Stage during Saturday’s Rebel and a Basketcase set, you'll probably spend the entire performance racking your brain as to why the lead singer looks so strangely familiar. It's not the gender-bending David Bowie getup or her uncanny resemblance to Annie Lennox in costume. You've probably even heard her sing the songs that defined a decade other than the one she nods to with her bandmate Zach Villa, but that's not it either. She looks familiar because beneath her androgynous glam look, she's Evan Rachel Wood, of Westworld and Across the Universe fame. Wood and Villa started the band after performing in John Hughes' Cabaret, which re-created famous scenes from the director's films. Villa played the Rebel and Wood the Basketcase from The Breakfast Club, roles they later enshrined in their band name. Their lyrics echo the themes of isolation and self-discovery explored in Hughes’ films, partly because Wood wrote many of the songs during her angst-ridden early 20s. There's no point in acting too cool to revisit those days of adolescent anguish: A Rebel and a Basketcase show is all about dancing through your pain and insecurity.

Tori Kelly
Tori Kelly
Courtesy of Stoked PR

Tori Kelly
9 p.m. Saturday, May 6, on the JetBlue Stage

Tori Kelly sprang onto the mainstream music scene with catchy pop hits like “Nobody Love” and “Should've Been Us,” but though she's respectably adept at molding her awe-inspiring voice into readymade radio hits, pop songs have never been her strength. Kelly is a songwriter and neosoul singer at heart, and her music shares more with John Mayer’s pop-infused blues style than with any of today's pop queens. Her unapologetic refusal to sacrifice substance for cheap hits prevents her from reaching the top of the charts, but it also allows her the freedom to explore the space where she thrives: onstage. Kelly can shatter the walls with her range on a sparse acoustic ballad or hold her own opposite Jennifer Hudson on the Leonard Cohen masterpiece “Hallelujah.”

Snoop Dogg
Snoop Dogg
Photo by World Red Eye

Snoop Dogg
8:15 p.m. Wednesday, May 3, on the Tire Kingdom Stage

In an era when an onslaught of one-off, one-hit trap wonders have made lasting careers in hip-hop seem more elusive than ever, OGs such as Snoop Dogg keep hope alive. “Anybody can get [success]/The hard part is keeping it,” Snoop’s longtime partner in crime, Dr. Dre, says on Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly. Snoop has outlasted most of his peers by collaborating with the newer generation of rappers who, like Lamar, once idolized him. He can certainly speak to what it takes to maintain success in the face of ever-changing fads and musical tides. Snoop’s performance is a chance to see rap royalty at the height of his reign.

SunFest 2017
Wednesday, May 3, through Sunday, May 7, at 100 Clematis St., West Palm Beach; sunfest.com. Tickets cost $20 to $92 via sunfest.com.

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