If SunFest hit full stride Saturday in West Palm Beach, it crescendoed hard on Sunday with arguably the heaviest hitters on this year’s big-time lineup. Pixies, Fall Out Boy, Boston, AWOLNATION, and Matisyahu all attracted some of the biggest crowds of the weekend and garnered more than a few of the loudest screams.
By the time fireworks started exploding in the sky, it felt like Sunday had been the most crowded of SunFest’s five days. Whether that’s true won’t be known for another week, until organizers begin taking stock of this year’s event, but regardless of the actual numbers, it was pretty damned packed along the waterfront in downtown West Palm Beach.
Many people, myself included, were there because there were at least two bands they wanted to see and crazy food they expected to eat while power-walking from stage to stage in an attempt to see as much as possible.
Concertgoers Danielle Blosch and Mario Imbico were there for their first SunFest, opting for Sunday because they wanted to see Pixies and Matisyahu. South Florida residents for about two years, they decided to bring their kids, who are ages 7 and 1. While the older child had done well four years ago at a smaller festival when they lived in Utah, SunFest was a different beast altogether.
“That wasn’t as intense as this one,” Blosch said. “But it’s great. We were kind of scared, but it’s open, and, if anything, we can just go home. But they’ve done better than we expected, dancing to Matisyahu and being pretty good about the crowds.”
During Matisyahu’s set, which attracted a crowd that stretched almost to the south entrance of the festival, Blosch and Imbico set up their blanket and stroller in the shade, on the grass, off to the side of the stage. This, she said, allowed for them to see the stage but not get caught up in the crunch directly in front of the stage.
That turned out to be a good choice for their small kids, because the bigger kids, who were up front screaming throughout Matisyahu’s set, were primed to rush the stage when he asked for a few fans to join him for his last song. Security wasn’t happy, but as the barricades were shoved out of the way, the 100 or so people who climbed amps and stepped onto the stage to stand with the Hassidic Jewish reggae singer were clearly ecstatic.
West Palm Beach resident George Bear was also at his first SunFest, mostly because his 14-year-old granddaughter had come down from Sebring to see Paramore on Thursday and then Fallout Boy on Sunday. “I’d fight my way through that crowd to see Boston, but my obligation is to make sure she sees what she came for," Bear said.
Bear was taking a breather outside the VIP section right in front of the main Ford Stage where Fall Out Boy was set to play in about 15 minutes. Meanwhile, his granddaughter had run ahead to secure a spot right up front. This, he said, was going to be the highlight of her weekend.
“The best thing for me is the food," the hungry Bear said. "The half-pineapple thing with chicken and rice, and that huge pile of fried stuff called ‘The Heart Attack,’ that blew my mind.”
“This is nothing new for me,” 20-year-old Christina Wallace said with a big smile while pinned to barricades directly in front of the Ford Stage awaiting Fall Out Boy. “I’ve been coming to SunFest since I was seven. I love it.” Unlike Wallace, her 14-year-old sister, Alyssa Lilly, was there for the first time and was one of several young teens with their faces painted with a half-American flag in tribute to the cover of FOB’s most recent album, American Beauty/American Psycho.
It was also the first SunFest for Long Island, NY, resident Joe Vitlo, who said he’d extended his vacation in South Florida to attend.
“I’ve been coming here for 25 years and have never been to SunFest ’cause I’m always here the wrong time of year,” Vitlo said while waiting for Eddie Money to start his set on Saturday. He said Sammy Hagar and Lenny Kravitz were his highlights so far, and he expected it to keep getting better. “Concerts are all I do. That’s what I spend my money on. I’d rather come to festivals than individual concerts. This is the best. This ticket would cost me $1000 in New York, and it was $25 here.”
The more you talk to people, especially those anywhere from their mid-20s to north of 50, you get the feeling that SunFest represents a sort of Spring Break for adults. Almost anybody between those ages have been waiting with eager anticipation since the lineup was announced for this year’s festival, if not since the end of last year’s SunFest.
The Banks family, who certainly qualify as adults, spent all five days doing nothing but SunFest. “I almost couldn’t make it down here,” Kim Banks-Beveridge said of how exhausted she was after days one through three. “But, you know, it’s Saturday, and Eddie Money is on stage. Gotta be here.”
In wishing me a Happy SunFest as I walked away from them, the Banks family somewhat typified the simultaneously fired up and agreeably happy crowd. Exhaustedly walking around, talking to people about their experience, it was universally clear that SunFest is more than a music festival for a lot of people.
There's no doubt that Coachella, Bonnaroo, South By Southwest, and festivals around the country are bigger and get more attention than SunFest. But this 30-year-old local event, which in the last several years has blossomed from being just another music event into being the music event of Palm Beach County, doesn’t feel like those big ones. It’s better. Because it’s ours.