On Wednesday, April 28th at 5:00pm, the gates opened for SunFest 2010, Florida’s largest music, art, and waterfront festival. SunFest is a nonprofit festival that relies heavily each year on volunteers. Taking place over the course of five days, the festival hosted musical acts ranging from indie rock to old school R&B, which played throughout each day on three separate stages. The art and craft booths opened Friday and ran throughout the weekend as well. Carnival food and alcohol was sold each day (if you were willing to pay an arm and a leg for it…). Captain Morgan, who was one of the many festival sponsors, had three ‘party barges’, where one could dance and drink the night away while floating on the water. If wine is more your thing, there was a wine tasting event held Friday through Sunday by Robert Mondavi, another sponsor.
Click first image or band’s name for SunFest photos
Around 7:45pm we made our way to the Tire Kingdom stage where We Are Scientists would soon begin their set. Keith Murray, the lead singer and guitarist, made his entrance at 8:07 with a Red Bull and his yellow Fender Telecaster in hand. Murray and bassist Chris Cain thrashed at their strings with such passion, obviously very much into their craft. Although there was only one guitar, they compensated with an effects pedal to really fill the sound out. They may have been very loose on stage, but they played a tight set with a lot of enthusiasm. In between songs Murray joked around with the rest of the band as well as with the lighting tech about “crown maneuvers” and other technical jargon.
We made a mad dash to the main stage, Bank of America’s, to get ready for Weezer. The anticipation had been building for quite some time, as the crowd got larger and larger. At 9:01pm the lights came down and the band members made their way on stage. As they played the opening riff to “Hash Pipe”, everyone was looking all over the stage to catch a glimpse of singer/guitarist Rivers Cuomo. He made a fashionably late entrance, strutting to the front of the stage. Cuomo roused the crowd with his silly antics: banging himself over the head with, then smashing a ukulele on the ground, thanked Zeus and Apollo, and even paused mid-song to strike a pose and encourage the crowd to take his picture. He was running all over the stage, even trampoline-ing up onto the drum riser.
After all these years, Weezer still sounded great even with tour drummer Josh Freese filling in for regular percussionist Patrick Wilson on most of the songs. Wilson spent the majority of the set at the front of the stage with the other full-time band members. At the end of the set, the guys played a “Hot for Teacher” teaser before going into a “Kids”/”Poker Face” medley. Rivers even donned a blonde Lady Gaga-inspired wig. Then, there was a second encore where Cuomo was the only one on stage, looping himself playing each instrument for “Island in the Sun”. The rest of the band joined mid-song, closing the show with each member huddled around the drum set to play whatever percussion instrument they could get their hands on. The only way the set could have been any better would have been if Lil’ Wayne himself had made a guest appearance on “Can’t Stop Partying” (although his incarceration would probably have made that a little difficult to pull off…).
Thursday, April 29
We caught Bedouin Soundclash around 8:30pm playing to a small crowd of about thirty or so people, dancing in varying renditions of skanking, swaying, and generic drunk girl dance moves. Having never heard of them, we didn’t know what to expect. The lead singer, dressed as if he shopped at the Rob Thomas outlet, brought a surprising reggae vigor to their set. Both drummer and bassist kept a steady dub going. The three musicians from Toronto had the crowd rocking in their shoes for the duration of their set. We were pleased to hear the boys successfully pay homage to The Maytals with their cover of “54-46 Was My Number”.
Unfortunately, the Flaming Lips cancelled their set at this year’s SunFest due to the hospitalization of lead guitarist Steven Drozd, so it was time to check out the other belles of the ball, ZZ Top. Over at the Bank of America stage, the crowd was lined up and waiting, this time a very different, much older demographic from the previous evening. From our perches in the photo pit we had a clear view of the skull drum set, stacked amps, and the matching mic stands. The crowd roared as Billy Gibbons and Dusty Hill appeared onstage, wearing matching sequined jackets. As they played the first song, giant LED bottles of Thunderbird danced above our heads on the large display behind them.
Those guys can still rock, even in their little orthopedic shoes. We watched in amazement as Gibbons’ fingers flew across the fret board; that man can shred! Gibbons and Hill rocked back and forth in unison just like in the music videos. Frank Beard kept a steady beat going. Gibbons and Hill knew just what the crowd wanted and even stopped and paused for a photo opportunity.
Friday, April 30
Friday was the first day of the art and craft show, as well as the wine tastings. They also started using the third stage, the LaBovick & LaBovick Stage, which would be used for the duration of the festival. Patti LaBelle took the BoA stage at 7:30pm but, unfortunately, due to conflicting schedules, we were not able to capture any photos of the real Lady Marmalade.
We were able to watch her set, however. Miss LaBelle was lookin’ good and still full of soul! She was backed by drums, electric bass, piano, keyboard, electric guitar, and three backup singers. LaBelle appeared to be in good spirits as she cavorted around the stage in a short orange dress, making jokes the whole time with the audience. “You, in the second row; you cute!” she said as she smiled at a baby up front. She stopped to tell everyone “I’m gonna have a baby… psyche!” Girl, you still got it!
It was time to head to the Tire Kingdom stage to get a good spot for REO Speedwagon. Apparently everyone else had the same idea and we were packed into the media pit like a bunch of sardines in a can. We weren’t all that impressed with REO’s sound and it was a bit hard to enjoy their set while constantly jockeying for some room in the pit. Dodging projectile beer bottles from middle-aged drunks was a bit distracting as well. At least it was exciting!
Resurrecting musicians from their proverbial graves seemed to be a running theme of SunFest this year. At least the guys in REO seemed enthusiastic about what they were doing, even if their sound was only up to par of a garage band.
We weren’t too sad to leave REO when it was time to dash back to the big stage to hear Maze featuring Frankie Beverly. These guys were movin’ and groovin’ and the crowd loved it. The people behind us were clapping and stomping so much the barricades were shaking. It was quiet a hootenanny!
Sunday, May 2
Saturday we were both unable to attend the festival due to scheduling conflicts. Sunday was packed, and we can imagine Saturday was very similar as most people have the weekends off. Sunday we were greeted by many shirtless, sunburned people, boisterous with drinks in hand. It is safe to say that everyone enjoyed themselves that weekend at SunFest.
We really had to push our way through the crowd to make it all the way to the Tire Kingdom stage, where The B-52s were about to perform for the evening. We were excited to see the B-52s given their long track record with catchy gems like “Love Shack” and “Rock Lobster”. The B-52s are known mainly as a party band, but they seemed like they have done too much partying and just need a long nap. They just kind of stood around, singing and playing in place. They sounded great, but they just didn’t seem to be into the performance all that much. Maybe the beautiful weather and gorgeous sunset had them in a daze.
Flogging Molly was already playing on the LaBovick & LaBovick stage by the time we got down there and due to unnecessarily strict media rules, we were unable to take any photos from anywhere but the pit, but we did watch their performance. You could see that this band loves to perform and it’s probably why they’re always on the road – it’s where they are at their very best. They performed with water as well as beer bottles at their sides and brought Irish flavor to our Florida coast. You couldn’t help but jig in place when the sounds of fiddles, slide whistles, and banjos hit your eardrums.
We decided to leave the stage mid-set to ensure that we weren’t hit by the countless shoes being thrown in the air as well as to ensure good seats for the fireworks display, which was a floating barge sponsored by Verizon. The fireworks display was around 9pm and lit up the entire night sky. The bang and crack of the gunpowder ricocheted off the downtown buildings, and the light show was brilliantly reflecting off of the waterfront.
Verizon and the city of West Palm definitely spent a pretty penny on those fireworks, as they were some of the biggest, most intricate we had ever seen with patterns that sprayed out and changed colors mid-air. The grand finale alone was almost a straight minute of loud, brilliant explosions in the clear night sky. It was a fantastic end to the five-day event on the waterfront.
-words: Michael Gonzalez and Bethany Griest
-photos: Michael Gonzalez