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SunFest cuts to 3 days while turning 40


SunFest returns to the West Palm Beach waterfront for its 40th anniversary.

Photo by the City of West Palm Beach.


Before it became “Florida’s largest waterfront music and art festival,” SunFest had to learn to crawl. Its debut in 1983 was a 10-day grassroots series that featured mostly community orchestras and area jazz performers.


From May 5 to 7, SunFest turns 40 years old. While its hundreds of visual artisans remain a constant along the Intracoastal Waterway in downtown West Palm Beach, the event looks very different musically in its middle age.


SunFest accelerated through the 1980s by booking international artists from the realms of pop/R&B (Blood, Sweat & Tears), blues (John Lee Hooker) and jazz/fusion (Steps Ahead). Much of the growth since has occurred under the guidance of Paul Jamieson, who joined the organization in 1990 and has been its executive director since 1996.


“Even by 1996,” Jamieson says, “I think SunFest was still mostly a community-based event that primarily drew people from this area. We’ve certainly grown since then.”


Some of the biggest names from all musical genres have appeared the past 30 years, including Bob Dylan, Ray Charles, James Brown, Bonnie Raitt, James Taylor, Jeff Beck, Ice Cube, Herbie Hancock, Carrie Underwood, Buddy Guy, Snoop Dogg, Sheryl Crow, Jackson Browne, Jimmy Cliff, Gregg Allman, Hall & Oates, and Crosby, Stills & Nash.


A four-day festival for most of its first decade, SunFest experienced its biggest growth spurt the next 25 years with a five-day format. In 2018, it cut its calendar back to four days.


This year’s SunFest is three days, and the usual three stages are reduced to two.


“SunFest has always evolved,” Jamieson says. “The decision to change the festival by reducing a day and stage is simply another example of that ongoing evolution. Doing so while increasing the talent budget allowed us to book high-caliber artists such as The Chainsmokers, Jack Johnson and The Killers. Any one of those acts would have been the biggest name in almost any year of the festival’s history, and they’re all here in 2023.”


Those three rock and pop acts are the headliners on the main Ford Stage (on Flagler Drive between North and South Clematis streets). The Ideal Nutrition Stage (on Flagler Drive at the Meyer Amphitheater) features the hip-hop and funk of closers Flo Rida, A Boogie wit da Hoodie and 311.


Many of the bands and artists preceding those headliners are Florida-based acts who get a rare chance to experience such spacious stages, massive sound and lighting systems, and oversize crowds. They include Miami R&B duo Soulpax, Cape Coral reggae band NostalJah and Boynton Beach variety act Vibes Farm.


“We’ve always been committed to keeping local performers at SunFest,” Jamieson says. “There is a very vibrant local music scene.”


On May 5, see East Harbor (6:30 to 7 p.m.), PLS&TY (7:30 to 8), Anabel Englund (8:30 to 9:15) and The Chainsmokers (9:45 to 11) on the Ford Stage and Soulpax (5:45 to 6:15), The Nameless (6:45 to 7:15), LAYA (7:45 to 8:15) and Flo Rida (8:45 to 10) on the Ideal Nutrition Stage.


On May 6, see NostalJah (1:45 to 2:15 p.m.), ALO (2:45 to 3:45), Ziggy Marley (4:15 to 5:45), Allegra Miles (6:45 to 7:15), The Hip Abduction (7:45 to 8:45) and Jack Johnson (9:30 to 11) on the Ford Stage and PRATO (1:15 to 1:45), ARDN (2:15 to 2:45), GVIN (5 to 5:30), RazzaMoore (6 to 6:30), Fedd the God (7 to 7:45) and A Boogie wit da Hoodie (8:15 to 9:30) on the Ideal Nutrition Stage.


On May 7, see Gatlin (2:15 to 3:15 p.m.), Dropkick Murphys (3:45 to 5) and The Killers (8:30 to 10) on the Ford Stage (two slots remain to be determined) and Leave It to Us (12:30 to 1), Charlotte Sands (1:30 to 2:15), All Time Low (2:45 to 4), Vibes Farm (5 to 5:30), Surfer Girl (6 to 6:45) and 311 (7:15 to 8:30) on the Ideal Nutrition Stage.


SunFest runs from 5 to 11 p.m. May 5, noon to 11 p.m. May 6, and noon to 10 p.m. May 7 along the Intracoastal Waterway on Flagler Drive between Banyan Boulevard and Lakeview Avenue. Tickets: $80 for a one-day pass or $150 for a three-day pass, with VIP, group and other add-on packages available.


For further information, call 800-SUNFEST (786-3378), or visit www.sunfest.com.

Thank you to our sponsors

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