About This Festival
More than 175,000 fans pile in, most from the surrounding South Florida area. They arrive in jean shorts and t-shirts, flip-flops and shades and bikinis. Depending on which of the three stages you're at, and who's playing, you might see dudes setting up lawn chairs on the grass, hippie girls swaying to a jam band, or couples sitting along the seawall, catching a breeze. Everyone sips cold drinks from plastic cups, and a goodtime Margaritaville mood prevails.
The lineup is a smorgasbord: 50s rock, country, R&B, pop, reggae, jazz and metal bands cross chords here. SunFest is also known for giving homegrown Florida bands a shot at glory, so you may discover a new cuddlecore or swamp bluegrass favorite among the trove. The lineup usually is announced in late February or early March.
The Art-Filled Set-up
The festival grounds sprawl along the Intracoastal Waterway, a boat-packed inland channel that clasps the Atlantic Ocean. SunFest stretches about a half-mile from north to south, with a stage at either end, plus one in the middle. Bands play at the three venues simultaneously, so you'll have to make some choices about what to see, as it can take a while to maneuver through the site.
A juried fine art and craft show sets up between the stages. More than 140 artists from around the country sell original paintings, ceramics, sculptures, wood carvings, jewelry and other works. Much of it is nautical themed, so those looking for a fish pin or surrealist mermaid watercolor are in luck.
The Youth Park rises near the south-side stage. It's like a mini-SunFest, where a DJ spins kids' tunes and young ones get their hair gel-spiked or spray-colored rock star style. Hula-hoop contests, climbing walls and booths inking temporary tattoos are also part of the fun.
Gator Bites and Party Barges
Thirty-plus food vendors waft their wares from the waterfront's edge, heaping coconut shrimp, jerk chicken, conch fritters, smoked barbeque and alligator bites (fried and battered gator) onto fest-goers' plates. The latter, incidentally, tastes like calamari (not chicken, as they commonly say).
Lots of beer goes down the hatch, but drinkers in search of fancier libations head to the three floating barges tethered in the Intracoastal. One is a TV-filled sports bar, while the other two are more club-like, but all pour copious amounts of rum and mix head-smashing tropical drinks. They're groovy spots to sip and watch the boat traffic gliding by.
Anywhere along the waterfront is the place to be for the event's final night. SunFest sets off a whopping fireworks display that rockets up and shimmers out over the channel.
History & Past Headliners
SunFest began in 1983 as a 10-day event. The town's marketers came up with the idea, hoping to prolong the tourist season, which typically diminished in April. The first SunFest racked up a debt, so organizers pared it down to three days the following year. By 1992 SunFest spanned five days, as it does now.
Past lineups have included:
* All American Rejects, Coheed & Cambria, Counting Crows, Creed, Foreigner, Herbie Hancock, Joan Jett and the Blackhearts, Marshall Tucker Band, Mighty Mighty Bosstones, Michael Franti and Spearhead, Pitbull, Snoop Dogg, Third Eye Blind and Wiz Khalifa in 2012.
* Barenaked Ladies, Black Crowes, Boz Scaggs, Cheap Trick, Dickey Betts and Great Southern, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, Ed Sheeran, Jimmy Cliff, Kendrick Lamar, Molly Hatchet, Smashing Pumpkins and Train in 2013.
* Alice In Chains, the Bangles, Blues Traveler, Cake, Daughtry, Dick Dale, Doobie Brothers, Dropkick Murphys, Ellie Goulding, Goo Goo Dolls, Kid Rock, Pretty Lights, Robin Thicke, Rusted Root, Trombone Shorty and Orleans Avenue and the Wailers in 2014.