Sunfest is an absolutely massive music festival that occurs on the downtown West Palm Beach waterfront east of Clematis Street every year around early May. Just like the rest of Clematis Street, it appears that 2009 Sunfest bucked the general trend of a down economy. I haven't yet heard any reports on the actual number of attendees, but it was clearly in the tens of thousands every day throughout the festival, from Wednesday through Sunday. I've been a downtown resident for three years now, and I have never seen more traffic and more people swarming the area.
Sunfest is perhaps the largest festival of its kind in Florida, and it happens right here in downtown West Palm Beach. Recently, it has expanded its popularity by increasing the amount spent on obtaining some really top-notch artists to perform there. This year's line-up included James Taylor, UB40, and the Steve Miller Band (appealing more to the middle-aged crowd), as well as a whole bunch of bands from more recent times (appealing to the teens and 20's crowd). It was possible to distinguish between which kind of band was playing on a given night simply by looking at the crowds streaming down Clematis Street from the parking garages to the event.
Despite reduced corporate sponsorship this year and a somewhat reduced budget, the Sunfest organization really has their act together and they put on a great event. This is not some fly-by-night event but part of a quality organization that is here to stay. The weather was great every day this year as well (it didn't rain at all) so that certainly helped. Sunfest this year was also a great opportunity to showcase the new waterfront piers to thousands of new people who would otherwise not know or hear about them. If this little secret in downtown West Palm Beach wasn't yet out of the bag, Sunfest certainly did the trick.
I think that many of us downtown residents may view Sunfest as somewhat of an annoyance, because it turns calm free streets into a payzone filled with massive crowds for almost an entire week. Nevertheless, it is a great thing for the City of West Palm Beach.
I managed to enjoy Sunfest this year on Thursday night when James Taylor was performing. I couldn't convince my wife to go (she does not like large crowds). However I wandered down there, first fighting my way through the crowd to try to get closer to the stage. Soon I realized there was a much better way to enjoy Sunfest. I went out on to the new city walking pier, which did have some people on it but was much less crowded than the areas around the stage. At the end of the pier, I could see a number of boats sitting in the water, quietly listening to the melodic sounds of James Taylor coming over the water, and I felt just like I was on a boat myself at the end of the pier, which was gently swaying to the music. The city lights at night and the music wafting over the water created a very tranquil feel which was a perfect fit for some of James Taylor's nicest songs such as "Up On the Roof". With the great setting on the intracoastal in downtown West Palm Beach, Sunfest has something for everyone, not just crowd-lovers but also those who seek a more peaceful setting.