The festival kicked off Wednesday with five bands, the inaugural performances of a five-day festival hailed by outsiders as a top-notch national event and by locals as a backyard gem.
The audience came in all stripes: young mothers, working professionals; a 20-something wearing a marijuana T-shirt. They found shady spots on the grassy expanse in front of the main stage — behind a lemonade booth, a lamppost, anything — waiting for the night's headline act, the Counting Crows.
Before the music started, men napped and toddlers chased each other on the grass.
One of the toddlers, Lily, a blonde 2-year-old, belonged to Melissa Lane, 34, of Parkland. Nearby, Lily's grandmother, Janice Warren, 55, sat in a folding chair, matriarch of three generations of SunFest devotees.
Lily "was dancing even before the band started playing," said Lane, sitting cross-legged on a blanket. She said she came for the Counting Crows and that her parents "have been coming forever."
"Thirty years," Warren corrected. Lily "is my sixth grandchild, and all six of them have been coming here."
Like other longtime fans, Warren remembers when SunFest was a jazz festival. Then organizers, they said, branched out, drawing a broader audience. Now, the music is a hodgepodge, from The Marshall Tucker Band on Saturday to Snoop Dogg on Thursday.
"It's a huge deal," said Al Janson, 61, of Jupiter, who came with his wife, Alice, 58. "The bands they get are great B+ bands, you know; Foreigner, Creed."
The Jansons soaked up the sun from their seats, in view of the downtown high rises and the Intracoastal Waterway where massive white yachts drifted by.
"You just have to appreciate it," Alice Janson said. "This is the perfect place to have this kind of thing."
Two friends, Heather Helphrey and Lisa Williams, sprawled out on a red blanket sipping iced drinks. Helphrey, a West Palm Beach resident, said she's been coming for years.
"I remember it being very small and very free," she said.
SunFest, according to Frank Mascetti, 54, of Boca Raton, is a rite of spring, something he doesn't miss.
But since its inception in 1983, the rites have changed. SunFest was free in its early years; now it's $35 at the door.
"There were no barges; now there're three," Mascetti said of the floating booze tents along South Flagler Drive. "It's still great, but it's totally different."
Erik Wutz, 20, and Al Hernandez, 19, wouldn't know. The college students just came to see the Counting Crows and the band's frontman, Adam Duritz, and his iconic ropy hair.
They drove out from Bradenton, on Florida's west coast, for Hernandez's birthday.
At 5 p.m., they were among the first inside, braving the heat to reserve their spot front and center.
"We're wishing we had folding chairs," Hernandez said.
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