SunFest grows from humble beginnings to large-scale music festival

Published: May. 5, 2023 at 6:26 AM EDT
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Rewind nearly 40 years and Florida’s largest waterfront music festival had humble beginnings.

SunFest first splashed onto the scene in West Palm Beach in the early 80s. It morphed out of the Royal Palm Festival, which was put on by the Economic Council of Palm Beach County.


"Business-wise, they wanted to extend the tourist season and get people to stay longer. So, once Easter was over in April, through the first of May, they thought, if they could get a few more people staying, it would be great for business," said Dari Bowman, the president of SunFest in 1992.

Bowman's father was also one of the founders of the Royal Palm Festival.

By the late 1980s, something switched. SunFest began to charge $5 for admission. Children and seniors were still free.

The biggest controversy that year was that the festival no longer allowed alcohol sales inside the gates. Banning inside sales meant turning down thousands of dollars in corporate sponsorships.

Fast-forward to the 2000s, SunFest began to attract bigger acts and crowds.

One thing that hasn't changed is the enormous role volunteers play to pull the event off each year.

Even though SunFest is back this year, it is still in a regrouping phase after the COVID-19 pandemic.

This year, organizers admitted they aren't setting out to please everyone. To attract larger names, they are scaling back on the number of performers. SunFest has also cut out the art show/marketplace, the 5k, and the fireworks.

Scripps Only Content 2023