Saturday brought the first full day of Sunfest, coinciding with Cinco de Mayo, opening up at noon. West Palm Beach natives, Thoughts, opened up the Jet Blue Stage with indie vibes. The quartet formed in the summer of 2017, after Angel Leiser and Ben Rothschild left their previous band, Jumbo Shrimp Inc. The band released their first EP, Heart it Breaks late last year, and the band have been touring the southeastern states in it's promotion. The band describes their influences as ranging from “60's pop to 70's rock to modern funk” so the style definitely brings something to the table for everyone. The groovy music was the perfect opener for Sunfest, and we love that the festival gives local bands the opportunity to shine.
Following the local trend, Naples own Nostaljah heated up the Tire Kingdom Stage stage with soothing reggae, which set up the more mellow theme for the day. The crowd quickly rolled in as if they were drawn in by the enticing tones pouring through the air. The band played a forty-five minute set and amped up the atmosphere for one of the most looked forward bands of the day!
Jamaican legends Toots and the Maytals were up next. Having never personally heard of the group, I was quickly educated by some of their diehard fans in attendance. The group’s single,”54-46 Was My Number,” pioneered ska and reggae music into popularity within the mainstream music industry back in the late 60’s. Their 1968 single "Do the Reggay," was the first song to first use the word "reggae" which in turn named the genre and brought the style to a global audience. As soon as they started performing it was quite obvious they have earned their reputation as influencers in the modern scene.
The Ford Stage opened with Orlando's The Sh-Booms, a six piece group that coins itself “soul enterprise.” I didn't know what to expect heading to the set, but once The Supreme Queen Mizz Bren hit the stage I was totally hooked. Her presence and soulful harmonies drew in the outlying crowds hanging out in the shade to the forefront of the action, and had them all swaying along. The Sh-Booms have been crowned as Orlando Weekly's "Best Soul Act" for the past four-years, and have shared the stage with artists such as Lee Fields, The B-52’s, St. Paul & The Broken Bones, KRS-One, and Candlebox. My favorite part? The hot pink flamingos that don their websites in a caricature of each band member.
From the mouth of someone clearly in need of some dental hygiene, Grouplove emerged kicking into “Welcome to Your Life,” the lead single off of 2016's Big Mess. No, but seriously, there were paint-splattered blown up teeth and gums around the stage with “GROUPLOVE” proudly engraved in the mouth. While last time we saw Grouplove vocalists Christian Zucconi and Hannah Hooper sported matching platinum locks at Undertow 2017, Hooper's hair was now stark black and Zucconi's head shaved. The contrast in appearance took me by surprise as my head had engraved Zucconi as looking like a young-punk-Doc Brown jumping wildly around the stage in a lab coat. The good news is, he still jumps around like a madman, even coming down into the pit to hang out and sing to the crowd, but the lab coat was sorely missed. Hooper is borderline alt-rock goddess on stage, switching between spunky dance moves timed to her featherlight voice, to a total onslaught on the keys. The band's eighteen song set included Bowie and Beastie Boys covers, but most excitedly was the announcement that the band has finished writing their next record, and are set to head to the studio to record!
Reggae revivalists, SOJA, returned to Sunfest and packed in the fans at The Tire Kingdom Stage. In South Florida, SOJA is one of the most prominent bands and their shows sell out continuously. The two-time Grammy nominated band released their latest album, Poetry in Motion, in October. SOJA fit perfectly into the chill vibe of Saturday, as the crowd swayed along, engulfed in the sense of community that you only get at a show like this. The hour and a half set included fan-favorites like “I Don't Wanna Wait” and “Not Done Yet” while also mixing in newer songs like “Bad News” and “Tried my Best” in support of the new album.
Every tipsy sombrero wearing patron rushed to The Ford Stage in anticipation of veteran rapper, Ice Cube, taking the stage. While Ice Cube was a late addition to the fest, the excitement surpassed even the wildest of Billy Idol fans from Thursday night. “West Palm Beach in the house, how ya’ll feeling today?” he called out. “I know what you’re thinking. Ice Cube is still doing this sh*t? You thought I was doing too many movies, too many crazy Coors Light commercials. … But this is where it all started.” The crowd went wild as he belted out “Natural Born Killaz” and “How to Survive in South Central” back to back. “Can I do some old school shit? Can ya’ll handle it?” Ice Cube baited us. Of course, we can handle it Cube, of course. N.W.A.’s “Do That Shit,” and “Gangsta Gangsta,” were heard from every direction as the crowd rapped along. Remember how I said he baited us? Well didn't we feel foolish after rapping along gleefully only to be told, “I love NWA- but them motherfuckers dissed me!” But Ice Cube loves a good diss track and appropriately gave us his “No Vaseline” in response. Despite some early technical difficulties (to which Ice Cube said “let's get this shit fixed, these people paid too much goddamn money to have fucked up music” because he is the ultimate gem) the performance was everything you could ask for from an Ice Cube show. From “Do Ya Thang” to “You Can Do It” he played all the hits, of course closing out with “It Was A Good Day,” because, I mean, any day you get to spend with Ice Cube is most definitely, a good day.
A drastic change from our previous set, Samantha Harvey opened up for Nick Jonas on The Tire Kingdom Stage. Harvey is a social media phenomenon from England that started turning heads with her covers of popular musicians like Sia, Khalid, and Selena Gomez. After gathering a large social following, she started putting out original songs as well which her fans loved. One of those songs, “Wonderland” was the first song of the performance, with Harvey bouncing around like a pixie, and a totally killer violinist to her side. Sunfest is definitely going to hold a special place in her heart, though, as the festival marked her very first performance in the United States! The hour long set was a mix of originals and some of Harvey's most notable covers, which had the audience singing right along with her, a pretty awesome first stateside show, I gotta say!
Looking like they were a band ready to jam in their garage, the Sleepwalkers came out to bring on the sunset back over at the Tire Kingdom stage. You wouldn’t know it by looking at them, but these guys can jam. Very soulful and obviously digging deep within, they belted out emotional melodies that fit right in with the more mellow tone of the day. The band draws influence from the 70’s style of music, but brings in some modern day Americana, creating a balanced blend of lush vocals and rich tones.
After experiencing Rae Sremmurd at Okeechobee 2017, I knew there was no way I was passing up the chance to see them again. Turns out, nearly all of Sunfest felt similarly as the road to The Jet Blue Stage was jampacked with people all the way to the water, hoping to catch a glimpse of the two brothers. The hip-hop duo dropped a new triple album just the week prior, called “SR3MM.” The triple release consisted of a main album, plus a solo album from both Rae Sremmurd members. Slim Jxmmi released “Jxmtro” and Swae Lee came out with “Swaecation.” Before the two even made it to the stage, the Sremmlife Crew hyped the fans up with throwback jams and some new hits. The girls in the front row were screaming at the top of their lungs when the brothers announced they were looking for some ladies to ride to SoBe for the afterparty. While I can't be sure if they made it, they were passed a gift by Slim Jxmmi who then took their phones and recorded himself on stage. The Mississippi boys kept the energy high for over an hour with hits like “Come Get Her,” “Yno,” and “No Flex Zone.”
Despite the sun setting hours before, Nick Jonas stormed the stage with sunglasses and a leather jacket, as the crowd of all ages cheered him on. Now, I was just slightly out of range when Camp Rock took over the Disney Channel, but since Nick's first solo album I've been hooked on the poppy soulful tracks he's been putting out. Nick Jonas is the master at making a catchy relatable song, that resonates with people all over the age-spectrum. From tweens, to the Disney-era gen, to the moms of the tweens everyone was singing along as Nick performed hit liks “Find You,” “Champagne Problems,” and “Last Time Around.” But the nostalgia really took over when his brother Joe (who would perform the following day with his band DNCE) joined Nick on the stage and the two performed their 2008 hit “Lovebug.” Of course Nick closed out the night with his Billboard charting hit “Jealous.”
Closing out the day was 311, and I couldn’t think of a more fitting act for the job. After a day of Jamaican influenced music the audience was prepared for this groups perfect blend of reggae and rock. Dedicated followers securing their spots right up front hours in advance, and for good reason...311 is worth being excited about. Every song flowed from one to another seamlessly, keeping the energy chugging along and the singing along constant. From early career hits like “Beautiful Disaster” and “Do You Right” to their well-known cover of The Cure’s “Lovesong,” the Sunfest vets played to a massive seas of people through the end of the night. During “Applied Science,” the band all joined each other towards the back of the stage for an all-hands on full band percussion extravaganza.While drum solos are pretty common at live shows, to see each member perform their own part of the mix was an awesome treat. Delivering a long and complete setlist, they gave quite possibly the best end for Sunfest’s longest day.
Toots and the Maytals