With SunFest less than a week away (Jeez, 2013 is moving quickly, isn’t it?), we decided to spotlight some of the many acts you shouldn’t miss. Here’s a day-by-day breakdown of SunFest’s best (for a full schedule and to purchase tickets, visit sunfest.com).
Wednesday, May 1
SunFest has a habit, every year, of booking its most interesting breakthrough bands at times when nobody’s there to see them. Don’t let the 6 p.m. midweek start time of Roadkill Ghost Choir deter you from catching them – they’re worth driving through rush hour, and not just for their exceptional band name. The six-piece indie-folk act hails from that music hotbed of DeLand, Fla., making spacious Americana music conjuring Fleet Foxes and Gram Parsons, but with the driving intensity of Radiohead and The National. The band only has a digital EP out at this point, but if you attend this evening’s show, you can say you saw them before they blew up.
They’ll be followed at 7:30 p.m. on the Tire Kingdom Stage by Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, a band that already blew up in 2009 with the popular country-pop stomper “Home.” Its accompanying album hit No. 5 on the U.S. album charts despite its lack of major-label distribution, and if the band’s music isn’t as well known as fellow-travelers Mumford & Sons, that’s surely the only reason. Timelessly accessible, the band is known for its busy live performances, with up to 10 musicians playing everything from piano and trumpet to marimba, accordion and clavinet.
Thursday, May 2
Performing at 7 p.m. on the Ford Stage, The Curve is a local-boys-done-good story, a hardworking five-piece band from West Palm Beach whose members have opened for Daughtry and Of Montreal. Lead guitarist Biaggio Cangiano works as an event production manager at the Kravis Center for his day job, and lead singer Mike Sanchez is a former winner of Roxy’s $10,000 Rock Band Karaoke Contest on Clematis Street. The group plays radio-friendly music similar to matchbox twenty; for more on its SunFest show, read our own Cassie Morien’s interview, published earlier this week on SunFest’s site.
Following them on the Ford stage will be Train, that ubiquitous pop-rock success story from San Francisco. Just eight months after touring Mizner Park Amphitheater, the trio is already back as one of SunFest’s major headliners. The group won its first Grammy for 2001’s “Drops of Jupiter,” and its 2009 international hit “Hey, Soul Sister” went six times platinum. Expect to hear these megahits as well as “Calling All Angels” and “Drive By.” The band recently made news by refusing to perform at the Boy Scouts of America’s 2013 National Scout Jamboree if the organization didn’t reverse its policy on prohibiting gay scouts. Good for them.
Friday, May 3
Gary Clark Jr. (7 p.m., Tire Kingdom Stage) has been performing blues music in his native Austin, Texas since 1996, but it wasn’t until he was discovered by renowned filmmaker John Sayles and cast in the director’s 2007 film “Honeydripper,” about a struggling Alabama blues club, that he finally began to receive the recognition he deserved. A far cry from the navel-gazing acoustic bluesmen of yore, Clark sings with a clear voice, a galvanizing stage presence and backed by the sear of electric guitars, justifying his high praise as the next great hope for Texas blues. He’s performed with everyones from Pinetop Perkins to Stevie Ray Vaughn and the Rolling Stones.
Later on, at 9:45 p.m. on the Ford stage, The Offspring will headline the evening’s festivities. Slated to perform at December’s UR1 Festival in Miami before it was canceled, the Offspring has returned to grace us with its presence and perform its rousing brand of snotty punk-rock abandon. The group has sold more than 40 million albums worldwide, an astonishing number for a punk rock act. If they haven’t quite reached the success of ‘90s hits like “Come Out and Play,” “Self Esteem” and “Pretty Fly (For a White Guy),” it’s only because those hits set the bar impossibly high. The band is supporting its ninth album, “Days Go By.”
Saturday, May 4
Get the afternoon started at 3 p.m. on the FPL stage with The Airborne Toxic Event, a catchy quintet from California that broke into the indie and alt-rock mainstream in 2008 and hasn’t looked back since. For a band that took its name from a section in a Don DeLillo novel, it’s no surprise that they’ve proven to be exceptionally literate lyricists, whether reflecting on failed relationships, war criminals or drone strikes. Meanwhile, the band’s extensive catalog of cover songs, ranging from The Clash to Bruce Springsteen to the Magnetic Fields, suggests the depth of its musicality. This concert happens just four days after the release of its third LP, “Such Hot Blood,” so expect the band to be fresh and in top form.
The evening’s headliners include Cheap Trick and Phillip Phillips, but there’s really nothing to compare to Life in Color, which performs for a full five hours, from 6 to 11 p.m. on the Ford Stage. Life in Color is not a specific group so much as an all-out music circus, and its last local event, in December at the Miami Beach Convention Center, drew more than 14,000 electronic music fans raving to the genre’s top deejays, complete with stilt walkers, acrobats on trampolines and an “astronaut” drenching the audience in multicolored paint. Tonight, expect more of that infectious energy – including fire performers, contortionists and its signature paint cannon – to complement tunes from Grammy-winning producer Morgan Page (pictured) and local DJ David Solano.
Sunday, May 5
At 3 p.m. today, don’t miss my favorite act of the entire festival, Jimmy Cliff, on the Tire Kingdom stage. In my eyes, Cliff is just as important as Bob Marley in the reggae scene, having released a whopping 30 albums in his nearly 50 years as a recording artist. His starring role in the 1972 Jamaican cult film “The Harder They Come” led to him recording a number of iconic songs for the soundtrack, including the title track and “You Can Get it If You Really Want,” one of the music world’s great celebrations of optimism and a reggae breakthrough in the United States. His credibility has never waned, and his voice continues to soar, even at age 65. Last year’s “Rebirth,” his first release in seven years, won the Grammy Award for Best Reggae Album, thanks in part to a production credit from lifetime fan Tim Armstrong, of Rancid.
SunFest has received a number of complaints in the past for booking hip-hop acts in its lineup, with most of these gripes about “the element” the groups attract being clear examples of dog-whistle racism. Thankfully, organizers have continued to book important rap acts, and there is perhaps none hotter than Kendrick Lamar (7:45 p.m. at Ford Stage). Lamar is a great story, rising from poverty in Compton and eschewing the gang-banging and drug-dealing of his peers. The silken-voiced, astronomically talented 25-year-old started out making mixtapes under a different moniker, but found his niche writing confessional songs under his own name, rapping about family life instead of gangsta negativity; his hits, like “Poetic Justice” and “Recipe,” sound like instant classics.