It’s always something of wonder to see how a major city gives back to the people.
Miami for Ultra, closing Biscayne Blvd, the Okeechobee Music Festival, soliciting an entire grounds to music, flowing around the swampy waters, or endless cityscapes to add to the wonder.
West Palm’s gift to the city and it’s people, now in it’s 24th year, can still spread amazing amounts of diversity through 5 days under the scorching Florida heat, with not one sad or frowning face in attendance.
Not without it’s imperfections, and still needing a few fixes, it’s undeniably smile inducing to see every age range, from 3 to 78 dancing to music that they may not have taken a chance on before, bringing a while new set of ears and appreciation as wide as the waterfront edge.
The following three days are just a taste and glimpse into the festival, and an example of how strong a music event can remain, both in attendance, diversity and most importantly, quality.
The greatest assets in a festival are in the care it gives back, not only to the fans, but the bands that hold it up just as much.
It’s refreshing then to see that Sunfest still makes an active effort to not lose this element in the hubbub of major sounds, not forgetting it’s roots as well as the massive responsibility it has to do so, being the only consistent major South Florida music festival for rock amongst other genres.
It’s equally refreshing to see the talent picked was nothing short of the best, and perfect examples of Florida’s diverse genre range, with WD-HAN opening Friday’s festivities on the Tire Kingdom stage.
The stage, while not as big in size as the main Ford stage, is still just as daunting, multiplied by the fact of opening it.
It’s enough to make any new act quiver in their boots, and let fear or stage anxiety run the show.
WD-HAN didn’t let the intimidation stop them, but fueled them; brimming with an infectious energy that wasn’t overdone, but drawing.
The band were nothing short of 100%, held with a chemistry that is both rare and something to behold.
Watching the Tampa four piece, you felt you were part of something special, like you were getting the intimate and rare glimpse into a major band’s starting days, like The Killers runs in the bars of Las Vegas (of which WD-HAN did a beyond beautiful cover of, playing “All These Things That I’ve Done” as if they were doing it on the Glastonbury sized stages the track is usually played at), or AC/DC in Sydney clubs
(coincidentally, lead singer Spencer Barnes hails from Australia).
Combining Neon Trees’ indie electricity and with Angus Young ferocity, it’s a potent mix that was delivered with high-class excellence from drummer Lea Campbell, guitarist Cal Henry, and bassist Abby Winteregg.
The band are surprisingly still unsigned, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the next time the they made a WPB appearance, it would be on the Coral Sky Amphitheater stage.
One of Sunfest’s earlier aforementioned faults, lies in stage distribution.
Where Ultra Music Festival can balance multiple stages and tents within pleasant walking distance of one another, dancing all the way there, Sunfest seems to force you to walk along the waterfront, or run, to catch an act at the JetBlue Stage, located on the very South end of the festival, put almost painfully far from everything else.
In that fault, most bands featured on the stage might be missed, in favor of the more easily accessible Ford and Tire Kingdom stages.
The Joy Formidable were unfortunate victims of this, playing to a crowd the size of Revolution in Fort Lauderdale, at best, when the act can consistently sell out larger venues statewide, and play even larger venues outside of the country, due to the quality level the band exude.
The audience took advantage of the intimate setting, coming out in force to support the spectacular act.
The band’s sonic edge was a perfect compliment of the view, as alluring as the outstretched sunset and geometrically perfect as the skyscrapers that echoed the sound.
It’s impossible to pick a star of the set as each member of the act were amazingly perfect, playing off the other and buzzing like lightning in a literal bottle, leaving the crowd in silent and complete awe during songs, coupled with massive appreciation.
People who hadn’t heard the band, or weren’t too familiar with their stunning catalogue of sound were left definite fans, myself included. The Joy Formidable, we are not worthy.
Every night of the festival had an overlaying theme, which was well orchestrated; tonight’s particular groove at the Ford Stage being EDM, with Sunfest not attempting to be Ultra, but themselves, which is the most important aspect; gifting an outlet to the EDM crowd in WPB (of which there is still a strong following), in the form of Watch The Duck & Steve Aoki closing Friday night.
The festival couldn’t have picked a better opener to compliment Aoki’s following set, not trying to overdo the massive DJ, but instead, give the perfect hype and excitement to the massive and hungry crowd.
Watch The Duck held their own, bringing greatly orchestrated and well done dubs, sustaining the element that’s more precious than a Technics classic turntable, which is the unbelievably and unduplicated feeling of euphoria in watching everyone lose themselves to the music.
And as he exited the stage, giving way to Aoki, the feeling intensified.
Aoki’s podium is a monolith to everything he’s accomplished both professionally and creatively.
Dancing a line that only Tommy Sunshine has only ever really been able to hold (and still does), Aoki is loved in every genre, from pop to rock, rap and back to dance, because he loves them. His label, Dim Mak Records, is a testament to the acts that don’t make it to Ultra’s label, and maybe better so, as Dim Mak’s signers seem to have the greatest fun in a genre that can sometimes, oddly, take itself a bit too seriously.
EDM’s purpose has always been for one thing which is to break the boundary between your soul and the music. Giving freedom to those who might not otherwise share it, it’s what makes the genre so exhilarating to behold as there is truly nothing like it.
And as Aoki took the stage, you saw it forming, the crowd growing in noise and movement as he spun a set to remember, paying homage to the Purple One as he started with “Let’s Go Crazy”‘s intro.
Artfully combining popular tracks amongst deeper trance cuts, with splashes of dubstep, and even a salsa-esque tune joined by visuals of little Steve skeletons wearing sombreros (one of the many great visuals of the night), there isn’t a doubt that he is one of the undisputed masters of his craft, not only due to the broadness he is unabashed in covering (I can honestly say I never thought The Lion King’s opening theme or Titanic could actually successfully be made into dance tracks without energy coming to a grinding halt but you could only laugh at the outrageousness of it, while being unable to keep yourself from dancing), but going back to the exact element mentioned before, freedom.
Aoki has never lost the kid inside him, who was in that crowd at one time, dancing until the sun came up as the bass beat went perfect with a heartbeat, or the person you’re with.
It’s an element that was even more awesome to see in the diverse age ranging crowd, as I saw a Mother & Father dancing with their 10 year old son, who was jumping with his parents.
This is what makes the genre so magical, and what quashes the stereotype that it too often gets holed up in. That regardless of sex, age, gender; whether you can dance or not, there has never been a barrier or restriction. You don’t even have to know the DJ playing that night, or the next.
It’s the feeling that you can melt away your problems and stresses in the sparkle of the dance floor.
And Aoki hit all the right notes, resulting in a crowd that was something to behold, and even wowed the DJ, incredibly grateful for the audience participation of his last night in the states, squeezing in as many songs as he could before the curfew.
And as he delivered his signature cake to the face of a lucky bystander, and a “Thank You West Palm Beach” message displayed on screen in neon green letters, it’s a fitting way to close out. A little bit of sweetness amongst the chaos of life, even for just a moment.