OCEAN CITY – The 40th Annual Sunfest attracted record crowds last weekend in Ocean City with spectacular weather topping the list of reasons why.
Sunfest was held last weekend, Sept. 18-21, featuring nearly 300 vendors along with live music, hayrides on the beach and a wide and delicious offering of food. Additionally, for the anniversary event, a fireworks display was held as well as the Beach Lights program.
The event, which once again topped Sunshine Artist magazine’s list for the best festival in the nation, took over the Inlet parking lot attracting a record crowd of over 234,474 people. The festival grounds were bustling with visitors, as attendance was up nearly 47,000 people from 2013, boasting the highest attendance ever and trending way above the five-year average of 175,299.
“We really hoped that the 40th anniversary would be an extremely memorable event and I am confident that those who visited could feel just how special the event truly is,” Ocean City’s Special Events Director Frank Miller said. “We had outstanding vendors, great entertainment, fabulous weather and the largest attendance in the event’s history. It was a picture perfect weekend and an outstanding event for the Town of Ocean City.”
On Thursday’s opening ceremony, the overall success of the event could be felt in the air, Mayor Rick Meehan said.
“The good weather forecast and the fact that we have had a beautiful September in Ocean City everybody was anxious to be here … the crowd was building all throughout Thursday afternoon, you just knew this event was going to be bigger and better than ever,” the mayor said. “The crowds were fabulous. The entertainment was great. Everybody was smiling and having a good time. The merchants were happy. You saw everyone walking with packages under their arms. The food tent, I know talking to some of the purveyors, they had run out of products, so this was definitely a great celebration of the 40th anniversary of Sunfest and it was the biggest and best Sunfest ever.”
Miller cited several attributes to this year’s Sunfest success, starting with beautiful weather and the 10-day outlook leading into the event giving visitors the opportunity for an extended weekend stay.
Also, the Tourism Department’s efforts in drawing visitors to Ocean City for the 4anniversary of Sunfest by focusing advertising in the areas of Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York, Lancaster and Harrisburg, Pa.
Miller furthered the local hotels do their part by not only promoting Sunfest but there was an unusually large number of bus groups coming from hotels to Sunfest this year.
“We had terrific energy going into the event because everybody knew this was going to be a great weather weekend event, so even the vendors coming into the event were excited,” Miller said.
According to Miller on Thursday, Friday and Saturday, Sunfest received a surge of attendees around 11 a.m. coming from all directions. By 1 p.m. on Saturday, traffic entering Ocean City on Route 50 was backed up past Wal-Mart five miles down the road.
“Downtown was utterly packed with no parking available. We had talked to attendees who had walked from 19th Street on the Boardwalk, and the Boardwalk trams were full,” Miller said. “In general, we definitely had people focused on Sunfest. They were there for Sunfest. That is proven by the early influx all three days. People didn’t come just to peruse the town; it was about coming to Sunfest for the most part.”
According to Miller, businesses have reported last weekend being comparable to the 4th of July as influxes of people in town were not dissipating but building throughout the days.
“The crowd would build to the point where … the midway of festival grounds was impassable. The crowds stayed all day, on Saturday especially, all the way through the evening. Even though they were not there for Rick Springfield, they stayed to socialize in the midway area, so the beer vendors and rec boosters saw great results because of that,” he said.
The Comcast Entertainment Pavilion was the venue for the headliner entertainment, where an enthusiastic audience of 1,535 was on hand for the Righteous Brothers’ Bill Medley on Thursday night. On Friday, 1,444 turned out for country superstars Parmalee and Eric Paslay while Rick Springfield entertained a full house on Saturday night.
According to Miller, all three headlining acts made the city’s list of 20 best revenue producing performances with Rick Springfield coming in third place.
Crowds enjoyed additional entertainment, including newSunfest performers the Natty Beaux, The Galaxy Collective, Richie Fields, British Invasion Experience, Bluesman Tom Larsen, Party Like It’s…, Anthony “Swamp Dog” Clark and Mike Hines and the look.
“Overall all three nights were very successful,” he said. “I am very happy with the result of Sunfest overall. To me, it did exactly what Sunfest is supposed to do. It brought heads in beds, it brought a lot of people to town that spent time not only at Sunfest but in Ocean City, and the hotels and local businesses benefited from it. That is what it is all about.”
The special events department was not expecting the numbers seen over Sunfest weekend, Miller said.
“In the 20 years that I have done events, I have never seen such a large condensed crowd in one area that was in the footprint of our festival. The Air Show in 2009 came close. That was always my benchmark in saturation of patrons, but we were far above and beyond that at Sunfest in terms of people in square foot,” he said.
Also celebrating this weekend’s success were the following raffle winners, who were announced at the conclusion of Sunfest 2014, St. Luke’s Church Grand Prize $10,000 was awarded to Lynda Johnson of Ocean City. Knights of Columbus Assembly #2454 2014 Harley Davidson Ultra Classic with Trailer was awarded to Stamislav Zieminski. St. Mary Star of the Sea Parish 2014 Harley Davidson Fatboy with trailer was awarded to Norm Brooks of Delaware, and Ocean City Lions Club 2014 Dodge Challenger R/T Classic was awarded to John Gingrich.
The 25th Annual Spingfest falls on Mother’s Day Weekend, May 7-10, 2015, and the 41st Annual Sunfest is scheduled for Sept. 24-27, 2015.