This Year’s Sunfest 2nd Most Attended Ever, Despite Weather Conditions

This Year’s Sunfest 2nd Most Attended Ever, Despite Weather Conditions
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OCEAN CITY — Despite high winds, heavy surf and a rather dismal forecast, last week’s 41st Annual Sunfest was the second largest in the history of the event and attendance figures approached those of last year’s record-breaker.

In the days leading up to Sunfest last week, the forecast called for classic Nor’easter conditions with heavy rain, high surf, strong winds and coastal flooding in the forecast. While the storm did not live up to the hype, it did cause gray skies and strong winds all weekend, and while it only showered off and on a few times, the weather certainly appeared to threaten attendance.

However, despite the ominous forecast, Sunfest visitors came any way. Actually, they came in droves. When the dust settled and the last of the funnel cakes and deep-fried everything was swept up, the final attendance number for the 2015 event came in at 219,480, which was the second largest attendance number in the 41-year history of the event.

In 2014, Sunfest attracted 234,474, which set a new record and set the bar remarkably high. Despite poor weather, last weekend’s Sunfest nearly approached that mark. At Tuesday’s Mayor and Council work session, Mayor and Acting City Manager Rick Meehan praised Special Events Director Frank Miller and all of the town’s departments for pulling off a near-record Sunfest in challenging conditions.

“Congrats on a terrific Sunfest,” he said. “The weather created some challenges and it was a long four or five days, but the crowds were great and it had a happy ending.”

Miller said the near-record attendance was spurred by an unusually strong Thursday, perhaps because of the deteriorating forecast later in the weekend.

“A lot of this was due to the incredible influx of people who came on Thursday,” he said. “It was not typical. Thursday was more like a typical Saturday. It was incredible.”

The numbers bear that sentiment out. Thursday was the highest attended day of the week during the four-day event last Sunday and was, by far, the largest Thursday in the history of the event. A total of 68,625 attended Sunfest on Thursday last week, with a little over 61,000 on both Friday and Saturday each. Sunday was the least attended day, coming in at just under 28,000.

The second largest Thursday ever was the 46,687 recorded during last year’s record setting event. At no other time ever in the 41-year history of Sunfest did Thursday’s attendance top the 40,000 mark. It’s no coincidence Thursday was the best weather day of the four-day event.

Miller said event organizers coordinated with the various town departments in advance of Sunfest to carefully review the changing forecast.

“Weather will always be a factor in any outdoor event, and coming off an extremely successful summer and a record-breaking 40th annual Sunfest, we had a few concerns about the forecast,” he said. “As long as the event site was not threatened in any way and the situation report showed no risk to our participants and patrons, we chose to move forward as planned. Thanks to our proactive town staff and determined artists and vendors, we were able to accommodate the second largest attendance in the event’s history.”

Miller said the headline concerts each night drew well at the Comcast Entertainment Pavilion. On Thursday, the Tony Orlando concert drew 1,140. Country starts Wynonna and the Big Noise drew the pavilion’s largest crowd of the weekend on Friday with 1,604 in attendance, while ‘90s favorites the Gin Blossoms and the Spin Doctors performed for 1,442 fans on Saturday night.

“We’re extremely happy,” he said. “It was a team effort and all of the town’s departments rallied to make sure it was a great event.”

Meanwhile, various town departments were proactive in helping to ensure Sunfest attendees were dry and safe for the most part. In advance of the storm, the Public Works Department pulled trash barrels from the beach in anticipation of high tides and winds and closed the sea gates along the Boardwalk at each street end. Public Works Director Hal Adkins said this week the department also created a north-south trench along the beach east of the Inlet parking lot in advance of high tides and waves washing into the Sunfest venue.

Adkins said crews also had to remove sand from the tram lanes on the Boardwalk to allow the trams to continue to operate during the four-day event. After the weekend, crews were still removing sand from the Boardwalk.

Last week’s storm, with its high winds and heavy surf, caused some erosion on the beach. City Engineer Terry McGean classified the beach erosion as minor with no damage to the dunes. McGean said he did not anticipate needing any emergency repairs or replenishment, but that was before this weekend’s storms.