OCEAN CITY – Having already been moved back to the third week in October to accommodate other major events in late September, Sunfest promises to retain the traditional elements that have made it so popular over the decades but will also include some new elements designed to expand the demographics.
Earlier this year, the Mayor and Council discussed the fall special events calendar with multiple significant events stacked up in mid- to late-September. Out of those discussions came a recommendation to move Sunfest, a sacred cow of sorts on the September special events calendar, back to Oct. 20-23 this year, a recommendation the Mayor and Council ultimately approved after considerable debate.
It was discussed that having all of those major fall special events stacked up in mid- to late-September created unwieldy logistical issues for the events themselves and the town’s support services such as public works and public safety, for example.
OC Bikefest is scheduled for its usual slot in mid-September. Added to the mix this year in September is the inaugural Oceans Calling event, a three-day music festival that will feature major national recording artists in a festival atmosphere in and around the Inlet beach and on the north side of the pier with the amusement park bisecting it.
As a result, resort officials agreed to move the 47th Sunfest event out of its traditional home in the third weekend of September to Oct. 20-23. It remains uncertain if the event will move back to September in the future, but Business and Tourism Development Director Tom Perlozzo told the Mayor and Council organizers are taking advantage of the change to see if some new, fresh elements can be added.
“We’re trying to re-engineer and reimagine this event,” he said. “It’s an evolving process.”
Perlozzo said one of the significant changes for the later Sunfest this year will be no ticketed concerts or other entertainment at the traditional Inlet venues.
“This particular year we need to make some changes,” he said. “First thing is there will be no ticketed entertainment. We are upgrading all of the entertainment during all four days of Sunfest.”
Perlozzo said Sunfest will include some other shows and entertainment away from the downtown and Inlet beach areas.
“We’ve also incorporated the Performing Arts Center with the event,” he said. “On Wednesday of Sunfest week will be Chicago, the Broadway musical at the PAC. We anchored Sunday with Artrageous at the PAC.”
Another change this year is there will be no large entertainment tent for concerts and other entertainment.
“The outdoor stages will be open-air,” he said. “We also want to take advantage of the beach. We’re going to evaluate that as we move forward. We’re going to evaluate a potentially large entertainment venue using the beach in the future.”
One element of Sunfest that will remain largely the same will be the traditional arts and crafts vendor tents. When the date change was approved earlier this year, there was some concern many of the vendors that return year after year might not come because they are locked into other events on the festival circuit. Perlozzo said pre-bookings for vendors have been brisk, however.
“As we move back in the calendar, we’re going to be using a large indoor space for vendors that we’ve used for many years,” he said. “There were some concerns about the arts and crafts vendors because of the date change, but it currently looks like we’re full.”
Perlozzo outlined some of the changes planned for Sunfest 2022 and the later dates. For example, he said there will be a craft beer garden, fireworks on Saturday night, two drone shows – utilizing two summer drone shows that were canceled because of weather issues – beach bonfires, hayrides and other amenities.
Perlozzo said moving to the later dates allowed organizers to utilize elements of the popular OCtoberfest events. Because of the later dates, Perlozzo said there have been adjustments in the hours for Sunfest this fall. The venues will be open from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., Thursday through Saturday, and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Sunday.
Special Events Director Frank Miller has been working for months on the modifications for Sunfest 2022. He assured the Mayor and Council the event will still have the same look and feel as it has had for decades.
“This event began as an end-of-summer special event to say thanks to the people who came to town all season,” he said. “This event is still going to be that. It’s going to have that same small event feel and the wonderful atmosphere. It’s going to have that familiar feel people have been used to for the last 46 years.”
However, Miller said the tweaks and changes create an opportunity to grow the event in the future.
“It’s also going to have a lot of new components,” he said. “It’s going to be something people aren’t forced to meld into, but something different to choose from. For all of those people who love Sunfest for what it has been all of these years, they will still be able to do all of those things. We’re just adding elements that might appeal to a different demographic for the upcoming 50th anniversary.”
The council voted 6-0 with Councilman Lloyd Martin absent to approve the changes as proposed.