Though traditionalists have generally frowned on the date change, the later Sunfest could ultimately be beneficial to all.
The new Oceans Calling Festival essentially kicked Sunfest out of its traditional weekend on the September special event calendar. With an estimated 40,000 tickets being sold for the three-day event, it’s tough to argue against that decision, as the new concert festival has the potential to be a new annual highlight for Ocean City. This is not to say Sunfest has not been a solid event for Ocean City, but it’s true the event – often seen as an end-of-season cap off – was not known for putting heads in beds and filling restaurants. It was also largely a boost to downtown businesses with minimal effect on the north end at all.
By moving it from the third or fourth weekend in September to Oct. 20-23, Sunfest remains the bookend event it was always intended. It’s just that September now is a solid month for Ocean City. Young families with pre-school aged kids enjoy the town and the special events like WineFest and BikeFest have been popular for years. Add this year’s new multi-faceted AdventureFest (Sept. 19-25) at the convention center and the popular Oceans Calling Festival downtown (Sept. 30-Oct. 2), major events are planned each week of September. In fact, after Oceans Calling comes the always significant fall Cruisin event (Oct. 6-9), the fall home show (Oct. 14-16) and then Sunfest (Oct. 20-23) coinciding with the first of two weekends for the O.C.toberfests.
Ocean City Business and Tourism Development Director Tom Perlozzo outlined the town’s intent with a reimagined Sunfest last week. A significant change is the city will no longer have headliner live music acts with tickets sold at Sunfest. Instead, the plan is to upgrade the free live music offered on open-air outdoor stages possibly on the beach without a tent. New additions this year will include a craft beer garden, fireworks on Saturday night of Sunfest, drone shows, beach bonfires and hayrides. The city envisions Sunfest working with the O.C.toberfest Halloween-style events as well.
Change is tough to stomach for most, but the good news is art and craft vendor demand remains strong with the city’s event despite the date change. Some additions and decisions will be popular while others regretted. City officials seem aware but are willing to accept criticism in the name of rebranding Sunfest to a new audience. Ocean City Special events Director Frank Miller said, “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 …”
It will take time to evaluate whether the city’s move to push Sunfest was a wise one, but we are optimistic the change will ultimately bring more positives than negatives.