OCEAN CITY – Despite losing Sunday to weather issues, the later, modified Sunfest last weekend was highly successful, and it appears resort officials are already planning on hosting the annual event on the same weekend in late October next year.
Sunfest was created 47 years ago as a means to extend the summer season and it has accomplished that over the years. For over four decades, Sunfest was held on the third weekend of September and provided a crescendo of sorts for the summer season and a steady decline into the fall and winter months.
However, the season has steadily expanded over the years with other major events filling in the fall weekends. 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 events calendar, back to last weekend, Oct. 20-23, and couple it with the town’s OCtoberfest events and amenities.
The end result was a four-day festival centered in the Inlet parking lot as always, along with numerous other events on the beach and Boardwalk associated with the annual fall OCtoberfest. The decision to move Sunfest back to late October was met with consternation from many traditionalists, but their fears were by and large unfounded as last weekend’s event was highly successful.
Sunfest opened last Thursday morning amid crystal clear skies and warm temperatures for the most part and the crowds began forming early at the various arts and crafts tents, food and drink vendors, the new beer garden added this year and the free live entertainment. The later and modified Sunfest continued to gain momentum throughout the weekend on Friday and Saturday with larger-than-expected crowds.
Alas, Sunfest on Sunday was canceled because of the threat of rain and high winds, but for three days the event certainly appeared to rival the crowds of prior years. Ocean City Marketing and Communications Director Jessica Waters said final attendance numbers were not yet available, but the town expects them to be strong for the first three days.
“Sunfest was fantastic,” she said. “The weather, for the most part, was wonderful and the crowds were as strong as ever. The date change proved to be a positive change as it extended the season, and it did create another weekend for visitors in October. It was amazing to see, regardless of the date, people truly enjoy what Sunfest has to offer – its free music, great food, variety of craft and commercial vendors as well as the added activities offered this year.”
Waters said resort officials including the special events department will review Sunfest 2022 in the coming weeks and months, just as they do all of the town’s special events and make decisions on the dates for next year and beyond. However, with the apparent success of last weekend’s three-day Sunfest, Waters said the early plan is to return the event to the same calendar slot in late October next year.
“As always, we anticipate the evaluation of Sunfest and all of our events for future planning,” she said. “However, our plans are to continue with Sunfest on this weekend, October 19-22, 2023. A few tweaks here and there will improve the experience, but overall, patrons had a very positive experience. Again, bravo to the Special Events team and all of the town departments and vendors who made the event a great success.”
Waters said canceling Sunday of Sunfest last weekend was a difficult decision, but the right one based on the forecast.
“Of course, canceling Sunday was heartbreaking for us,” she said. “The weather is always the one element out of our control, but as always, we have to lean on the side of safety. Although we haven’t had the best of luck this year, it proved to be the right decision.”
Indeed, Ocean City has not had the best of luck with the weather and its special events this year. Ironically, Oceans Calling, a three-day major music festival in and around the Inlet area that ultimately displaced Sunfest from its usual timeframe in the third week of September, was canceled because of the remnants of Hurricane Ian coupled with a classic nor’easter. In that September time slot, Sunfest has been canceled or at least abbreviated in years past because of the weather and storms.
Waters said the decision to cancel last Sunday’s final day of Sunfest was difficult and had to be made quickly because of the size and scope of the event with its multiple tents and other venues. It’s not a decision that can be made hours before, or even on the same day.
“Decisions like these are in the best interest of our guests with winds predicted to exceed 30 miles per hour and causing safety issues,” she said. “There are so many moving parts by our team that needed to be done in advance to ensure a safe experience.”
Again, the decision to move Sunfest back to late October this year was met with heartburn for some, but it was not made in a vacuum.
However, based on the success of Sunfest last weekend, it appears the decades-old event has found a new home on the fall calendar.