(Sept. 12, 2014) Ocean City’s largest fall festival kicks off the “second season” in the resort Thursday with four days of arts and crafts, live entertainment, food and family activities during the 40th annual Sunfest.
The festival takeover has already begun in the inlet lot downtown, where giant tents will host more than 300 vendors and food booths selling their wares all weekend long, Sept. 18-21.
Recently ranked No. 1 in Sunshine Artist magazine’s annual 200 best shows list for 2014, Sunfest draws tens of thousands of visitors downtown each year.
“It’s the 40th year so we have a lot to celebrate,” said Jessica Waters, communications manger for the Town of Ocean City. “It’s just something that’s really fun for everyone. No matter what your interests are, you really can find something fun to enjoy at Sunfest.”
“We have some of the favorites returning, but we will have new vendors as well, including in the food tent. There’s always an opportunity to come explore what’s new,” said Ocean City’s Special Events Superintendent Frank Miller.
The festival kicks off its 40th year at 9:30 a.m. Thursday, Sept. 18, with a parade down the Boardwalk from 13th Street to the inlet featuring Stephen Decatur High School’s marching band, cheerleaders and choir, members of the city council and Ocean City fire trucks.
The festival officially launches at 10 a.m. with an opening ceremony and ribbon-cutting ceremony led by Mayor Rick Meehan with performances by the marching band, cheerleaders and choir members, who will sing the national anthem.
Following the ceremony, Rick K & The Allnighters will launch the live entertainment inside at 10:30 a.m., followed by the Recreation Dancers at 12:30 p.m., The Natty Beaux at 2:30 p.m., Frankie & The Pack at 4:30 p.m. and a ticketed performance by The Righteous Brothers’ Bill Medley starting at 8 p.m.
Outside, The Natty Beaux takes the stage at 11:30 a.m. followed by Frankie & The Pack at 1:30 p.m., Rick K & The Allnighters at 3:30 p.m., Teenage Rust at 5:15 p.m. and Jesse Garron’s Tribute to Elvis starting at 6:30 p.m.
Live acts from country stars to 80s tribute bands will entertain Sunfest patrons free all weekend, from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., including a special performance by the Reagan Years to close out Sunfest at 4:30 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 21.
Three ticketed performances will start at 8 p.m. each night, Thursday through Saturday, with The Righteous Brothers’ Bill Medley kicking off the shows with his repertoire of classic soul hits Thursday.
On Friday, country music fans will flock to the stage to see Eric Paslay and Parmalee perform. Then on Saturday, 80’s heartthrob Rick Springfield takes the Sunfest stage to play to a sold-out show.
“We get to host some really amazing talent for our headliners,” Waters said. “We have two country acts and we have Rick Springfield, who any of those 80s fans out there will enjoy.”
Tickets for the headlining acts are on sale at the Roland E. Powell Convention Center box office on 40th Street. Box office hours are 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday. Guests can also buy tickets by calling TicketMaster at 800-551-7328 or visiting www.ticketmaster.com.
Tickets will be on sale on site at the festival grounds during Sunfest on a first-come basis, thought Miller suggests buying them early since the shows tend to sell out.
In addition to live music, hundreds of local, regional and national vendors will be at Sunfest selling everything from jewelry and handbags to ceramics and smoothies. For many, it marks the highlight of their festival season.
“The vendors have voted Sunfest No. 1 because it’s a show that pulls in people,” Miller said. “Hopefully we will have good weather and all this rain will be out of our way this week.”
To celebrate its 40th anniversary, the festival will launch a fireworks show at 10 p.m. Thursday and laser lights shows Saturday night 9, 9:30, 10 and 10:30.
Each laser show is around eight minutes long and features visual lasers, special effects and video projected on a five-story beach ball visible along the Boardwalk.
Sunfest will also feature a special 40th anniversary logo this year.
For children, there will be hayrides on the beach from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. all four days of the festival.
The 39th annual Sunfest scored big, drawing the festival’s largest crowd since 2008 and topping its average attendance by more than 10,000 people. The four-day festival saw more than 186,000 come through its gates.
“It was a beautiful weekend. Attendance was great. Concerts sold,” said Special Events Coordinator Brenda Moore.
“Sunfest is certainly one of our longest-standing events and something that brings out people of all different interests and all different ages,” Waters said. “Whether you like to come for the food or for the live entertainment, or you like to shop the tents, there’s something for everyone.”
Sunfest hours are 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, Sept. 19-21, and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 22.
Because parking is very limited, visitors should consider taking the bus to the festival grounds. The West Ocean City Park and Ride on Route 50, just west of the bridge, provides free parking and a $3 ride-all-day shuttle service to and from South Division Street, a block from Sunfest.
The Special Event express shuttle service will pick visitors up from the convention center, where they can park for free, and take them directly to Sunfest for a $3 ride-all-day fare.
The Boardwalk tram will also be in service during Sunfest with fare running $3 each way.
For more information on bus fares, call Ocean City Transportation at 410-723-1606.
Visit http://oceancitymd.gov/-Recreation_and_Parks/specialevents.html for the full schedule of Sunfest entertainment or call 800-626-2326 for more information.