LISA CAPITELLI ¦ Assistant Editor
Visitors to the 38th annual Sunfest celebration held Sept. 20-23 in the inlet parking lot check out vendors’ merchandise during the four-day event. Sunfest saw its biggest attendance since 2008, when a total of 194,385 visitors attended. This year’s attendance was 185,016, an increase of more than 30,000 guests from 2011, when rain dampened part of the festival. (Right) Bret Michaels performs last Saturday.OCEAN CITY TODAY/LISA CAPITELLI(Sept. 28, 2012) Four days of ideal weather was a major factor in bringing large crowds to the inlet parking lot for the 38th annual Sunfest celebration last weekend.
Sunfest, the annual fall food and music festival and crafts extravaganza that marks the end of summer, opened last Thursday and saw nothing but sunshine through to Sunday afternoon.
“This year’s Sunfest was terrific from start to finish,” said Donna Abbott, Ocean City’s tourism and marketing director. “The weather was absolutely spectacular and all of the entertainment was well received. It was also great having our ‘Song of Summer’ contest winner Chuck Conjar on hand to perform his winning song, ‘Ocean City Days,’ at the opening ceremony.”
Sunfest experienced its biggest attendance since 2008, when it drew an estimated 194,385 visitors. This year’s attendance was 185,016, an increase of more than 30,000 guests from 2011, when rain dampened part of the festival.
“It was a really good turnout,” said Tom Shuster, director of the Ocean City Recreation and Parks Department. “The weather was consistently pleasant, sunny and mild. We had four wonderfully fabulous days of weather.”
This year’s event drew more than 180 arts and crafts vendors. Artists’ work is juried in order to offer the best quality. Twelve artists again demonstrated their skills in the midway section of the festival grounds.
Kite are flown over the beach at Fifth Street during the 35th annual Sunfest Kite Festival last weekend, presented by the Kite Loft.OCEAN CITY TODAY/LISA CAPITELLIMore than two dozen vendors were set up in the food tent and commercial and gourmet food merchants were located in the midway area.
Shuster said Sunfest organizers received positive feedback from many vendors. They reported high sales and were pleased with the foot traffic all four days.
Anita Chapman, of Anita’s Country Keepsakes, based in West Virginia, has been a festival participant for about 16 years. She is a self-taught artist, and her husband, Brad, is a wood craftsmen. He builds furniture and she paints it. They featured their furniture as well as wall paintings and antiques at Sunfest.
“We had a great weekend. The weather was perfect with plenty of sunshine and cool breezes,” she said. “There were loads of customers that were excited to see us. It was great.”
Valerie Lynch-Beaudin and her Onóra Island Treasure Boxes company, based in Panama City, Fla., made their Sunfest debut. Lynch-Beaudin and her husband make handcrafted Celtic Treasure Boxes.
“Sunfest is now our No. 1 show in regards to total sales,” she said. “Weather was great, we had a good time, met some wonderful folks and made some money. It doesn’t get much better than that. Looking forward to coming back next May for Springfest and again in September for Sunfest.”
Lucy Wirsching of Pasadena, Md. was also a first-time Sunfest vendor. She thought the venue was a perfect match for her one-of-a-kind driftwood sailboats. She also paints sugar starfish, adorns them with accessories and attaches a magnet and string for it to be hung. Wirsching featured sea glass art on canvas, as well.
“I can’t believe that I have been missing out on a great festival. The music was fantastic, the food was great and the crowd was outstanding,” she said. “Not only did I have immediate sales, I have left the show with custom orders for 23 new boats. The show was a huge success … I must say that it was the most organized show I have participated in.”
The entertainment and headline musical acts were well received, Shuster said.
The Sha Na Na concert last Thursday was close to a sellout with 1,698 people taking in the music. There were 1,611 tickets purchased for Lonestar’s performance last Friday. It was a packed house of 1,769 spectators watching rocker Bret Michaels on stage last Saturday.
In 2010 and 2011, Sunfest was rated the best Traditional and Contemporary Arts and Crafts Show in the country by Sunshine Artist, “America’s Premiere Show and Festival Magazine.” The rankings are based on audit reports, reader surveys and anecdotal reports from participating exhibitors. For 2012, Sunfest has been rated No. 2. The drop could be the result of rain that fell on the 37th annual celebration last year. Overall attendance for the four-day 2011 festival was 154,507, a 7 percent decrease from the 2010 event.
“Everyone was pleased with the way things went [in 2012],” Shuster said. “I think we have a good chance to regain our No. 1 status.”
From 1999, the first year organizers began logging the four-day attendance, to 2012, Sunfest attendance trends were: 179,248, 180,229, 173,469, 183,767, N/A (no attendance taken due to Hurricane Isabel), 180,922, 171,975, 175,195, 183,377, 194,385 and 183,810, 166,386, 154,507 and 185,016.