Palm Beach County’s biggest music festival is just one week away. From May 2 to 6, more than 50 bands will perform on three stages in downtown West Palm Beach. That’s a lot of music, more than even the most hardcore festival-goer can possibly imbibe. With anticipation building, we decided to spotlight the best bands to see.
Wednesday, May 2:
Playing at: 5:15 p.m. on the Bank of America Stage
If previous acts like Wavves and These United States are any indication, it often seems as though some of the best SunFest bands have their worst time slots. The early Wednesday slot is taken up this year by Mean Creek, an acclaimed rock quartet from Boston with a pair of LPs to its credit and a number of Massachusetts music awards. Its music hovers on the rousing edge of fragility and bombast, with intensely personal lyrics that recall Sebadoh’s wounded poetry.
Playing at 8:45 p.m. on the Bank of America Stage
Counting Crows are responsible for some of the most tender and infectious pop songs of the ‘90s, including “Mr. Jones” and “Round Here,” and I still get a little mushy every time I hear “A Long December.” I would expect something like a greatest-hits set from these perfectly inoffensive rockers, but I for one hope to hear live versions of songs on their newly released covers album, which finds the band performing tunes from Bob Dylan, Teenage Fanclub, The Faces and even Madonna.
Thursday, May 3:
The Deep Dark Woods
Playing at: 6:15 p.m. at the Tire Kingdom Stage
Where has this band been my entire life? For me, this may be the most exciting act to play SunFest: an underrated five-piece from Canada that doesn’t need rolling Midwestern hills and valleys to make some of the purest Americana music I’ve heard in a long time. How the Avett Brothers got in rotation and Starbucks and these guys didn’t is baffling. The songs build slowly – rapturously, even – before integrating a wonderful panoply of subtle instrumental complements, including banjo and mellotron. The Deep Dark Woods has already released four albums. Go buy them now.
Playing at: 8 p.m. at the Tire Kingdom Stage
Of course, after seeing The Deep Dark Woods, you should stick around for a rare opportunity to hear a music legend. Hancock’s endless resume speaks for itself, but I’ll try to parse out the best of it: He started out as a part of Miles Davis’ band, ultimately blazing new trails in the “post-bop” jazz sound. At 72, Hancock has released more than 50 albums, including four records in 1977 alone. He is as known for his eclecticism as well as his prolificacy, experimenting with everything from classical to hip-hop, funk to pop, often within the same song.
Friday, May 4
Playing at: 7 p.m. at the FPL Stage
The Los Angeles-based singer-songwriter LP writes music that sounds like it should be played over a “Grey’s Anatomy” montage, if it hasn’t been already. Which certainly isn’t a bad thing — it would mean she has arrived in the adult-alternative spotlight, and she’d make a great opening act for Snow Patrol or Rilo Kiley. In fact, her anthemic songs, which start as ukulele ballads and often build toward a sound that leaves coffeehouse acts in the dust, have already been used in commercials, and she even wrote a hit for Rihanna in 2011.
Playing at: 9 p.m. at the FPL Stage
Despite a paucity of mainstream radio airplay, this Massachusetts electropop quintet has transcended the indie ghetto to carry rooms of just about any size – as many sweaty, arm-flailing young people as can fit in a single space. The band has opened for Muse, and its music has appeared on countless television shows, all on the strength of its stellar 2009 LP “Manners,” which peaked at No. 51 on the U.S. Billboard charts. But hey guys, isn’t it time for a new album already? The group’s sophomore release has been delayed more than once, but look for a preview of it at tonight’s performance. And honestly, since Creed is taking up the Bank of America Stage with its excremental slogs, where else are you going to be?
Saturday, May 5
The Mighty Mighty BossTones
Playing at: 4:15 p.m. at the FPL Stage
These pioneers in the often maligned “third wave ska” movement have received a second life since going on a hiatus in 2003. A lot of people missed them, and the octet returned in 2009 with a well-received new release. If you only listen to the ska purists, you’d be deprived of the crossover hits the BossTones have supplied; if you hear the biggest of which, “The Impression That I Get,” it’s virtually impossible not to dance. And “Someday I Suppose” is a modern classic regardless of genre.
Playing at: 9:30 p.m. at the FPL Stage
To experience the music of Girl Talk is to soak up decades of popular music, all of it refashioned and repurposed by mash-up mastermind Gregg Gillis. The show is basically one hyped-up guy pressing buttons on a laptop, but the result is positively epic, not to mention brazen and unpredictable. It’s a place where Black Sabbath and Ludacris rub elbows – where Jay-Z and General Public converse in visionary ways. At Girl Talk performances, you witness Gillis’ incredible record collection and all the creative ways he slices and dices it up.
Sunday, May 6
The Fab Four
Playing at: 2 p.m. at the FPL Stage
It turns out that SunFest did not save the best for last this year: Sunday is by far the weakest day, and it’s probably missable. But if you do make it out, be sure to come early enough for the Fab Four, one of the day’s few highlights. The Beatles tribute act includes three costume changes and note-for-note renditions of songs from all periods of the Beatles oeuvre. It even features tunes from the band members’ solo projects; “Imagine” and “Band on the Run” are part of its repertoire.
SunFest tickets are $30 for a day pass or $61 for the entire festival. For a full lineup and more information, visit sunfest.com.