This past Sunday, for the first time in quite a long time, Boca Raton was the place to be for South Florida’s music fans. Now in its fifth year, the Sunshine Music Festival (formerly the Sunshine Music & Blues Festival) returned to Boca’s Mizner Park Amphitheater for a full day of conviviality and entertainment.
Everything seemed to fall into place for this year’s iteration of the festival, which was graced with beautiful weather, a strong turnout and a lights-out set from returning headliner Tedeschi Trucks Band.
The proceedings carried an air of familial jam-bandiness that recalled a Grateful Dead concert or a day spent at the Tennessee jam-haven Bonnaroo. The event’s 2018 lineup featured throwbacks from the festival’s first year in Hot Tuna and Galactic, newcomers Foundation of Funk, Medeski Martin & Wood and The Suffers, a bona-fide jam-band legend in Phish bassist Mike Gordon, and of course, perennial headliner Tedeschi Trucks Band.
The only real inconvenience at the event was that the first half of the amphitheater’s grounds at the main stage were occupied by assigned seating. There were simply too many people in attendance to block off such a large area directly in front of the main stage. Throughout the day, fans watched sets on the main stage from behind a block of seats that remained mostly empty until Tedeschi Trucks Band’s headlining set. This led to the second stage being a significantly more spacious and comfortable place to enjoy a show.
Best known as bassist and founding member of the archetypal jam-band Phish, Mike Gordon and his backing band attracted plenty of “Phishheads” to the event, and managed to draw one of the biggest crowds of the day as the last act on the main stage before the evening’s headliner. During his set, which lasted more than an hour, Gordon showed off his exceptional bass-playing abilities, honed over 35 years of touring. He threw a cover of Tame Impala’s “Mind Mischief” into his set that stood out as one of the most fun moments of the day.
Gordon was followed by an hour-long set from Hot Tuna on the second stage, which drew a packed crowd to the grass lot outside the venue’s main grounds. Nestled among trees and surrounded by festival vendors, the atmosphere at the second stage after sundown was relaxed and comfortable, with much of the crowd drifting over to enjoy the blues trio’s performance, arriving almost 50 years after its formation in 1969.
After the crowd had migrated back to the main stage for Tedeschi Trucks Band’s headlining set, it quickly became clear why the project of husband and wife Derek Trucks and Susan Tedeschi has been the headliner of this event for five years running. The Jacksonville-based group just operates on a different scale from the rest of the acts on the schedule, in talent, energy, size and volume, and it was firing on all cylinders on Sunday night.
Each of the 12 band members onstage, from the horn section to the dual drummers to the group’s namesake couple brought something unique to a set that featured covers of bands from Paul McCartney’s Wings (“Let Me Roll It”) to the Allman Brothers Band (“Whipping Post”). Tedeschi is a powerhouse vocalist, but Trucks’ explosive guitar solos, honed during his years performing with the aforementioned Allmans, elevated the group’s set to something special. Though the performers weren’t especially conversational throughout the two-hour set, Tedeschi did take a moment to shout out the group’s hometown Jacksonville Jaguars for their playoff win as the group left the stage following an encore.
On the whole, this year’s Sunshine Festival was well run, well attended and successful in a way that Boca’s small music scene has been sorely lacking. The sound was good at both stages, there were plenty of vendors and bathrooms throughout the grounds, and the crowd was jovial and satisfied at the end of the night. If we’re lucky, the Sunshine Music Festival will be back in 2019 and follow the same formula, because there’s no need to fix something that isn’t broken.