Among the safer bets on any given year at SunFest is that executive directorPaul Jamieson will be nowhere near Flagler Drive when the gates to the annual outdoor music festival in downtown West Palm Beach first open. It’s not the potential bustle that keeps him out of sight.
In fact, it’s just the opposite.
“Everybody who works here has recurring dreams,” Jamieson says. “Mine is that we open SunFest—and no one has come. I have this dream every year. So on the first day, after the gates open at 5, I won’t walk the grounds until after 7—because that’s my dream. If I go early and see no one there, I’ll be like …”
Jamieson feigns a bout of hyperventilation.
Given the weighty expectations on SunFest to produce year after year, it’s not hard to see why Jamieson’s subconscious kicks into overdrive come late April. As this year’s five-day event unfolds (April 29 to May 3) with one of its most star-studded lineups in the festival’s three-decade history, consider this: Unlike organizations that run year-round, SunFest has a combined 36-hour window to do its business.
Come rain or shine.
“My dad, before he died, came out to the festival for the first time,” says Jamieson, a native of Cook County, Ill. “He took a look around and said, ‘If it rains, you’re really screwed.’ Leave it to Dad to be here two minutes and put it all in perspective.
“Yes, we live in a much riskier world compared to entities that are open all year. The pressure to perform is enormous.”
For the past 20 years as executive director, Jamieson, along with a dedicated team of full-time staff and volunteers, has turned risk into reward in more ways than one. Last year’s attendance of 175,000 included people from 43 states and 23 foreign countries who traveled to South Florida just for SunFest. The estimated economic impact from that influx? Approximately $15 million.
Along the way, SunFest has managed to nurture its community roots—among the some 2,000 volunteers are locals who’ve been with the event since its inception (in 1983)—while emerging as a heavyweight music festival with national cachet.
“Our budget for talent alone has increased by $1 million since 2012 [to $2.5 million, part of a $7 million overall budget],” Jamieson says. “We’re not a Coachella or Bonnaroo, but we’re right there. We’re in the major leagues.”
To read the full story, pick up the May/June issue of Boca Raton magazine.