5 insider tips on SunFest crowd navigation, best places to see acts

Updated April 21, 2016

After covering SunFest, that wacky weeklong musical wonderland, for about 13 years, I’m sometimes asked how I manage to hit almost all of the high points over five days, up and down the nearly mile-long festival route on Flagler Drive. The answer: Keep it moving.

Because I’m working, and trying to suck up as much festiveness as I can, I probably move around a lot more than the recreational SunFester, who might come knowing exactly what they want to see and when. But there are times when a lot of those events are, perhaps, at the same time, or relatively far away from each other to the point where you’re afraid of missing something.

Fear not. As a certified SunFest expert, or at least someone who would be certified if such certificates were issued, I’ve got some suggestions for the best places to stand, routes to take and stuff you need to maneuver around and see the most of the best the Fest has to offer.

1. Tire Kingdom Stage: When there’s a time conflict between bands I want or need to see, I’m relieved when at least one of them is on this middle stage, located at the Meyer Amphitheatre. Not only does its central location make it a good home base, but it’s got a good place to stand - the top of the hill on the eastern end of the stage, which is usually behind an arepa stand. If you get there as close to the beginning of the show as possible, you can usually scout a place to perch where you can see the stage over people’s heads. And it’s still on the periphery enough that you can split easily if you need to.

2. Ford Stage: The main stage, at the northern end of the festival site, can be tricky, because the closer you get to the stage, the harder it is to work your way out if you need to. Fortunately, there are lots of screens up, so stay to the edge if you need to get hoofing. I like sitting on the northern wall outside of the Lake Pavilion, because it faces the stage head-on, and is actually a seat. Seats are good, particularly if you need to rest up for your next fast walk down to the…

3. JetBlue Stage: I have joked that the southernmost SunFest stage is located in a different zip code. Or Nebraska. Or Guam. And it’s not - it’s a little under a mile from the Ford Stage, at the other end. It just feels that way. It’s also on the other side of the art show, which means you’re more likely to get caught in a bottleneck of people stopping to admire and buy things, who do not care about your petty scheduling issues. Then again, unless I’m interested in standing up front, it’s one of the easier stages to navigate once you get down there, because it’s by the middle bridge, where the sidewalks curve and provide more clear vantage points. Also, you can always stand on the seawall, which is my preferred route between stages.

4. Juried Art Show: Because there are different vendors and artists there every year, you never know where you’re going to find an amazing piece. This is the one part of SunFest where I absolutely try not to rush, if I’m really wanting to browse. What I do is check the entertainment schedule and pick at least 45 minutes to an hour where I don’t want to see any of the acts, and just mark that off as my art time.

5. Other tips: As I’ve said before, it’s easier to navigate SunFest if you’re prepared. And that means wearing comfortable shoes that you can move fast in, having that SunFest app downloaded to your phone, and carrying only what you need, particularly if you’re planning on shopping. Have the numbers of anyone you’re meeting programmed into your phone, or have a good meeting place and time established in case batteries or reception fail.

Hopefully I’ve helped with some ideas to make SunFest as stress-free as possible. Now I’m off to see about getting an official SunFest Expert certificate made, because I really think I’ve earned it.