SunFest opening day not sunny

— A sun-fest it was not.

"A line of thunderstorms," said the CBS-Channel 12 news anchor at noon. The screen showed a menacing yellow blob the length of Florida. "It is headed our way."

The rain had been brewing for days, but the tickets were purchased months ago, the bands were long booked and the vendors busily set up shop. The 31-year-old music festival, Florida's largest on a waterfront, attracts 165,000 people. It is a full-time, year-round operation with 100 corporate sponsors and 2,000 volunteers.


Pictures: Zombie Walk in downtown Fort Lauderdale

SunFest 2013 was happening.

"It's almost on top of us," said Melissa Sullivan, the SunFest promoter.

On the SunFest website, there is a question-and-answer section. One of the questions is: "What happens if it rains at SunFest?"

"If the weather forecast calls for rain, please bring rain gear and umbrellas," SunFest suggests. Tickets will not be exchanged. Fireworks on Sunday may be canceled.

About a third of the people brought umbrellas. Another third chose ponchos. The last third got wet.

One woman, who was among this last group, halted at the edge of the ticket tent. She observed the hopeless absence of shelter on the concert grounds. Then she stepped out, resigned to bathe.

In 2012, an eager line waited along a chain-link fence at the tip of North Clematis Street. When the gates opened, they gushed in and quickly filled the dazzling green grounds of Waterfront and City Commons park. The umbrellas shielded only ultraviolet rays.

On Wednesday, almost no one waited at the gates. The gray sky matched the color of the chain-link fence. The crowd sprinkled through security. The rain gushed onto their heads.

"Did you see that lightning?" Jenn Johnson, 29, of Port St. Lucie, said as thunder clapped. Her favorite band is Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros. The other bands performing on two stages Wednesday were Shatterglass, Roadkill Ghost Choir, AAN and The Smashing Pumpkins.

"I have a young baby at home so this is my one chance to get out," Johnson said. "I've been looking forward to this forever."

The people came in, and the photographers joked that there were 12 people in the audience. (In fact, there were about 200.)

"Shatterglass thanks each and every one of you for standing out in the rain right now," said the Fort Lauderdale-based band's frontman, Zoog. (The etymology of Zoog could not be confirmed by press time.)

The Smashing Pumpkins were scheduled for 8:30 p.m.

Under the awning of a bar on Clematis Street, Gaby Rubio and a friend pulled clear plastic ponchos over their heads.

The rain is "a little bit of a hassle," said Rubio, 16, a Dreyfoos School of the Arts student. "But that's OK. That'll make it more fun. It'll make it more memorable."

Around 6:30 p.m., the sky began to clear. The rain was stopping.

bwolford@tribune.com, 561-243-6602 or Twitter @benwolford