In front of the Ford Stage at SunFest early Wednesday evening, Frank Pulles made a promise to his wife, Natalya: They wouldn’t leave this picturesque waterfront in West Palm Beach until they heard Lenny Kravitz sing "I Belong to You," the song played at their wedding.
"It’s a fingers-crossed kind of promise, anyway," says Pulles, 33, of Miami, drawing a laugh from Natalya. "We only came here to see Lenny Kravitz even though we’ve seen him a dozen times."
The couple, who played hooky from work, snagged last-minute one-day passes to the kickoff night of the 31st edition of SunFest. Frank and Natalya clung to the guardrails framing the Ford Stage and resolved to stay until Kravitz sang his last.
At 9:30 p.m., Kravitz granted their wish. Three-quarters into his headlining set Wednesday night, Kravitz, sporting a denim shirt, beard scruff and sunglasses, pressed his mouth to the microphone and sang, "You are the flame in my heart…"
By the time Kravitz closed out his headlining set with the juggernaut 1998 single “Fly Away,” a day of foot traffic and scattered showers had softened the waterfront lawn to sludgy mud. Kravitz stocked his set with full instrumentation, sharing the stage with a pianist, a three-piece horn section and a trio of female backup vocalists.
Kravitz went freewheeling during a 15-minute version of "Let Love Rule," the first single off his 1989 debut album of the same name, tossing the song over to his band, which took turns blasting saxophone and trumpet. For “Always on the Run,” another 1990s single, he dialed back the song's length to a modest six minutes.
Fans showed up early to see Kravitz. By 5:45 p.m., revelers in bikinis, T-shirts and neon-green sunglasses shuffled in through the Clematis and Evernia streets' entrance gates, spreading their beach chairs and wares on the lawns near the Ford Stage. They also came in anticipation of the other headliner that night: Wilco, led by frontman Jeff Tweedy, on a break from touring with his son, Spencer.
SunFest's first act of the night, Yardij, the nom de soul of 19-year-old Cooper City singer Deja Elyze, took the Ford Stage with a blistering baritone. Sporting a leopard-print vest, a tan bra and a green feather headdress, Elyze barreled through covers of Stevie Wonder's "Superstition," which prompted 18-year-old Tony Dill to start dancing on the lawn with girlfriend Carol Uptervrode, 17, of Wellington.
"311, Damian Marley and definitely Kaskade and Lenny Kravitz. I definitely want to hear 'American Woman.' That's a cover of another musician, right?" says Dill ("like the pickle, 'D' to the double 'l,'" he adds, clarifying the spelling), as Yardij broke into a soft, piano-backed cover of the Who's "Love, Reign o'er Me."
Street parking looked abundant close to 6 p.m., as were spaces in the Clematis Street garage about three blocks west of the SunFest entrance. On festival grounds inside, a semicircle of food vendors lining the fringes of the waterfront filled the air with aromas of skirt steak, chicken fingers and jerk chicken.
But the allure of apple-cider doughnuts and pineapple-chicken curry served in a pineapple was what satisfied Emily Steinman, of West Palm Beach, and her "South African clown" friends Naude Lambrechts, 27, and Mauritz Vys, 27. Lambrechts and Vys came dressed in American-flag shoes, sleeveless T-shirts and comically large American-flag neckties.
"I know, we look Canadian, right?" says Lambrechts, a yachtie who came to see Kravitz, Fall Out Boy, Awolnation and Kaskade. "We're coming in hard, brother, American style. This weekend has so much great music coming. It's going to be huge."
If You Go
When: 5-10 p.m. April 30, 5-11 p.m. May 1, noon-11 p.m. May 2 and noon-9 p.m. May 3
Where: Along Flagler Drive from Banyan Boulevard to Lakeview Avenue on the Intracoastal in West Palm Beach
Cost: $40 per day, $60 for two days, $80 for festival pass