Paul Jamieson is the Executive Director of the SunFest Music Festival and is passionate about promoting a growing community foundation in Palm Beach County. Paul moved to Florida in 1986 where his journey in creating what is now a nationally-recognized music festival began. Originally from Chicago, he now lives in the Historic District of Mango Promenade in West Palm Beach and is proud to proclaim that the vibrancy of this city is what makes him happy to call it home.
Frankee Cuzzola: Please tell our readers a little about yourself.
Paul Jamieson: I moved to Florida in 1986 to be the Special Events Coordinator at the City of Ft. Lauderdale. After two years there and another two with Winterfest (the Ft. Lauderdale Boat Parade), I joined the staff at SunFest as the Event Manager. I then had the good fortune to eventually move to the position of Executive Director. On a personal note I have three grown children who now live in other parts of the country but almost always get back for the festival. I live in a historic home in the Mango Promenade neighborhood of West Palm Beach.
You’ve been the executive director of SunFest since 1996. What are some of the biggest positive impacts you have seen in West Palm Beach in coalition with SunFest?
In that time SunFest has grown from a notable local arts festival to a nationally-recognized music festival. In 2018, we attracted visitors from every part of Florida, 49 states, and 20 foreign countries. Those visitors create a strong economic impact that grows every year. That’s the reason the festival was created and we’re proud to stay true to that mission.
In a less visible, yet no less important way, SunFest has a number of initiatives that create a positive impact for the community. Our current programs include partnering with a number of charities on fundraising opportunities at the festival; offering a college scholarship as part of the Pathfinder Awards;distributing thousands of tickets to underserved audiences and creating a ‘mini-festival’ for special needs children who likely would never be able to attend the actual festival.
When kicking off the event, what are some of the first steps you take?
Planning and producing the festival is a total team effort that is really more of an ongoing process than something that has a ‘first step.’ We have a base of about 150 volunteers who are active year round as well as a full time professional staff of ten people. Things that need to be done differently or better are apparent to at least someone in this group before, during or after the festival. My job is mainly to prioritize and get everyone on the same page.
When building the event, what is your main focus when you begin to create the lineup?
Building the lineup is something that happens over a six month period and to a very large degree is based on who is available to us. Many performers are neither working nor plan to be in this part of the country on the festival dates, so it’s always a ‘do the best with what we have’ situation. That’s why the festival may take on some different characteristics from year to year. We really do try to make everyone happy, although we know that’s not at all possible.
What have been some of your favorite performances?
I have an affinity for performers who really put everything they have into providing a great experience for our patrons. Names that pop into my head come up across all genres from Jackson Browne to Nelly, Lindsey Sterling to Marshmello, to a Damien Marley and Nasshow on one scorching hot weekend afternoon. As you can see, my tastes are all over the place.
What is your favorite part about building SunFest?
The people. Patrons who come to enjoy the live music and the volunteers who put their lives on hold to make the festival a reality. Imagine working with a group of people who are doing what they do simply because they love to do it. Not many people can say that about their jobs.
How do you manage or accommodate last minute changes, for example, if an act has to drop the show?
We’ve been fortunate with very few cancellations over the years, but it does happen. Performers can experience the same things we do – they may become ill or get hurt or have some other type of emergency pop up. You try to do the best you can to replace the cancelling act with something that is similar but that’s not always possible. A few years ago we had to replace ZZ Top at the last minute and the best we could do was O.A.R. Great band, who did a great show, but it was not quite what classic rock fans were looking for.
What do you think makes SunFest different than most music festivals?
Three P’s. People – our volunteers give the festival a grass-roots community foundation that not many major music festivals can match. Price – what we offer at the price we charge is, by the standards of major music festivals, ridiculously inexpensive. Place – the downtown waterfront is as beautiful a place as any music festival can call home.
Can you give our readers a taste of who might be performing this year?
I can only say that we’re happy with what we have so far and are working hard to complete the full lineup. We do plan to announce in mid-January rather than mid-February so you won’t be in suspense that much longer.
Paul Jamieson, what do you love most about West Palm Beach?
Being originally from Chicago, the weather and tropical vibe are hard to take for granted though it seems expected from the Sunshine State. So when I look at West Palm Beach by comparison to other cities in the state, I connect and love the vibrancy it has. That’s created by the great people who make unique businesses and call this area home. I’ve had the good fortune to meet so many of them. So, people (yet again) has to be my number one.
For more information about SunFest, please visit SunFest.com
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