Take more than 180 arts and crafts vendors, throw in a lot of live music and plunk the whole thing at the end of Ocean City's boardwalk, and you've got the popular start-of-fall event known as Sunfest.
Sunfest, which this year runs Sunday, was started by city officials 36 years ago as a way to keep visitors flowing into Ocean City after the summer tourist season ended. It has grown so popular that last year more than 183,000 visitors attended over the course of four days, according to town spokeswoman Donna Abbott. This year, "with the beautiful weather forecast, we expect those numbers to be topped," she said.
The event is known for being a particularly well-organized and attractive venue for arts and crafts vendors, and each year, more artists vie to be part of it. They face a waiting list, which is likely to grow now that Sunshine Artist, a Florida-based magazine that focuses on arts and crafts shows, ranked Sunfest the top traditional arts and crafts show in the nation.
The results were based on a survey of magazine readers, who praised the event and said exhibitors at Sunfest sold more items than at other shows, explained Nicole Sirdoreus, the magazine's editor.
The show is in a "really beautiful location," said Sirdoreus, who also noted that it is easy to navigate.
The show overlooks the ocean at the end of the boardwalk, at Ocean City's Inlet Lot and beach. That means visitors get ocean breezes and views while browsing the booths, listening to live music and enjoying food and drinks.
The beach patrol remains on duty through Sunday, said Abbott, so swimmers can enjoy the warm ocean water, minus the summertime crowds. Food choices include crab cakes, smoothies and fudge. This year, a wine garden has been added.
Also on tap are a dozen artists demonstrating their skills, a roaming clown, inflatable bounce structures and hayrides across the sand.
City officials have the event down to a science after so many years, Abbott said. Parking is only for vendors, but a $2 bus pass provides a day's worth of transportation. Another possibility is parking at the Convention Center and taking a shuttle to Sunfest, for the same $2 fare. Or you can park for free at the West Ocean City Park and take a $1 round-trip shuttle bus.
Sunfest is held rain or shine. Four large tents will be set up — two for the arts and crafts vendors, one for food, and one for live bands. Music will include classic rock, blues, country and Elvis tributes.
Admission is free, except for the headline acts, which start at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Tickets are sold through TicketMaster and at the Ocean City box office at the Roland E. Powell Convention Center.
On Friday, Gloriana will open for country star Phil Vassar. Blood, Sweat & Tears is the headliner Saturday, with former Three Dog Night crooner Chuck Negron as the opening act. On Sunday at 4:30 p.m., Beatlemania Again is scheduled to give a free performance of the Fab Four's greatest hits while decked out in Sgt. Pepper-appropriate costumes.
Sunfest may provide an excuse to visit Ocean City after summer's end, but in truth, no excuse is needed.
"September is really one of the most beautiful months to be in Ocean City," Abbott said.
If you go
The four-day Sunfest runs through Sunday at the Inlet Lot and beach in Ocean City. Admission is free, except for headline acts. Tickets for those are available at the Roland E. Powell Convention Center, 4001 Coastal Highway in Ocean City, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday. Otherwise, call 410-547-7328 or go to ticketmaster.com.
You know the drill — over the Bay Bridge and down U.S. 50. It takes about three hours from Baltimore, depending on traffic.
Since Sunfest is so popular, it makes sense to reserve hotels in advance. Some options:
•The Breakers Hotel, 3rd Street and Boardwalk, 410-289-9165 or 800-283-9165, http://www.ocbreakers.com. Rates start at $149.
•Clarion Resort Fontainebleau Hotel 101st St. Oceanfront, 410-524-3535 or 800-638-2100, http://www.clarionoc.com. Rates start at $219.
For more information about Sunfest, call 1-800-626-2326 or go to ococean.com.