Sunset Cove Amphitheater

Published on August 10th, 2014

sunset cove

sunset cove, aeg live, purehoneyA Sanguine Summer for Sunset Cove

Back in 2008, Boca Raton already had an amphitheater to accommodate national touring acts—a 4,200-seat entertainment anchor in Mizner Park. But at the time, the Mizner Park Amphitheater wasn’t living up to its potential; aside from a fertile week every March for Festival of the Arts Boca, it sat dormant all too often.

Enter a second Boca Raton amphitheater, Sunset Cove, a hidden gem tucked inside Burt Aaron South County Regional Park, in the remote wilds of west Boca. The Sunset Cove Amphitheater opened quietly in 2008, but it wasn’t until a year later, thanks to a $61,000 upgrade in rigging for lights and sound, that it became a destination for midsize (and sometimes larger) touring bands. Combining the spacious outdoor ambience of the Cruzan Amphitheater with the relative intimacy of the Fillmore Miami Beach, the 6,000-capacity space has opened its proscenium to acts as varied as the Zac Brown Band and Tegan & Sara, Willie Nelson and Kendrick Lamar.

Five years later, community events like the city’s Fourth of July fireworks extravaganza share stage time with major acts like these, and Sunset Cove is now recognized as one of the tri-county area’s premier venues. “First and foremost, the vibe of the venue is really fantastic, being outdoors, set right on the water, out in the county park system,” says Ethan Levinson, a talent buyer at West Palm Beach’s AEG Live, which books concerts at the amphitheater. “It’s a really great place to have an event. Fans love seeing shows there, and bands really enjoy playing there.”

And these days, there seems to be a particular kind of band that is most attracted to Sunset Cove Amphitheater: acts that straddle the nexus of rock, reggae and jam music. “The reggae-rock bands like Sublime with Rome, Slightly Stoopid and Rebelution, who we have there regularly, give a beachy, Florida-esque vibe, and being outdoors definitely makes a lot of sense for those shows,” Levinson says.

To that end, Sunset Cove’s summer concert series will feature a flurry of like-minded acts prone to attract like-minded audiences. The most prominent is probably 311 (July 26), the best band ever named after a Nebraska police code for public lewdness. The Ohama group’s commercial success peaked with its 1995 self-titled album, a triple-platinum classic whose CD version has likely been used as a makeshift dorm-room coaster in any major university. But these hard-touring reggae-rock stalwarts have maintained a cult fan base ever since, across seven more albums that experiment with funk rock, rap metal, jazz fusion and other genres. Its latest release, Stereolithic—with its album art conjuring the ominous monolith in 2001: A Space Odyssey—has been called its best album in nearly a decade, and is the group’s first release since 1991 to eschew major-label support.

sunset cove, aeg live, purehoney, lindsey stirlingThree days later, on July 29, guitarist Michael Franti and his band Spearhead will ply a similar sonic terrain, combining hip-hop, reggae, funk, folk and rock into an agreeable, festival-friendly cauldron. Franti’s music with Spearhead is infinitely more accessible than his late ‘80s stint in the industrial punk act The Beatnigs, but his passion for social justice remains apparent in his music and lyrics; an outspoken advocate for peace in the Middle East, he’s one of the few western musicians to book concerts in the Gaza Strip. He’ll be joined on this tour by the reggae-centric acts SOJA and Trevor Hall.

On August 16, Slightly Stoopid will make its semiannual pilgrimage to the amphitheater. Musical kin to 311, the octet was discovered in high school by that band’s guitarist, Bradley Nowell, and few Florida summers haven’t included a major Slightly Stoopid tour since. This year, the easy-listening reggae-blues rockers will headline the “Summer Sessions” tour and will be joined by two acts that have headlined mid-size venues on their own: Stephen Marley and G. Love and Special Sauce.

The odd woman out in Sunset Cove’s summer schedule is the musician who kicks everything off, on July 5. Lindsey Stirling, the YouTube celebrity turned America’s Got Talent quarter-finalist, has virtually created her own genre of classical dubstep, with her plaintive violin virtuosity adding an organic dynamic to her Top 40-ready electronic dance music. Her recent set lists have included most of her chart-topping new album Shatter Me, along with covers ranging from John Legend’s “All of Me” to a “Legend of Zelda Medley.” What Stirling shares with these reggae-rock acts is, perhaps, a vibe of casual, laid-back optimism, albeit with a dancier backbeat. As AEG’s Levinson puts it, the audience for Sunset Cove’s summer concerts “comes out to party. They come out to have a good time. It’s almost not about hearing your favorite songs. For these surf rock shows, it’s the atmosphere, it’s the vibe—you know all your friends are going to be there, it’s going to be a good time. Florida caters to that vibe very well.”

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~ John Thomason