Wonderfront Festival beautifully displayed San Diego’s diverse music scene against the backdrop of the bay.
San Diego and Southern California are not new to festivals. There is Desert Daze, Stagecoach, Coachella, Kaaboo, and Joshua Tree Music Festival just to name a few. Do we really need another? Of course we do! Enter Wonderfront Festival: A three-day festival boasting 100+ bands across all genres, multiple stages, food trucks, vendors, and even free morning yoga classes. I was looking for new experiences this weekend, and Wonderfront Festival provided plenty of opportunities. From skateboard demos, silent discos in a cruise terminal, bands on boats, to vinyl listening stations. With many vendors providing stylish and comfortable places to lounge, it was effortless to kick back and chat with friends, take in the scenery, or figure out which artist you wanted to see next.
My goal was to see as many artists as I could while experiencing things I never had before. It would be interesting to see how easy (or not) it would be to get around. I accepted the challenge with an open mind and more importantly, an even more open schedule for each day.
I started at Broadway Pier where San Diego band, The Routine played the Belly Up/Casbah/Music Box stage. A sea of flamingo floaties in the audience bounced to the afro-beats and infectious grooves. This funky, fun rock collective are fun to watch perform.
South of Broadway Pier, the two stages set at the end of Embarcadero North had great views from the grassy hilltop or down at stage front. The choice was mine, so I parked myself at the front of Uncle Ed’s Damn Good Vodka stage to hear Common Kings open their set, then moments later, climbed to the top of the grassy hill and soaked in the sun rays, the city skyline and the bay, all without leaving the show. Best of both worlds!
After eating the largest mahi mahi burrito ever, I crossed over into Seaport Village where I sat for about 20 minutes and listened to some vinyl, courtesy of Vinyl Junkies. I grabbed a cocktail, flipped through some crates, found a great 7″ Leon Bridges UK press, slipped on the headphones and sat in my own groove for a bit. After I finished off my paloma, I jetted over to the KUSI stage where Fakear’s booming bass was something fierce! I maneuvered my way through the crowd and got some great dancing in. This was my first encounter with Fakear and his sounds brought world beats infused with dubstep drops and heavy bass. I spoke to a few people here who said they spent the entire Friday at these stages because many of the artists they wanted to see performed here. Next up was Big Gigantic with huge jazzy and funky beats that had the whole crowd jumping. These guys are a must see! It was a dance party and Wonderfont had the hip-hop, beat heavy, EDM music lovers plugged in.
I needed a change of scenery, so I hoofed it over to the SDG&E stage in Ruocco Park where The Vandals were stirring up the audience with their snarky punk and it was just what I needed! I spent some time rocking out along the outskirts of the mosh pit, then walked away shouting “Oi To the World!” with my fist in the air and a smile on my face!
I shot back over to Embarcadero North and closed my night off watching the end of Bob Moses’ performance and the first half of MGMT. Bob Moses surprised music lovers with a cover of The Prodigy’s “Breathe.” A performance I think Keith Flint would have appreciated. I then swayed over to the next stage for MGMT who chose the mellow “The Youth” as their opener. Glow sticks, and flashing lights pulsed throughout the audience as they danced to “Time to Pretend” and waved in the air during “Me and Michael.” I caught MGMT’s last few songs while on the water taxi back to the Broadway Pier. A really cool way to hear the music, see the stage and watch the audience as the boat pulled out onto the water. An experience I have never had at any other music festival.
Sunday was a great way to finish off the weekend. I moved about with ease and spent longer times in each area. I started with Tony Hawk’s Huckjam where he and other skaters tackled the half pipe to live music. Wonderfront opened this area up to the public for a brief time to watch the demo, which brought many curious people in. I decided I would come back here to close the night with Suicidal Tendencies, but before that I had to head back to the main stage to see Busta Rhymes and Manchester Orchestra.
After checking out Manchester Orchestra’s set, I made myself comfortable at Uncle Ed’s Damn Good Vodka lounge for a bit. As soon as I heard that old school hip-hop beat and Busta’s signature quick rhyming skills, I walked to the top of the hill and found myself transported back to the 90’s. Busta Rhymes performance was off the charts! He spoke directly to the audience saying “Everything you hear us do on the radio, and you see us do on T.V. We do it live! We don’t rap over our vocals…” He brought those vocals and a dope vibe that got people bouncing! My favorite performance for Sunday, by far.
The first day had it’s difficulties, but festival-goers, performers and vendors alike held on for the ride, and come the following days, things were much smoother. By Sunday, I was familiar with the layout and moved about with ease. To navigate the 1.3 miles of San Diego’s waterfront, I hit the pavement more than anything, so be prepared to walk. There are plenty of other options to move about with scooters, pedi-cabs, WonderFRED (San Diego’s Free Ride Everywhere Downtown) or water taxis. I recommend the water taxi at least once as it is a great way to see the festival from the water.
I downloaded the festival’s app on my phone and had artist’s schedules, interactive maps, FAQ’s and more at my finger tips. The interface was fairly user-friendly and I was able to favorite the artists I wanted to see and received notifications 15 minutes before they were set to perform. Super handy! Worried about your phone dying? Not to worry! Electric Standard Co. sold portable battery chargers with unlimited exchanges throughout the festival weekend.
I think it is safe to say, Wonderfront Fest, I am impressed! Each day brought improvements on little details that made the festival more fun! This means issues were identified and solutions were found. Pros? So many bands! So much music! Lots of places to sit. Beautiful backdrop of the city and the water. No long lines for food, drinks or bathrooms! Easy entrance and exits for all areas. Cons? Unclear direction for water taxi locations. Slightly too large of a footprint, BUT totally manageable. I’d have to give Wonderfront Fest 4.3 stars out of 5. Impressive for a first year, three-day festival that I can see getting better and better. I will be going again next year, and think you should too!