Wonderfront music and arts festival to debut in San Diego, with backing from Trevor Hoffman, Rob Machado and Tony Hawk


Wonderfront, an ambitious new bayside music and arts festival, will debut the weekend of Nov. 22-24, and sports legends Tony Hawk, Trevor Hoffman and Rob Machado have signed on as participants, investors and event ambassadors.

Performances will take place on six stages, located on and around San Diego Bay. The talent lineup of about 80 acts will be announced in late April, with three-day passes — around $225 each, with VIP packages priced higher — set to go on sale in May. Daily attendance for the all-ages festival is capped at 30,000 per day and large water taxis will transport attendees between the event’s two most distant waterfront stages.

The producers of the multi-million-dollar Wonderfront hope to fill the void left by the demise of San Diego Street Scene, the homegrown music festival that debuted in 1984 and became a major draw for local and out-of-town music fans alike.

That goal is shared by the San Diego Tourism Marketing District, which is kicking in $500,000 in underwriting for Wonderfront, and by the San Diego Unified Port District, which is providing value-in-kind support and providing free office space.

“It’s nice to have a little skin in a game,” said Major League Baseball Hall of Famer Hoffman, who was a star relief pitcher for the San Diego Padres for 16 years. “More than anything, it shows a commitment that we want to see this become a successful annual event and put some money where our mouths are. It’s important to have guys who live here — like Rob, Tony and me — be part of it.”

The Wonderfront lineup will mix national and international bands and solo acts with local and regional acts covering an array of musical styles, ranging from rock, Latin and Americana to reggae, hip-hop and EDM (Electronic Dance Music).

The festival’s Broadway Pier stage will be jointly programmed by three of San Diego’s leading music venues — the Belly Up, the Casbah and the Music Box. Another, yet to be designated, stage will present music performances free of charge as part of Wonderfront.

“I think people will be pleasantly surprised by the caliber of the lineup and the very mindful approach to doing something like this in San Diego,” said Hawk, who will do skateboarding exhibitions on a ramp next to one of the Wonderfront stages.

An avowed punk- and alternative-rock fan, Hawk has suggested some of his favorite bands to the festival’s promoters. He has also contacted some of those bands directly to encourage their participation in Wonderfront.

“This festival definitely isn’t coming from an out-of town perspective,” Hawk said. “It’s coming from true San Diego locals and natives, who want to really highlight what we have as a city, our downtown and bay. I believe in this project and in San Diego as a destination, so I am excited to be involved financially as well.”

Surfing legend Machado has also personally reached out to bands he hopes will perform at Wonderfront, and he will promote the festival on his various social media platforms. His Rob Machado Foundation, which champions clean drinking water and reusable water bottles, will have a visible role at Wonderfont.

“It’s almost like a selfish act — bringing some of my favorite acts to play at the festival,” said Machado, who predicted he’ll join in some wake-boarding demonstrations on San Diego Bay during the festival.

“I played with one of my bands at one of the last editions of Street Scene and it was such a neat event in downtown San Diego. I was bummed to see Street Scene end, but Wonderfront takes it up to another level by 100.”

The festival is designed, in large part, to help generate revenues for downtown San Diego restaurants, bars, hotels and other area businesses at a time of the year when tourism and conventions tend to dip here. Wonderfront attendees will be able to come and go as they please, which should help encourage patronage at nearby downtown restaurants and bars.

Wonderfront is the joint creation of Ernie Hahn II, the longtime general manager of the San Diego Sports Arena — recently renamed Pechanga Arena San Diego — and Paul Thornton, the founder of the Texas-based Tag Presents. Thornton’s company has produced ESPN X Games Austin and Fan Fest Austin.

Wonderfront will be an expensive undertaking, with Hann placing the festival’s budget as being “in the high seven figures, if not eight.” He and Thornton began preliminary discussions about the festival nearly a decade ago.

“We spent a few years looking at various sites,” Hahn recalled, “including Camp Pendleton, North Island, Fiesta Island, Balboa Park and more. We did an exhaustive search, in terms of: ‘If you could put on the ultimate festival here, where would the site be?’ We wanted the perfect location.”

“It’s important,” added Thornton, “that we get everything right for Wonderfront’s debut, so that we can set the table for years to come. The weekend right before Thanksgiving is the slowest of the year in San Diego. Wonderfront has the potential to make it the busiest.”

That potential comes as music to the ears of San Diego Tourism Authority President & CEO Joe Terzi and San Diego Unified Port District Board of Commissioners Chairman Garry Bonelli.

“We have committed significant resources to help market Wonderfront as a destination event, mostly in Southern California, but also in Northern California, Arizona and Nevada. I see it as an annual event that will grow tourism in an off-season time and also give San Diego another push as a city that can do credible large events.”

“You can’t ask for a better venue,” Bonelli agreed. “There’s definitely an economic benefit for the port. And, if this really catches on, the more people we can bring to enjoy the bay. I’m very excited.”

The formal Wednesday announcement of Wondefront comes just before Thursday’s announcement of the performance lineup for the fifth annual KAABOO Del Mar festival.

Last year’s edition of KAABOO, a three-day event at the Del Mar Racetrack and adjacent fairgrounds, was the first to sell out in the event’s history. It was headlined by Foo Fighters, Imagine Dragons, Katy Perry and former Led Zeppelin singer Robert Plant.

“I’ve gone every year to KAABOO, and it’s amazing,” San Diego Tourism Authority honcho Terzi said. “I think Wonderfront and KAABOO will complement each other very well.”

Thornton agreed.

“Certainly, we can co-exist,” he said. “I believe the there is a uniqueness in our bay-front location and being able to integrate with the city and all the clubs and theaters we’re going to be working with (for) after-hours (events). KAABOO does a great job featuring for a lot of established career artists for audiences that are a little older.

“Our music lineup is a little broader. Our focus is on career bands who have new music out this year and on great new artists, who are all over the (sales) charts. People know their music, but it may be first time you’ll be able to see them here.”

For Hahn, Wonderfest marks the fulfillment of a long-held goal of his to launch an event that combines broad appeal with a quintessentially homegrown vibe.

He began working at the San Diego Sports Arena in 1991, after his father — Ron Hahn — and a group of investors began a successful effort to acquire the lease to the sprawling venue.

In 1993, he became the arena’s business manager, then its general manager in 1997. he has continued in that capacity since AEG acquired a controlling interest in the arena in 2008.

“Having Wonderfront downtown is special for me,” Hahn said. “Because a big part of the Gaslamp Quarter development, in particular Horton Plaza, was done by my grandpa (developer Ernest Walker Hahn).

“That started the first phase of downtown’s revitalization, followed by Petco Park. At the end of the day, Wonderfront is a a festival put on by San Diegans for San Diegans, first and foremost.”

Twitter @georgevarga