Wonderfront surged Saturday as bigger crowds came to hear Migos, MGMT and more

The Orange County reggae band Common Kings is shown during its Saturday performance at the Wonderfront Music & Arts Festival.
(Photo by Alex Seger / Courtesy of Wonderfront)

The three-day festival picked up the pace Saturday, with strong performances by everyone from Migos and Thievery Corporation to skateboard legend Tony Hawk and Pennywise


Where is the floating casino at the Wonderfront Music & Arts Festival?

Which boat at Wonderfront is offering on-board French toast and mimosas for brunch?

And, for landlubbers, what adjacent park is this sprawling bayside event’s morning yoga session being held at?

These are not the type of questions one expects to address at most music festivals, in or out of San Diego, let alone a brand new one that debuted just two days ago.

But the ambitious Wonderfront Music & Arts Festival stands out, thanks to its panoramic location alongside San Diego Bay and its quest to add a new, water-and-land spin to a national festival market that seems to expand and retract on an almost monthly basis.

Attendance Saturday was over 20,000, according to Wonderfront co-founders Ernie Hahn II and Paul Thornton. That represents a jump of at least 5,000 over the festival’s Friday attendance of 15,000, which Wonderfront’s producers had initially calculated at 20,000 before adjusting the count Sunday morning.

Accordingly, there seemed to already be as many attendees present by late Saturday afternoon as there had been Friday, when the festival’s opening night concluded with memorable performances by Ben Harper and Miguel.

By the time Saturday drew to a close with concurrent performances by top Atlanta hip-hop trio Migos and the neo-psychedelic New York rock band MGMT at Seaport Village and Embarcadero Park North, following a well-attended set by reggaeton star Nicky Jam at Hilton Bayfront Park, it appeared that attendance had nearly doubled from Friday. While there are still some if the growing pains one would expect at a brand new event, the festival generally flowed well, musically and logistically.

“It’s been an amazing first two days, and it grew significantly from one to the other,” an elated Hahn said Sunday morning.

For those (present company included) who had also attended Friday, the festival’s extended footprint — which stretches 1.3 miles along the Embarcadero from the Broadway Pier to Hilton Bayfront Park — was more familiar. So were the challenges of deciding which stage to go to at what time, which ultimately led to either studied or hasty decisions.

To cite one instance, leading San Diego jam band Slightly Stoopid performed Saturday at 6:45 p.m. at Embarcadero Marina Park North, hitting the stage just 15 minutes after Nicky Jam had kicked off his 6:30 p.m. performance a half mile or so south at Hilton Bayfront Park. To make matters more complicated, rap star Vince Staples began his Saturday set at 6:45 p.m. at Seaport Village.

While one could dash between the stages at Embarcadero Marina Park North and Seaport Village, as I did Friday when Ben Harper and Miguel were playing at the same time, dashing to Hilton Bayfront Park was not really feasible. And without a nearby ferry stop, the by-sea-not-land option for those traveling by water between Broadway Pier and Hilton Bayfront Park also was not feasible.

To further compound matters, there was a 7 p.m. Saturday wheels-and-music performance headlined by skateboard legend Tony Hawk, who is both a Wonderfront investor and one of its four all-star ambassadors (Miguel, surfing icon Rob Machado and Baseball Hall of Famer Trevor Hoffman are the other three).

Tony Hawk’s gravity-defying feats

San Diego-bred skateboard legend Tony Hawk prepares to execute a gravity-defying feat Saturday afternoon at the debut edition of the Wonderfront Music & Arts Festival. He also performed Saturday night, with encore appearances scheduled for Sunday afternoon and evening.
(Photo by Alex Seger / Courtesy of Wonderfront)

Of course, the scheduling at Coachella, Lollapalloza, KAABOO and other major festivals also present attendees with multiple choices.

That’s good, because it spreads out audience members at different stages, rather than having all of them try and cram into a single performance area at once. It’s also frustrating: What do you mean I can’t be in two, or three, places at the same time?!

Some of the performances I caught, at least in part, on Saturday ranged from Big Gigantic, Phantogram and Bob Moses to Thievery Corporation, Pennywise and MGMT.

One of the best was by Migos, whose front line of rappers Offset, Quavos and Takeoff executed their intricate vocal interplay with impressive precision. Moreover, where many hip-hop acts truncate their songs live in order to squeeze more hits into their sets, Migos wisely elongated such numbers as “Ice Tray,” “Walk It Talk It” and “Mama Told Me.” By stretching out, the trio and its expert DJ were able to create far more musical and dynamic tension.

Similarly fetching was the opportunity to watch Hawk, 51, and some fellow skateboard wizards and bikers execute gravity-defying feats, at night, to live musical accompaniment by DJ Z-Trip. Billed as “Tony Hawk’s Huckjam,” the gasp-inducing performance was held at the SDG&E “It’s On” San Diego 250 Stage at Ruocco Park, about a five-minute walk north of Seaport Village.

In the case of Hawk, who seemed to consistently skate with more intensity and daring than his younger colleagues, “It’s On” could be his personal mantra. As DJ Z-Trip mixed and mashed up heavy metal and hip-hop classics by Black Sabbath, Public Enemy, Led Zeppelin, Motorhead, the Beastie Boys and more, Hawk earned loud cheers as he skated with increasing vigor. When he wiped out, which he did a number of times, he returned to the skate ramp with even greater determination to top himself, which he also did.

Hawk, a major punk-rock fan, helped curate the performers at the adjoining stage at Ruocco Park. The 31-year-old Orange County band Pennywise followed Hawk with a typically high-octane set that included such pile-driving, hyperactive songs as “I Can’t Believe It” and “My Own Way of Life.”

Prior to performing “Maybe For Today,” Pennywise singer Jim Lindberg made a dedication to the audience of 600 or so. “This is for all the parents who are raising their kids the right way,” he said, “the punk-rock way!”

Punk was M.I.A. during the Saturday evening performance at Embarcadero Marina Park North by Thievery Corporation, which moved with ease from sitar-driven Indian ragas and reggae jams to hip-hop and dance music. Their listeners included San Diego Olympic gold medal snowboarder Shaun White, whose girlfriend, Sarah Barthel, had been on stage a bit earlier as the lead singer in the New York band Phantogram.

Also in attendance was Rob Hagey, the founder of Street Scene, the now-defunct San Diego music festival that reigned from 1984 to 2009 and has been cited by the producers of Wonderfront, KAABOO and CRSSD Festival as a major source of inspiration.

“I’ve never seen Thievery Corporation before,” said Hagey, who featured the band 10 years ago at the final edition of Street Scene but was too busy working at the time to catch them on stage then.

Wonderfront investor and ambassador Rob Machado was also present Saturday. He and his band are scheduled to perform Sunday at 7:10 p.m. at the Broadway Pier. Their set will begin with a film documentary narrated by San Diego basketball giant Bill Walton. It will be shown while Machado and his band play songs by Walton’s favorite band, the Grateful Dead.

Machado’s stage time coincides with other performances Sunday evening by Walk the Moon, Tyga and the Grammy Award-winning narcocorridos group Los Tucanes de Tijuana.

Decisions, decisions!