Wonderfront: What attendees liked, loved and loathed at this year’s festival

Festival-goers at Wonderfront Music & Arts Festival enjoyed performances by Miguel, Common Kings, Pepper, Lil Baby and more, along with art installations, brand activations, skateboarding and more on the weekend of Nov. 22-24.
Festival-goers at Wonderfront Music & Arts Festival enjoyed performances by Miguel, Common Kings, Pepper, Lil Baby and more, along with art installations, brand activations, skateboarding and more on the weekend of Nov. 22-24.
(Isiah Jones)

Hear what people think Wonderfront got right — and wrong — during its first year


As Wonderfront came to a close on Sunday night, some festival-goers spoke with PACIFIC about the highs and lows from their experience at the debut event.

Rachel Wolff, 30, rode a Lyft to the festival from Ocean Beach with her friend Leanna Stickel, 38. After a jam-packed day watching artists, the pair relaxed on a picnic bench at Embarcadero Marina Park North while listening to Manchester Orchestra on C3bank stage.

As a self-proclaimed lover of all music genres, Wolff bought a three-day pass. Wolff loved the diversity of the lineup and enjoyed a majority of the performances, especially Big Wild’s EDM set. Stickel admitted she was a little more closed-minded when it came to music taste, so she opted for a single-day Sunday ticket to see acts like Walk The Moon.

Though the pair enjoyed the music, Wolff shared her thoughts regarding an element she thought was lacking.

“There could have been more art — I wish there were more installations,” Wolff said, pointing out that the debut event did advertise itself as Wonderfront Music and Arts Festival. But overall, she was impressed with the event, noting she liked how organizers set up the stages and utilized the bayfront.

“I loved the way they embraced the space, and didn’t mind walking,” Wolff said.

But not everyone liked the festival layout. Jeff Smorgs, 30, enjoyed a quick bite before Guitar Legends with his friend Joe Cale, also 30. While Smorgs is a Pacific Beach resident, Cale flew down for the festival from Hartford, Conn. For them, the distance between stages proved to be a problem. Like Wolff, one of the biggest draws for Smorgs and Cale was Big Wild — but they almost didn’t make the show.

To get there, the friends tried to utilize the many transportation options offered, with little success. They waited 15 minutes to get on a boat, but couldn’t get a clear answer from event staff on whether the larger ship or a smaller water taxi was on its way. When the 25-person vessel pulled up, there were too many people in line for the two of them to fit.

“Then we tried to do a Bird (scooter) instead of the water taxi, but it was a non-rideable area, so you couldn’t take a Bird,” Smorgs said. “So we took a trolley — the trolley made a wrong turn and we almost missed Big Wild, which was almost terrible.”

Another drawback?

“The drink prices were too expensive,” Cale added. “One drink, 12 bucks cheapest? And an IPA 16 (dollars)? And I also don’t like the premixed drinks. For a $200 ticket to pay $16 for a drink is a lot of money.”

Despite the distance and drink prices, Smorgs said he would come back next year if the lineup was better. Depending on what acts Wonderfront books, and when each artist plays, he would consider getting a one-day ticket instead of a three-day pass. Cale said he would return if he lived locally, but likely won’t make the trip back to San Diego just for Wonderfront.

Hunter Adams and Hannah Sawatzki, both 25, relaxed nearby in the Aperol Spritz lounge, decorated with lots of greenery and an orange Instagrammable swing set. The couple live across the street from Wonderfront on Pacific Highway. After peeking through the fences in Seaport Village to watch MGMT on Saturday night, they decided to experience the festival up close and bought single-day wristbands for Sunday.

Adams and Sawatzki didn’t mind the distance between stages, but added that they were used to walking as downtown residents. In between sets, they utilized the re-entry perk and swung by their apartment to grab more drinks and food. They both agreed event organizers nailed the location and vibe of the festival.

“(Wonderfront) didn’t feel super corporate or super exclusive,” Sawatzki said. “I feel like so many festivals these days are all about selling out VIP passes and making it so only their VIP guests can see certain things.

“But every single show we’ve been to we’ve been able to see the artist and walk up and get a good spot,” she continued, listing Tribal Seeds, Manchester Orchestra, Lil Dicky and Donavon Frankenreiter as a few of the acts they heard on Sunday.

“This lineup — it’s the first year — it’s not the craziest lineup. If it goes a second year, I’d imagine it’d be way more impressive,” Adams said. “But (Wonderfront) is amazing as is, the way they utilize all the different cool spots of (San Diego).”

Overall, Wonderfront seemed best suited for locals — the more local, the better — and less likely to draw an out-of-town crowd. Though many liked the music, downtown location and coastal layout, in order to commit to coming next year, they’d expect more art, more reliable transportation and a more impressive lineup.

Your move, Wonderfront.