Wonderfront music fest on San Diego Bay postpones 2020 edition, will return next year

The Wonderfront Music and Arts Festival, seen here at Embarcadero Marina Park North, has canceled its 2020 edition, but organizers say it will return in 2021.
The Wonderfront Music and Arts Festival, seen here at Embarcadero Marina Park North, has canceled its 2020 edition, but organizers say it will return in 2021.
(Howard Lipin/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

The wildly ambitious Wonderfront Music & Arts Festival, which debuted last fall at multiple outdoor stages alongside San Diego Bay downtown, has postponed its 2020 edition because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The three-day event drew 57,000 people to its inaugural edition last November and its producers promptly confirmed a second Wonderfront festival for this fall. Instead, it will resume next fall, according to Wonderfront co-founder Ernie Hahn II, who is also the longtime general manager of the San Diego Sports Arena (now known as Pechanga Arena San Diego).

“We decided to postpone within the last week or so,” Hahn said in a Thursday afternoon phone interview with the Union-Tribune. He co-founded Wonderfront with Paul Thornton, a veteran Austin-based festival producer. The two are now planning next year’s edition, after determining it would not be feasible to stage the festival in 2020.

“Everybody is gridlocked and nobody knows what they can and can’t do,” Hahn said. “So we’ve known for a couple of weeks that we would head in this direction. I didn’t want to wait any longer to let everyone know our decision to wait until next year.”

Wonderfront was produced last year in collaboration with a number of partners and sponsors, including the San Diego Tourism Marketing District, which contributed $500,000 for last year’s edition, and the San Diego Unified Port District.

It also boasted four investor/ambassadors: vocal star Miguel, who performed at Wonderfront last year, and San Diego sports legends Trevor Hoffman, Rob Machado and Tony Hawk. All of them will be back on board for next year’s festival, said Hahn, who believes the festival will benefit from the 18-month delay brought on by the current pandemic.

The announcement about this year’s edition comes one day after the San Diego Symphony announced it was canceling its 2020 summer concert season at its new $45 million outdoor venue, The Shell, whose July 10 opening has also been pushed back to next year. Meanwhile, the producer of the KAABOO San Diego music festival — which was set to debut at Petco Park in September, after five years in Del Mar — disclosed on Tuesday that he will determine by June 15 whether this year’s KAABOO will go forward or be postponed or canceled.

“We want to make sure people feel safe and secure when we resume,” Hahn said. “And nobody knows what ‘the new normal’ will look like for events at the arena over the next six months or festivals. We’ll know a lot more in the future, obviously. But for Wonderfront, having 18 months to work on next year’s edition is a lot better than having five or six months this year before the new norms emerge. When they do, we’ll be up to the task.”

While the vibe of the festival will be much the same, there will be some changes, starting with its footprint along the downtown bay.

Seaport Village, which housed one of the festival’s largest stages last year, will not be involved in next year’s edition — a decision Hahn attributes to parking issues and logistical complexities with existing businesses at the site.

Instead, the 2021 edition of Wonderfront plans to expand to Embarcadero Marina Park South, where it will feature music at the San Diego Symphony’s new year-round concert venue, The Shell. The festival will also add temporary docks for water taxis, so that attendees will have more options for going from stage to stage between the Broadway Pier and Hilton Bayfront Park.

“It’s more important for us to get it right in the long term than in the short term,” Hahn said. “In the meantime, we’ll be working with the port and local authorities. And when things open up a bit and opportunities come this fall, it’s certainly our plan to do events with emerging artists downtown and around the the bay. We’ll have to see, because we’re waiting to see how everything plays out.”