Wonderbus brings live music back to the streets of San Diego
The city’s newest entertainment venue is a double-decker bus, which serves as a mobile and socially-distant concert format
COVID-19 has nearly decimated the live music scenes in cities across the country, including in San Diego. But starting March 17, Wonderbus hopes to change that.
Wonderbus is a “concert on wheels” initiative that aims to bring live music back to the city.
The new entertainment concept transforms a double-decker bus into a mobile music venue. The top level is a fully-functioning stage — which is high enough for audiences to watch free performances from the street. It also has a sound system, drum kit, drum riser and in-ear monitors for performers, while downstairs houses a VIP section with a cocktail bar and flat screen TVs.
When traffic is at a safe speed or at a complete stop, the bands will play music on the top of the double-decker bus for local passersby along PCH and throughout Gaslamp. It will also pull over at designated spots to perform short sets. All COVID-19 protocol, including wearing masks and social distancing, will be required — or the bus will drive away.
“Unlike most stages, our stage can leave on the push of a button,” said organizer Ernie Hahn.
Hahn, one of the creators of Wonderbus, is also chairman of the board of Wonderfront Music & Arts Festival, the three-day entertainment event that debuted in downtown San Diego November 2019.
Wonderfront’s second installment, slated for November 2020, was cancelled due to COVID-19. The festival cancellation left Hahn — who is also the senior vice president of Pechanga Arena San Diego, with some extra time on his hands.
Hahn had been toying around with the idea of this “concert on wheels” for more than a year, but began exploring the concept more seriously in 2020. With all of the music venue closures and event cancellations, he saw local bands — and those seeking live entertainment — hurting during quarantine.
“The bands want to get out, they want to play, they want to get local, they want to see their fans, they want to engage — but they can’t,” Hahn said, adding that he didn’t see the rise of livestreams as a sustainable way for bands to connect with their audiences.
With the help of title sponsor Infinium Spirits, Wonderbus begins a surprise soft launch in North County and downtown San Diego. In honor of St. Patrick’s Day, Wonderbus has scheduled two Irish acts to perform: Lexington Field and L.A.vation.
“We want to showcase these live local bands, and we want to bring music to the people,” Hahn said, noting he hopes Wonderbus will draw attention to the music groups as well as energize the San Diego community.
Lexington Field, a fiddle rock group from San Diego, will kick things off from about 2 to 4 p.m. in Encinitas, cruising along the Pacific Coast Highway from Encinitas to Del Mar. Then Wonderbus will make its way down to Gaslamp, where L.A.vation, a U2 Tribute Band from Los Angeles, will play from 5 to 8 p.m.
Moving forward, Wonderbus will travel all over San Diego, including East and South County, with the possibility of future trips across the border to Mexico.Hahn says he anticipates Wonderbus will run weekly, Friday through Sunday, for approximately three to four hours a day.
Like Wonderfront Festival, Wonderbus plans to showcase a wide variety of genres, including Latin, country, indie-pop, rock and reggae. Its goal is to represent all of San Diego County’s regions and the people who live there.
So far, three local bands — The New Locals, Valiant Watts and The Aquadolls — are confirmed for future performances. All bands are booked by Chad Waldorf, Belly Up Tavern’s talent buyer.
“In the end, I think we’ll have probably one of the most comprehensive lists of local bands,” Hahn said, adding that San Diego bands who want to perform can submit a request online.
Hahn envisions Wonderbus Entertainment growing into a fleet of busses, hosting pop-up concerts and offering opportunities to rent for special events. And though Hahn is excited about future growth, its San Diego roots are still the top priority.
“The music engine behind this has traces and leads right back to Wonderfont — we are your local festival that cares about everybody here in San Diego,” Hahn said, adding that the Wonderfront Festival team is working their hardest to bring the local event back in November 2021.
“But in the meantime — let us bring the music to you.”
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