WonderFront festival sets 2022 San Diego bayside return with Gwen Stefani, Zac Brown Band, Kings of Leon
To be held Nov. 18-20 downtown, revamped event is returning with broader musical range and KAABOO-inspired VIP amenities, after a two-year hiatus prompted by the COVID-19 shutdown of live events
Gwen Stefani, the Zac Brown Band, Kings of Leon, Lauren Daigle and Thundercat are among the first batch of artists confirmed to appear Nov. 18-20 at the 2022 edition of the WonderFront Music & Arts Festival. To be held downtown alongside San Diego Bay, the multimillion-dollar, all-ages event is returning after a two-year hiatus prompted by the coronavirus pandemic.
The 2022 lineup also includes such varied artists as country singer Cam, the dance-happy Fitz & The Tantrums, Grammy-winning OutKast co-founder Big Boi and Skip Marley, the 25-year-old grandson of reggae icon Bob Marley.
The talent roster is designed to appeal to a broader range of ages and musical tastes than WonderFront’s inaugural 2019 edition. It was geared more to a younger demographic and did not include such marquee acts as Stefani, Zac Brown Band and Kings of Leon.
The three-day Wonderfront festival, headlined by Ben Harper, Miguel, Slightly Stoopid and several Rock Hall of Famers, will offer boats and water taxis to ferry fans from stage to stage
“I don’t think you can beat the experience we offered on the bay in 2019 with people discovering so many new bands,” said WonderFront mastermind Ernie Hahn Jr. “At the same time, we want to embrace everybody. So, this year’s lineup is the best of both worlds.”
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More WonderFront performers will be announced in May. Tickets will go on sale in April at wonderfrontfestival.com with an expected price of around $300 for a three-day general admission pass and VIP tickets priced between $1,250 and $1,400.
Single-day tickets will go on sale closer to the event weekend, Hahn said, and only if the three-day passes have not sold out by then. An early-bird discounted ticket sale will start next month for anyone who signs up for the WonderLIST on the festival’s website,
A new addition this year will be a limited number of very high-end VIP packages — costing about $12,500 each, or more — which WonderFront is modeling after the VIP packages offered at the now-dormant KAABOO festival, presented in Del Mar from 2015 to 2019.
KAABOO’s planned 2020 move to Petco Park has yet to materialize and there is no indication when, where, or if it will resume. KAABOO has maintained radio silence since a brief online announcement last year that it would return in 2022 after skipping 2020 and 2021. A representative for the San Diego Padres, the majority owner of Petco Park, recently told the Union-Tribune that there has been no word from KAABOO about rescheduling for this year.
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The festival, which was held at the Del Mar Fairgrounds between 2015 and 2019, was supposed to debut last year at Petco Park. Its future is unclear and the San Diego Padres have not heard from KAABOO’s producers
“Our VIP passes will probably be limited to about 1,000,” Hahn said. “Our VVIP passes will probably be limited to 50 and will include downtown hotel accommodations close to the festival, a special concierge, backstage artist meet-ups, culinary experiences, private music performances on yachts, and more.
“KAABOO proved there’s a market for those kind of high-end VIP packages and that people want to spend money on the experience. I also give KAABOO credit for spending a lot of money to bring in high-caliber acts.”
Those acts included the Kings of Leon in 2019 and Zac Brown Band and Stefani (with No Doubt) in 2015.
“Zac Brown was booked for our 2021 lineup, so we just rolled him over to this year,” said WonderFront co-founder Paul Thornton, a veteran festival promoter based in Austin.
“A lot of our 2011 lineup, about 80 percent, rolled over to 2022. And probably 20 percent of the acts we have this year were booked for the 2020 lineup. You have to juggle a lot because different acts have different tour and festival commitments.”
57,000 people at debut festival
WonderFront’s return this November is the belated sequel to the bayside festival’s three-day debut in November 2019. That event drew approximately 57,000 people over three days to hear Ben Harper, Migos, Los Tucanes de Tijuana and more than 120 other music acts.
They performed on multiple outdoor stages. Each was located by the bay between Hilton Bayfront Park to the south and Broadway Port Pier to the north, with the four largest stages at Embarcadero Marina Park North and Seaport Village.
Open-air buses and water taxis shuttled attendees who opted not to walk, while bands signed to San Diego’s Pacific Records performed aboard the 400-capacity Marietta. The taxis and the Marietta will both be in use at this year’s festival, which bills itself as “where the city meets the sea.”
“I’ve been to a lot of different festivals, and this has the most unique setting I’ve ever seen,” said local surfing legend Rob Machado. Along with skateboarding great Tony Hawk and former San Diego Padres’ relief pitcher Trevor Hoffman, Machado is returning as one of WonderFront’s investors and ambassadors.
San Diego surfing legend Rob Machado works toward a better world with his nonprofit foundation and devotion to environmental causes
“I’m super excited that we get to be back outside listening to music and having a good time,” he said in a Thursday phone interview.
Machado’s enthusiasm is shared by Downtown San Diego Partnership President and CEO Betsy Brennan.
“Downtown is thrilled to see the return of the WonderFront festival and the cultural vibrancy it brings to our city,” Brennan told the Union-Tribune via email. “It’s hard to think of a more quintessential San Diego event than this combination of music and arts at the intersection of our urban neighborhoods and the San Diego Bay. We can’t wait to welcome everyone to get outside and enjoy being together again.”
The timing of the festival in late November is, by design, intended to help draw people downtown from San Diego County and beyond. That, in large part, is why the San Diego Tourism Marketing District is providing $250,000 in funding for this year’s festival.
“The event is held the weekend leading into Thanksgiving, which is considered a ‘need period’ for hotels,” said San Diego Tourism Marketing District Executive Director Colleen Anderson.
“The festival organizers have done a tremendous job securing fantastic headliners and this will certainly help drive hotel-room demand for the district.”
Hiatus was invaluable
WonderFront’s 2020 and 2021 editions were both shelved because of the coronavirus pandemic.
However, unlike Coachella in Indio and some other major festivals across the nation, WonderFront did not announce its lineups for 2020 and 2021, or put tickets on sale, only to then postpone.
And while WonderFront co-founders Hahn and Thornton are disappointed that three years will have elapsed since their first event, both believe the hiatus afforded them an invaluable opportunity to improve the festival and plan for its expansion in the coming years.
“That is 100 percent correct. The pause allowed us to look at what worked well and what we needed to improve on,” said Hahn, who was the general manager of the San Diego Sports Arena and Pechanga Arena from 1996 until last September. He is the cofounder of Dream Hahn, the experiential marketing company he launched in 2020.
“These big festivals are so hard to put on, and so labor-intensive,” Hahn continued. “Having the pause between 2019 and now gave us a chance to reboot and to look at what other festivals may, or may not, be taking place this year in this market.
“It’s been a big benefit for Paul, me and our investors to look at what the WonderFront model looks like as we grow the festival.”
Given the benefit of hindsight, Hahn and Thornton are relieved WonderFront was dark in 2020 and 2021, even though the lineup for 2021 was fully booked and ready to announce.
“Given that November ended up being the peak of the Delta variant, we absolutely made the right decision,” Thornton said.
“The San Diego Unified Port District is a partner with us on WonderFront. As a government agency they put people’s health first, as do we.”
Thornton and Hahn are streamlining this year’s festival by having the focus be on the four mainstages at Seaport Village and Embarcadero Marina Park North. As in 2019, attendees will be encouraged to come and go as they please, the better to boost business for nearby downtown bars and eateries.
WonderFront performances at the Broadway Port Pier stage will be free and open to all this year. Seaport Village merchants and restauranteurs, some of whom felt shut out of the 2019 festival, will be embraced and incorporated into this year’s event.
WonderFront will conclude at 10 p.m. each day, with separately ticket festival-related performances taking place at the Music Box, the Casbah and other downtown venues. The Belly Up, which is located in Solana Beach, is a WonderFront partner, as it also was in 2019.
“We’re looking to attract 27,000 people per day,” Hahn said. “And, unlike most festivals, we’ll have two headliners on two different stages close out each night, instead of just one.
“Next year, we hope to expand to include the San Diego Symphony’s Rady Shell. After that, we’d like to be all over downtown.”
2022 WonderFront Music & Arts Festival lineup
More artists will be announced in May.
Gwen Stefani, Zac Brown Band, Kings of Leon, Lauren Daigle, Big Boi, Almost Monday, Bakar, Bakermat, Cam, Carlie Hanson, Cheat Codes, Daring Greatly, Desure, Earthgang, Fitz & the Tantrums, G-Eazy, Goldfish, Gwen Stefani, Hippie Sabotage, Hirie, ImmerXion with ARKIT)(T, Joey Purp, Judah & the Lion, Kossisko, Liily, Max, Mod Sun, Myron Elkins, Niko Moon, Noah Cyrus, Party Shirt, Niko Rubio, Quinn XCII, Saint Celia (formerly Sportdad), Skip Marley, SOJA, Swae Lee, Thundercat, Trevor Hall, Two Feet, Whethan, Wilderado, Young the Giant, Zac Brown Band.
Almost Monday, Bakar, Bakermat, Cam, Carlie Hanson, Daring Greatly,
Desure, Earthgang, Fitz & the Tantrums, G-Eazy, Goldfish, Hippie Sabotage, Hirie, ImmerXion with ARKIT)(T, Joey Purp, Judah & the Lion, Kossisko, Liily, Max, Mod Sun, Myron Elkins, Niko Moon, Niko Rubio, Noah Cyrus, Party Shirt, Quinn XCII, Saint Cecilia, Skip Marley, SOJA, Swae Lee, Thundercat, Trevor Hall, Two Feet, Whethan, Wilderado, Young the Giant.
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