The Wonderfront Music & Arts Festival is returning after a one-year hiatus and will again take place downtown alongside San Diego bay. The three-day fête — which last year was headlined by Gwen Stefani, the Zac Brown Band and Kings of Leon — will belatedly celebrate its third anniversary in 2024.
The exact dates for next year’s edition will be announced later this fall. Significantly, Wonderfront will shift from its mid-November time slot. The festival debuted in 2019 and drew 57,000 people over three days. Wonderfront went dark in 2020 and 2021 because of the COVID-19 shutdown, then returned in 2022, when it was again staged at Embarcadero Marina Park North, Seaport Village and adjacent locations.
The festival was not held this year because of the work and time required to plan and gain approval to reschedule the event to a more temperate time of year, according to Wonderfront co-founder and CEO Paul Thornton. Turnout was impacted at last year’s edition, in part because of unseasonably cool — at least by San Diego’s usually mild standards — evening temperatures.
“We decided to move away from the November time-period (shortly) before Thanksgiving to a date we could count on every year for better weather that won’t conflict with holiday travel for attendees, artists and our staff,” Thornton said.
“It took most of this past year — working with the San Diego Unified Port District, the city of San Diego and other entities involved with the venues — to be able to be granted approval to move forward with the new dates. The time involved in the process for this approval pushed us into 2024 for the next Wonderfront Festival. We will still be holding the festival on the Port of San Diego waterfront properties, with some exciting new venue additions to be announced soon as well.”
Competing with KAABOO?
Thornton is the head of TAG Presents, an Orange County-based festival and concert production company. Its numerous credits include ESPN X Games Austin, Fan Fest Austin and an array of events in other states and across Southern California. He does not anticipate making any major changes to Wonderfront’s format.
“The festival programming will retain its focus on bringing diverse musical genres, with strong career headliners, and always with a big focus on the hottest emerging artists,” Thornton said via email.
The announcement of Wonderfront’s return comes barely a month after the KAABOO festival — dormant since 2019 — announced its planned return for 2024 at the Del Mar Fairgrounds.
Since neither festival has yet announced dates for next year, it is unclear how closely, or not, the two events will be competing for audiences. It is also unclear, at least for now, if Wonderfront and KAABOO will be vying for any of the same headlining, opening or middle-of-the-bill acts.
But the return of two three-day outdoor music festivals to San Diego could be significant, especially since both will need to regain momentum after their absences.
One apparent key advantage for Wonderfront is that, unlike KAABOO, it has not been the subject of multiple, highly publicized lawsuits between its previous owners — or efforts to file a class-action lawsuit by scores of ticket-holders collectively owed an estimated $500,000 in refunds.
But there will be at least one difference when Wonderfront returns next year. Ernie Hahn, who co-founded the festival with Thornton, is now a minority partner and has stepped back from Wonderfront in order to focus on his new company, Hahn Entertainment, which he launched last year.
The new primary owner of Wonderfront, Hahn said, is Mitch Thrower and his company Events.com. The La Jolla-based mobile-first event management and registration platform was a major corporate partner of Wonderfront for its edition last year. In December, Events.com announced that it had secured a capital commitment of $100 million from Gem Global Yield LLC SCS (GGY) in the form of a Share Subscription Facility.
“We’ll be making announcements (about Wonderfront),” Thrower said in an email to the Union-Tribune. “Looking forward to it!”