Learning about California’s Wonderfront Music Festival from its founders


Wonderfront Music Festival returns to San Diego’s waterfront May 10-12th with programming that just may put many other nearby festivals to shame.

The lineup alone will showcase some of the hottest breakout artists and established industry names across rock, hip-hop, EDM, pop, Americana, and reggae, to name a few of the genres. Throughout this three-day festival concert goers will feast their eyes on the likes of Keytranada, Channel Tres, T-Pain, Milky Chance, Dayglow, Beck, MK, Joey Bada$$, Sudan Archives, Dominic Fike, Poolside, The Roots, and Action Bronson with Dr. Bachlava & the Human Growth Hormone. These few names make up hardly half of the complete festival lineup.

But Wonderfront is not just a music festival, according to its founders this event is a complete lifestyle experience. The afterparty events will spread across multiple in venues in San Diego’s Gaslamp Quarter and Little Italy. The attendees will also have the option to opt in for a few exclusive excursions including yacht parties, cruises, and sunset sails while enjoying local culinary bites and craft beers.

The upgraded VIP experience will have lounge areas next to the main stage, access to a VIP Limo Boat for harbor party cruises with a front-row view of both main stages, and VIP Hideaway Lounge space inside a new EDM Dance Club for an exclusive open-air club.

In anticipation of the event we had a few questions for the Wonderfront CEO, Paul Thornton, lets get into it!

Quip: How did Wonderfront begin, what was the initial spark? 

Paul Thornton: I attended the Univ of San Diego and always had an affinity for creating unique events in this great city. Ernie Hahn was a San Diego native who never left and ran the Arena which his family owned. Brad Raulston was another long-time friend and San Diego native who joined forces to help open the right doors. Together at industry functions the conversations began, then the dream turned into planning, then researching and outreach to find the right venue, then finally having found the perfect spot it was negotiating with the Port of San Diego for the use of their beautiful waterfront park. And from there it was off to the races to make it happen.

At the time [we] started this quest there was no true large-scale San Diego festival, and [we] believed it was well past time to change that – but it had to be a venue experience that captured San Diego, not just another stadium, or field that didn’t truly represent the unique features and culture that is San Diego.

Q: What can people expect from the after-parties and club shows?

PT: Wonderfront has some great iconic venue partners in the market, including The Belly Up, The Music Box, and The Casbah – all have been wonderful supporters and partners in making Wonderfront happen – and as part of Wonderfront their venues host some great after parties where fans can continue their night and get up close and personal in these great venues with some of the big names on the festival.

Q: How will the craft beer and culinary experiences be integrated into the festival?

PT: Wonderfront has a craft beer village setup featuring some great craft brands, and the setting is amazing when you grab a great craft beer and sit at a picnic table within feet of the water with an amazing view of the harbor and North Island. The setting is spectacular, you literally watch the massive Navy ships come by the park shores so close you look up and feel like you can touch them.  The festival also brings in local restaurant owners to feature different specialty food options, and of course, it wouldn’t be a San Diego festival if we didn’t have a great Tacos & Tequila setup.

Q: Yacht parties, cruises, and sunset sails – this all sounds fantastic! When will they be taking place and how can people book those experiences?

PT: We have more intimate party boat experiences this year, with a VIP limo boat and other party catboats that take short harbor cruises around the main stages, with featured cocktail concoctions, and the sunset tours are special. Plus, we have great discount deals for any of the days that folks are in town to work with our partners at Flagship Cruises for brunch and sunset cruises, and the amazingly fun Seals land & sea cruise.

Q: Do you have any favourite stories from the past editions of Wonderfront? 

PT: The Crew party at the end is amazing because this is such a short window we are allowed to set up for this event and load out by, then it takes a truly dedicated team to make this event happen, it is a very complex setup being on the waterfront in the heart of downtown San Diego that is already so busy.  So when the crew gets to take that final breath of relief and have a drink and some fun, they dance for hours on their adrenaline fumes buzz… It’s pretty special to be part of such a great team [cover image].

Another story is we laughed (after the fact, was very stressful when it was happening) about how we marketed how nice it is to have the airport and train stops so close, literally the airport one mile away and the train stops two blocks from our entrance gates. So easy for people to come to the festival…. but in 2019 we had a big performer who was stuck with travel delays and we weren’t informed until it was late in the afternoon, we were scrambling to figure out what we could do for that hour thinking he wouldn’t make it in time, but at the same time, we had a police car and driver at the airport ready for an escort to the venue… The artist literally landed and came out of the airport at the same time he was supposed to be on stage, there was a packed crowd ready to see him! The car and police escort rushed him over, and he walked on stage only 7 minutes late from his start time and gave an amazing show.  It sure was nice to have that airport so close or that never would have worked out.

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