Wonderfront music festival rocks San Diego


Photo by Ethan Karlin

Cage the Elephant’s Matt Shultz was dressed in a leather jacket, yellow and blue pants, a yankee hat, and chains, matching the quirkiness of their music.

by Noah Lyons, Staff Writer

This past weekend, Wonderfont hosted its second-ever music festival with six stages spanning across Seaport Village, Embarcadero and Rocco Park. The event featured many artists including Zac Brown Band, Kings of Leon and Gwen Stefani as the headliners. 

Day One 

The first day set the tone for the weekend with standout performances from Saint Motel, Young the Giant and Zac Brown Band.

Saint Motel’s A.J. Jackson kicked off day one of the festival in style. (Ethan Karlin)

Saint Motel was one of the fan favorite performances from day one, delivering a bright sound to the festival to match the sunny setting of San Diego.

Lead singer A.J. Jackson took time from the set to thank the crowd for supporting live music. He also encouraged fans to make a friend by introducing themselves to the person on their right. 

The funky, jazzy hit “My Type” wrapped up their set and left the crowd in good spirits. 

Young the Giant’s Sameer Gadhia mystifies the crowd with his performance of “Wake Up.” (Ethan Karlin)

Young the Giant electrified the crowd with their performance, bringing back some of their classic jams (“Cough Syrup,” “Silvertongue”) and tracks from their latest record “American Bollywood.”

It was a family affair for lead singer Sameer Gadhia, as his sister Sonia and wife Jessica were in the audience. Gadhia invited Sonia on stage to sing one of their new tracks, “Tonight,” in a spur-of-the-moment decision.

“By the way, Sonia means gold in (the) Indian (language),” Gadhia explained to the crowd. “And she has a golden voice.”

While she was initially reluctant to sing, the two shared a sweet brother-sister moment on stage. Ghadia later dedicated the band’s 2014 smash hit “Mind Over Matter” to Jessica. Rather than taking the stage, she opted to watch from the crowd.

Earthgang gave a high-energy performance late Friday night. (Ethan Karlin)

Zac Brown Band took the stage in the last performance of the night. Boots and cowboy hats were aplenty in the sea of attendees. Their set drew the biggest crowd of the night, as the audience extended beyond the stage and over a hill.

Meanwhile, Earthgang performed at the Seaport Village. Their set drew a smaller crowd, but they were no less enthusiastic. The rapper duo, Olu and WowGr8, brought a ton of energy and involved the crowd in their performance. It was a perfect way to conclude an exciting first day of the festival. 

Other day one performers included the bluesy rock band Myron Elkins, country singer Lainey Wilson and pop artist Quinn XCII. 

Day Two

Day two featured a blend of alternative rock, hip hop and pop with some outstanding late-night performances.

Judah & the Lion was one of the notable afternoon acts. The Nashville-based band drew a solid crowd of alternative and folk rock fans. Lead singer Judah Akers had fun teasing the audience.

“We’re gonna give you everything we have,” Akers yelled out to the crowd. “We’re (the) chief manipulators of this festival. We want to be your favorite band at the festival.”

To win over the crowd, they did a pair of covers: Kelly Clarkson’s “Since U Been Gone” and Creed’s “Higher.” The band members of Mod Sun, who performed before them, watched gleefully from the side of the stage.

Echosmith had a pair of performances in significantly different styles. For the first half, the band played a ten-minute acoustic set with downtown San Diego’s bay as a backdrop. This featured a stripped-back version of their 2013 track “Cool Kids.” Later on, the band took the Rocco stage with their typical setup: drums, bass, and electric guitars. 

Swae Lee locks eyes with the audience at his Saturday night performance. (Ethan Karlin)

Swae Lee’s performance at Seaport Village was one of the highlights of the night. Lee brought out a heavyweight tracklist of hip-hop bangers (“Black Beatles,” “Come Get Her,” “No Flex Zone”). By the time he got to “Sunflower,” sitting at nearly 2.5 billion Spotify streams, the crowd was doing most of the singing.

Kings of Leon was the headliner for day two, and the size and energy of the crowd proved it. The legendary alternative rock band, comprised of three brothers and their cousin, impressed in the last show of their tour. 

Rather than gauging the crowd and chatting between songs, Kings of Leon went straight to business. They wasted no time playing through their back catalog and tracks from 2021’s “When You See Yourself.”

Their fiery performance of “Sex on Fire” ended the day on a high note. 

Lauren Daigle, Fitz & the Tantrums, Tai Verdes, Mod Sun, The Driver Era, Two Feet and G-Eazy were some of the other performers.

Day Three

The festival came to a close on Sunday with a star-studded evening lineup.

In the afternoon, Skip Marley brought reggae to the Embarcadero stage and EDM band Hippie Sabotage drew a big crowd at Seaport Village. 

Noah Cyrus used a blend of contemporary pop and country twang in her set. Her vocals were striking, as was her ethereal presence on stage. Fans in the barricades watched intently as she performed “Noah (Stand Still), “Mr. Percocet” and the newly-released “Snow in LA.”

One of the most eccentric performances of the festival came from indie-rock outfit Cage the Elephant. The band released one of the biggest records of the 2010s, “Melophobia.” Fans of that record were not disappointed, as the band featured a heavy dose of those hits.

Lead singer Matt Shultz had quirky fashion choices to match their eclectic sound. Thundercat also impressed with his style, as he played a six-string bass guitar decked out in anime decorations.

Thundercat’s groovy set featured some of his viral hits (“Them Changes,” “Funny Thing”) and extended bass-led jams. At the end of the set he announced that he’s currently working on a brand new record. 

The Wonderfront festival concluded with a bang as Gwen Stefani performed tracks from her solo career and punk rock band No Doubt. 

Accompanied by her band, Gwen Stefani performs “Sunday Morning.” (Ethan Karlin)

Right out of the gates, she played one of her biggest hits “The Sweet Escape.” Stefani’s set featured the most elaborate production of the weekend, as she was joined by five musicians and nine background dancers. 

From the wailing saxophone and trombone on “Spiderwebs” to her emotional performance of “Don’t Speak,” Stefani’s set was packed with memorable moments. She made it a point to share her appreciation for San Diego and interact with the fans.

“This is my opportunity to look you in the eyes and say ‘I love you,’” Stefani said. “Going back and forth all these years, I feel like we’re almost family.”

The crowd went bananas for the closer, “Hollaback Girl.” Most of the crowd took their cameras out and sang along to the iconic chorus. It was a fitting conclusion to a weekend of celebrating music.