Wonderfront Festival Wows San Diego With Gwen Stefani, Cage The Elephant & More

The Wonderfront Music & Arts Festival made its long-awaited return to San Diego after a two-year hiatus. The festival first appeared in 2019, but was canceled the following two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Music fans & San Diego locals alike were excited to have the fun-filled weekend back at the waterfront and Seaport Village, in the heart of America’s Finest City. The three-day festival took place from November 18th-20th, with headliners including Gwen Stefani, Kings Of Leon, and Zac Brown Band. Stages sprawled out from Embarcadero Marina Park to Seaport Village, with a wide variety of genres including Rap, Reggae, Rock, Country, Hip-Hop, and more.

Dread Music Review was there to cover Sunday’s festivities, which were full of talented performers and various sponsors scattered around the park. Nearly every vendor and activation was for a beverage or alcohol brand, with big names like Coors Light, La Croix, and Hendrick’s Gin offering giveaways. Among the other sponsors were some local music venues, including Belly Up Tavern which has been around since 1974 and hosted shows for iconic artists like Red Hot Chili Peppers and The Rolling Stones. Festival attendees enjoyed playing cornhole, taking photos with fun backdrops set up around the waterfront, and listening to more than 80 bands across eight stages. The vibe of the festival was whimsical and retro, with tree branches adorned with hanging disco balls and colorful signage throughout the park.

Early in the afternoon, Skip Marley took one of the two main stages to bring a funky reggae performance. If his name and genre sounds familiar, it may be because he’s the grandson of legendary reggae music pioneer, Bob Marley. His debut album, Higher Place came out in 2020, and at just 26 years old, Marley has received two Grammy Award nominations and an MTV Video Music Award nomination. Donning a black tracksuit and long dreadlocks, he and his backup band and dancers/vocalists delivered a soulful show. The crowd was relaxed and dancing along to the beats, getting excited during covers of Bob Marley & The Wailers songs, especially “Get Up, Stand Up.” Though Skip definitely channels his Jamaican culture and family roots in his music, he has his own unique sound. While Bob Marley fused ska elements into his reggae songs, Skip Marley leans into pop and hip-hop vibes that appeal to a wider audience. 

Rastaman Vibration (Bob Marley & The Wailers cover)
Cry to Me (Bob Marley & The Wailers cover)
Make Me Feel
Get Up, Stand Up (The Wailers cover)
Higher Place
No Love Intro
That’s Not True
Close to You (Maxi Priest cover)
Is This Love (Bob Marley & The Wailers cover)

On the next stage over, another talented performer with a famous musician family member came to play; Noah Cyrus. Younger sister of Miley Cyrus, Noah’s sound is a blend of country and contemporary pop. Accompanied by a large backing band with several guitars and a keyboardist, her voice was heartfelt and emotive, with a bit of southern sound from her Tennessee roots. She strutted across the stage in a low-cut transparent red and black dress and a “no eyebrows” makeup look. Some fans in the female-dominated audience wore cowboy hats and boots while others wore more traditional festival outfits. Cyrus played a variety of songs from her two studio albums, including “Mr. Percocet,” “Liar,” and “Make Me (Cry).” Since her debut in 2016, she has collaborated with a variety of artists including Marshmellow, XXXTentacion, and fellow Wonderfront performer MAX.

Noah (Stand Still)
Mr. Percocet
The Best of You
Ready to Go
All Three
My Side of the Bed
Every Beginning Ends
I Got So High That I Saw Jesus
I Just Want a Lover
I Burned LA Down
Loretta’s Song / I’ll Fly Away
Hardest Part
Make Me (Cry)
The End of Everything

Next up was a high-energy pop performance from Max Schneider, known professionally by his mononym MAX. Schneider has been active in the music industry since 2008, dabbling in Broadway as a swing understudy and in Nickelodeon TV shows. He also gained popularity in the 2010s through a series of YouTube covers. MAX and his band, who are currently on tour, flew across the country from Florida after playing a show there the night before, only to fly back to Pennsylvania for another show the night after Wonderfront Festival – despite this, they had no shortage of spirit! He bounded across the stage, jumping onto amps and reaching out to excited fans throughout the evening. As the sun set overlooking the bay, the audience jammed out to energetic songs like “Basement Party” and “Savage.” During “Light Down Low,” which got a lot of radio playtime after its release in 2016, the crowd held out their cell phone lights as the stage lighting dimmed. The whole set felt like a party and was an excellent transition into the night of performances still ahead.

Love Me Less
Isn’t She Lovely (Stevie Wonder cover)
Blueberry Eyes
Say Less
Basement Party
Someday / Me And You Against The World
Worst Day (ILLENIUM cover)
Lights Down Low
Savage (Whethan cover)
Mug Shot

A massive roaring crowd gathered to watch the next band to hit the main stage, Cage the Elephant. Lead singer Matt Shultz appeared center stage wearing Beetlejuice-esque striped pants, sparkling silver shoes, and a bedazzled backpack. He traipsed across the stage with swagger, hopping up on amps and walking down a flight of stairs that led into the barricaded media pit area. Blazing orange stage lights illuminated the park and showed a very full audience, excited to hear their favorite songs. They played a number of familiar favorites off of their five studio albums, including “Mess Around,” “Trouble,” and “Cigarette Daydreams.”

While the band relocated and settled in the UK prior to the release of their first album in 2008, they originated in Kentucky. Their eponymous debut album, Cage the Elephant, went on to become certified platinum and spawned 4 singles including the very popular “Ain’t No Rest for the Wicked.” Cage the Elephant is an alternative indie rock band, known for raucous performances. The other members that make up Cage The Elephant are Brad Shultz (rhythm guitar, keyboards), Daniel Tichenor (bass), Jared Champion (drums), Nick Bockrath (lead guitar, keyboards), and Matthan Minster (keyboard, rhythm guitar).

Broken Boy
Cry Baby
Too Late to Say Goodbye
Cold Cold Cold
Ready to Let Go
Social Cues
Mess Around
Ain’t No Rest for the Wicked
Skin and Bones
House of Glass
Come a Little Closer
Shake Me Down
Cigarette Daydreams

The weekend ended with a performance by headliner and three-time Grammy Award-winner, Gwen Stefani. She kicked off the night with her 2006 hit song “The Sweet Escape.” A dozen backup dancers surrounded her, each one wearing a brightly colored neon tiger striped outfit. The majority of her set was filled with songs from her band No Doubt, which formed in Anaheim, CA in 1986. The band has been on hiatus since 2015, so this was surely a blast from the past for every fan in the audience. Stefani is more recently known as a coach on the NBC singing competition series The Voice; she has been a coach for six seasons alongside husband Blake Shelton. The tightly packed audience was thrilled by her performance, some concertgoers even dressing like No Doubt-era Gwen Stefani down to the bleach blonde ponytail and edgy layered outfits.

The Sweet Escape
Sunday Morning (No Doubt song)
Underneath It All (No Doubt song)
Bathwater (No Doubt song)
It’s My Life (Talk Talk cover)
Rich Girl
Ex-Girlfriend (No Doubt song)
Hella Good (No Doubt song)
Don’t Speak (No Doubt song)
Hey Baby (No Doubt song)
Spiderwebs (No Doubt song)
Just a Girl (No Doubt song)
Hollaback Girl