Your Guide to San Diego's Music Festivals
Our music editor breaks down how to choose the right concert for you
The state of music festivals today is, to say the least, overwhelming. Every year, starting in March with the annual South by Southwest (SXSW) music, film, and technology conference in Austin, the floodgates open and what follows is eight straight months of competing live music extravaganzas, each with its own specialization and demographic. Las Vegas’ Electric Daisy Carnival is essentially a giant rave (remember those?). Michigan’s Electric Forest is for ravers and hippies—the distinction is negligible, I know. Rocklahoma is, you guessed it, a rock festival in Oklahoma.
Yet Coachella, with attendance at around 99,000 per day, according to a 2018 Goldenvoice report, continues to be one of America’s most popular musical gatherings. That’s in large part because of the headlining talent it attracts—what other festival, besides perhaps Jay-Z’s Made in America, could attract someone as big as Beyoncé? Yet Coachella is one of the few festivals that succeeds despite being geared toward a more specialized audience. Its lineup this year featured everyone from K-pop group Blackpink to Australian indie rock outfit Tame Impala and legendary electronic music iconoclast Aphex Twin. Moreover, people are willing to spend all day in the middle of a dusty desert for it. It’s an epicenter of glamour—a site where influencers are born, Instagram feeds are flooded, and where the average person (with $400 to spare) can share the same desertscape with celebrities.
Still, it raises the inevitable question: If you’re going to organize a music festival, why not do it in a much more appealing location? Like, for instance, San Diego. The easy answer is available space. Woodstock wasn’t held on Max Yasgur’s dairy farm for the sake of some locally sourced Muenster. That’s turning out to be less of a concern, though; while past San Diego festivals have had issues finding the right venue (like Street Scene, which ended in 2009), there are now three major festivals here: Kaaboo at Del Mar Fairgrounds, and two by the bay, Crssd (pronounced “Crossed”) and this year’s inaugural Wonderfront. While fests in other cities, like LA’s FYF Fest and Sasquatch in George, Washington, have either been canceled or put on hiatus, San Diego’s festivals seem to be holding their own. Crssd and Kaaboo, both of which debuted in 2015, have each had sold-out crowds. The San Diego Union-Tribune estimated the latter’s daily attendance at 40,000. And Kaaboo has even expanded; it now hosts festivals in Texas and the Cayman Islands, too. (As far as we know, Ja Rule has not been hired as brand ambassador.)
With San Diego becoming more of a music festival destination, there are more options for attendees to choose—more on that at right.