The Wonderbus is bogged down in Sunday traffic. It’s hard to keep on schedule when tens of thousands of people are downtown running in the Rock and Roll Marathon.
A half hour late, the double-decker mobile music venue rolls up on Carnitas Snack Shack on Harbor Drive.
Braced atop the Wonderbus, the five-man band Marujah is coming in hot. The local group plays a blend of punk, ska, dub and reggae that fans call “gypsy noise.”
Al fresco diners at Carnitas seems momentarily stunned. Then, serendipitously filled with head-bobbing delight, they wave, cheer and tap on cell phones cameras.
After a 30-minute set, the Wonderbus pulls back into traffic and makes a left onto Broadway. Marujah never stops playing as we roll toward the Gaslamp Quarter.
The Wonderbus cruises onto J Street. Fifth Avenue is blocked off for a street bazaar. Pedestrian shoppers hear the music and pump fists in the air. Diners at the Water Grill’s outdoor parklet smile and do two-handed waves.
This one-vehicle parade exudes a fraternal ambiance of music-fueled joy.
Singer/guitarist Enrique Madico says nothing compares to playing live music atop a moving vehicle
“It’s wild,” he says. “It’s like making scrambled eggs and playing rock and roll.”
This is the second Wonderbus stint for Marujah, which released its eighth album, Only the Dead, in January 2021.
The band learned some lessons after its first mobile gig.
“We played the day the Padres opened back up for full crowds,” Madico says. “We hit some trees. Some bees got inside my glasses. Nobody got stung, though. It keeps you on your toes but really is so much fun. We get to deal with a new live crowd on each corner. It’s cool.”
The original Wonderbus, now part of a two-bus fleet.
Wonderbus Entertainment is a division under the Dream Hahn organization.
Ernie Hahn is the highly visible former head of the Pechanga Arena (a venerable venue many still call the Sports Arena). He founded the Wonderfront Music Festival that premiered in 2019 but was sidelined by COVID for two years.
Wonderbus was spawned in part because Wonderfront was put on hold.
Hahn and his partner, Bob Ridgeway, bought a double-decker bus and converted the top level into a state-of-the-art stage for bands. The lower level is a VIP Lounge.
Today, there are two Wonderbuses in the fleet.
Wonderbus has toured all over San Diego County. This past summer bands played rolling gigs in Barrio Logan, Del Mar and Ocean Beach, among other stops.
Infinium Spirits signed on for naming rights.
“It’s really unlimited what these buses can do,” Hahn says. “We can drive it and play wherever people want to hear music.”
Hahn claims 99 percent of the feedback he gets from neighborhoods after shows is positive.
He also envisions Wonderbuses being used for corporate events. The exteriors can be branded. VIPs can be catered to. And, he says, when the event is over there’s not a lot of clean up required. The bus just rolls off site.
In the meantime, whether the bus has Infinium Spirits on its side or is wrapped in corporate sponsorship, Hahn says Wonderbus keeps Wonderfront in the public eye.
“It’s giving the festival relevance, credence and promotion—even when it wasn’t happening,” he says. “The bus is generating goodwill and positive vibes all along the way.”
Hahn hopes San Diegans will connect that the bus and the festival are a community-driven effort.
Local notables invested in the Wonderfront Festival include Padres Hall-of-Famer Trevor Hoffman, skateboarding icon Tony Hawk and surfing legend Rob Machado.
“When Wonderbus does positive things in the community, I want people to know that the co-founders of the bus, and this festival, live in San Diego 365 days a year,” he says. “We’re not from out of town. This isn’t something where the owners arrive one week a year and leave. We’re here all the time.”
If This Bus Is A-Rockin’
That’s good news for Marujah’s Madico. Even though playing on a moving bus isn’t always smooth sailing, he’s down for another ride.
“We hit something today at the end—it felt like an iceberg,” Madico jokes. “Usually there’s Murphy’s Law for musicians, on any normal stage. My back cracked a little bit, but I think I got a free adjustment.”
Wondering where to find the bus? The schedule is usually posted on Instagram (@wonderbusentertainment). SDSun
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