With the San Diego Sports activities Area below his belt, Ernie Hahn takes inventory and welcomes Wonderfront’s return

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Ernie Hahn didn’t run away to affix the circus after he earned his diploma in economics from Santa Clarita College in 1990. However considered one of his first jobs after graduating was an usher for a five-day run by Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus on the San Diego Sports activities Area.

It was the beginning of his groundbreaking 30-year profession on the sprawling venue, for which he was the overall supervisor from 1996 till final fall. In 2019, Hahn launched the three-day Wonderfront San Diego Music & Arts Pageant, which returns Nov. 18-20 for its second version with a lineup that features Gwen Stefani, Zac Brown Band, Kings of Leon and greater than 70 different acts.

“I did each job on the area conceivable earlier than I grew to become common supervisor,” recalled Hahn, a Santa Barbara native who was 1½ when his household moved to San Diego. He’s now a married father of three.

“Along with ushering, I arrange and broke down levels for performances, I did janitorial companies, tickets companies and labored nearly each place in the home.”

Hahn’s tenure as common supervisor on the now 56-year-old area made him a power in Southern California’s live-events trade. It additionally helped him make the connections and lay the inspiration for the bayside Wonderfront pageant, which was postponed in 2020 and once more final yr due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ernie Hahn presents Shakira with a poster commemorating her 2018 live performance at Valley View On line casino Middle, which opened in 1966 because the San Diego Sports activities Area and have become Pechanga Area San Diego in 2018. Hahn, who was the world’s common supervisor from 1996 till final yr, commissioned particular posters to be made to honor performers on the venue.

(Alan Hess Pictures / Pechanga Area – San Diego)

‘At all times wanting forward’

“Ernie’s such a go-getter, and he’s had so many relationships with so many individuals in our enterprise. It doesn’t shock me he began Wonderfront as a result of he’s all the time wanting forward,” mentioned Candace Mandracia, the previous San Diego president of Dwell Nation, the world’s largest live performance and dwell occasion’s producer.

Moss Jacobs, the Santa Barbara president of AEG/Goldenvoice — Dwell Nation’s largest world competitor — agreed.

“It’s uncommon in our world {that a} venue operator embarks on pageant manufacturing,” Jacobs mentioned. “However Ernie beginning a pageant in San Diego was not an enormous leap for him. He’s all the time been very entrepreneurial, which is why he would pursue all sorts of occasions on the area, not simply live shows.”

Beneath Hahn’s steering, the sprawling venue — which has been generally known as Pechanga Area San Diego since 2018 — grew from an growing older, under-utilized facility into an award-winning trade chief for live shows and sporting occasions alike.

The venue, which may seat greater than 14,000 for performances, has hosted tour-opening live shows by everybody from U2 and Probability the Rapper to Slayer and Justin Bieber.

In 2007, the world was the one venue on this planet at which Eric Clapton carried out together with his now-deceased musical idol, JJ Cale, then a resident of Valley Middle. That live performance was chronicled on the 2016 album, “Dwell in San Diego,” and a 2017 DVD.

Prince first carried out on the area in 1983. He returned in 1997 together with his band to check out a brand new sound system, though even area staff have been forbidden from attending. Oscar winner Cameron Crowe, who grew up in San Diego, shot live performance scenes on the area in 1999 for his acclaimed movie “Nearly Well-known.”

“That was nice!” Hahn recalled. “Cameron and his solid and crew have been within the constructing for over a month and 6 to seven minutes of that film have been shot in our constructing, which I’m very happy with.”

He chuckled.

“Lots of people don’t know this,” Hahn mentioned, “nevertheless it’s within the constitution for the world that the constructing be used for the better good of the town, regardless that the world is privately managed. So, each summer time the San Diego Police Division comes into the constructing to coach their bomb-sniffing canine.”

Ernie Hahn, May 4, 2021, on his Wonderbus

Wonderfront Music & Arts Pageant co-founder Ernie Hahn sits atop considered one of his two double-decker Wonderbuses, that are used for dwell music performances and branding functions.

(Nelvin C. Cepeda / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Ice, ice, child

The world presently homes three skilled sports activities groups, the San Diego Gulls, San Diego Sockers and the San Diego Seals. When live shows or different occasions are held in the course of the Gulls’ ice hockey season, which runs from October to April, the ice is roofed in order that rows of seating could be arrange on high of it.

With or with out ice, a number of generations of San Diegans have attended occasions on the area.

“I don’t recall how previous I used to be, however the first time I went to the world was to see the Harlem Globetrotters within the mid-Nineteen Eighties with my dad and brother,” mentioned San Diego browsing legend Rob Machado, 49, talking by cellphone Monday from France. Together with skateboard nice Tony Hawk and Baseball Corridor of Fame pitcher Trevor Hoffman, he’s an investor and celeb ambassador for Wonderfront.

“I took my mother to see Andrea Bocelli on the area simply a few years in the past and that was superb,” Machado continued. “Within the late Nineties, my band, Sack Lunch, performed at an enormous punk-rock present on the area with blink-182 and a bunch of different bands. And in 1997, Ernie had me come to the world to obtain the San Diego Gulls’ management award for neighborhood involvement. That was cool, however — at that time — I didn’t even know San Diego had a hockey crew!

“Ernie was nonetheless in his 20s when he grew to become common supervisor of the world. Are you able to think about being on condition that a lot accountability if you end up that younger?”

Hahn is a strolling encyclopedia of practically all issues associated to the world. He can immediately cite the dates that key occasions — from legendary UCLA basketball coach John Picket’s final Last 4 recreation victory in 1975 to subsequent live shows by U2, Shakira and Garth Brooks — passed off throughout his quarter-century tenure as common supervisor.

That place is now crammed by Steve Tadlock of ASM International, which took over operations of the world in 2019. Hahn has a three-year contract with ASM to function its senior enterprise adviser for the world whereas engaged on Wonderfront and his two newest enterprise ventures, Wonderbus Leisure and Dream Hahn, an experiential advertising and marketing firm.

Hahn had 5 years below his belt working in varied positions on the area, together with enterprise supervisor and occasions coordinator, earlier than he grew to become common supervisor. Area Group 2000, an organization co-led by his father, Ronald E. Hahn, bought the lease to the city-owned venue in 1992.

The primary live performance on the area had been by James Brown in February 1967. When Ernie Hahn grew to become the constructing’s common supervisor 31 years later, the venue was under-used, in want of an improve and recognized for the booming, echo-chamber-like acoustics that marred live shows.

Pechanga Arena San Diego, Point Loma

Pechanga Area San Diego opened in 1966 because the San Diego Sports activities Area.

(Nelvin C. Cepeda / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

‘A special angle’

Beneath his management, enhancements have been made to the world, inside and outside, together with, in 2018, the set up of a $500,000 JBL sound system for sporting occasions.

If the venue’s earlier operators usually appeared to attend for outdoor live performance and occasion promoters to method them about potential bookings, Hahn was tenacious in drumming up new enterprise.

“Ernie actually freshened issues up and he had a unique angle and philosophy about how you can finest make the most of the constructing,” mentioned AEG’s Jacobs, who on the time labored for Los Angeles-based Avalon Points of interest.

“I liked Ernie’s enthusiasm and vitality, and we obtained alongside from day one. Earlier than him, there was a primitive method to producing occasions on the area. He was very pro-active in in search of extra exhibits for the constructing and getting extra alternatives.

“Ernie by no means allow you to neglect the world was open for enterprise, which was a superb factor. He’d cellphone me on a regular basis, saying: ‘This band’s tour is enjoying in L.A.’; or ‘That band’s tour is enjoying in Fresno or Sacramento. Let’s get them to come back right here to the world.’ He was listening to who was out touring, and he was pleasantly assertive about making an attempt to get extra enterprise into the world.”

So assertive that Hahn persuaded Jacobs and co-promoter Makeda Dread to maneuver their annual Bob Marley Day live performance from the San Diego Civic Theatre into the a lot bigger area.

“It was an immediate success, regardless that the world’s seating capability is three of 4 instances bigger than the Civic,” Jacobs mentioned.

Much more notable is how Hahn later efficiently lobbied Dwell Nation to deliver live shows to the world. This was a doubly spectacular feat since, in 2008, the world had entered right into a partnership with Dwell Nation’s largest competitor, AEG, and since Dwell Nation then had — and continues to have — an unique live performance reserving contract with SDSU’s Viejas Area.

“Ernie is fiercely aggressive and he’s obtained a variety of charisma,” Mandracia mentioned, talking from Las Vegas.

“He was all the time in my face about doing exhibits on the area, regardless that I had been informed (by Dwell Nation): ‘Don’t put any exhibits into the San Diego Sports activities Area.’ It was an enormous no-no.”

The members of U2, March 2005, San Diego Sports Arena.

The members of U2 have been introduced with custom-made surfboards backstage on the band’s 2005 Vertigo tour-opening live performance on the San Diego Sports activities Area. From left, U2 bassist Adam Clayton, then-arena common supervisor Ernie Hahn, U2 singer Bono, then-arena worker Mike Kokun, then-arena worker Sean Saadeh, U2 guitarist the Edge and U2 drummer Larry Mullen Jr.

(Essy Ghavameddini Pictures)

‘A handshake deal’

Hahn’s dogged willpower in the end paid off. Dwell Nation started to deliver main live performance excursions to the world, as did AEG.

“The irony is that I feel we did extra exhibits in that constructing than AEG,” Mandracia mentioned.

“Ernie wished exhibits and Dwell Nation had a excessive quantity of them. I informed him that we wanted a greater (enterprise) deal to be able to deliver these exhibits into the world, and he agreed. He caught to his phrase, and I caught to mine. It was a handshake deal, and it was easy. I respect him for that. Ernie put his coronary heart and soul into the world.”

By his personal admission, not all of Hahn’s undertakings on the area have been profitable.

After drawing a capability viewers of seven,500 for an interactive 2010 “Star Wars In Live performance” screening and dwell efficiency — primarily based on its success — he booked a “Lord of the Rings In Live performance” date the next yr.

“It was on Oct. 13, 2011, and we misplaced a six-figure quantity that evening,” Hahn recalled of his “Rings” date.

“A yr earlier, in 2010, we purchased the Black-Eyed Peas’ present from Concert events West and put it on ourselves. We made the very best sum of money we ever did on any present, in extra of $300,000. And the subsequent yr we misplaced a low six-figure quantity on ‘Lord of the Rings In Live performance.’

“It may be a very dangerous enterprise if you end up selling exhibits.”

Fortuitously for Hahn, his monitor report on the area was dominated by successes, not failures. That made it a lot simpler for him to boost the hundreds of thousands of {dollars} required to fund the debut version of the Wonderfront pageant in 2019.

That includes Ben Harper, Migos, San Diego’s Barely Stoopid and dozens of different acts, the bold occasion attracted practically 60,000 music followers over three days.

Wonderfront’s 2020 return was canceled by the pandemic shutdown of dwell occasions. The lineup for the 2021 version was totally booked when — lower than two weeks earlier than the lineup was scheduled to be introduced — it was additionally canceled due to the resurging pandemic.

“About 70 % of the artists we had booked 2021 rolled over to this yr and about 30 % needed to be re-booked,” mentioned Paul Thornton, Wonderfront’s CEO and co-founder.

“The whole lot is costlier this yr — labor, gear leases, you identify it — not 30 % increased, however 300 % increased, in some circumstances. We’ve needed to navigate via a variety of stuff. I’ve by no means seen something prefer it in my three a long time of manufacturing music occasions.”

Nonetheless, Thornton and Hahn are inspired by how the 2022 version of the pageant is shaping up. So is surf legend and Wonderfront investor/ambassador Machado.

“They’ve had two years to fine-tune issues and to see what actually labored effectively in 2019 and what could be executed higher this time,” Machado mentioned.

“Having this pageant on the Embarcadero, proper by the water with entry to downtown, is such an important idea and the occasion is simply going to get higher annually.

“May anybody however Ernie Hahn have pulled this all collectively? I all the time inform him he ought to run for mayor. Ernie’s just like the unofficial mayor of San Diego already, so I say we give him a nudge!”

We requested Ernie Hahn to quote a few of his favourite occasions on the San Diego Sports activities Area, which for the previous seven years has operated as Pechanga Area San Diego. Listed below are his decisions.

1992: Weapons N’ Roses didn’t take the stage till 11:40 p.m. as a result of singer Axl Rose was nonetheless in Los Angeles. A non-public aircraft was despatched to get him. (“The band performed till after 3 a.m.,” Hahn recalled.)

1993: Mexican rock band Mana. (“They have been so new to the U.S. then that they didn’t even have any merchandise to promote that evening. We went on to do eight or 9 extra exhibits on the area with them.)”

1995: Led Zeppelin co-founders Jimmy Web page and Robert Plant. (“They carried out with an Egyptian orchestra, and it was superb.”)

2001: The San Diego Gulls fourth Taylor Cup Championship victory. (“B.J. MacPherson, the Gulls’ captain, dislocated his neck within the fourth recreation of the championship in Boise. My father airlifted him again to San Diego and B.J. attended the seventh recreation on the area, in a wheelchair.”)

2001: Opera celebrity Luciano Pavarotti’s remaining efficiency right here. (“I labored very intently with the San Diego Opera on that live performance.”)

2005: U2. The Irish band kicked off its “Vertigo” tour with two sold-out live shows on two consecutive nights. (“We had media from 40 international locations cowl the opening evening, and we introduced the band with {custom} U2 ‘Vertigo’ surfboards.”)

Area archives

Identify recreation: San Diego Worldwide Sports activities Area (1966-1970); San Diego Sports activities Area (1970-2004); iPayOne Middle (2005-2006); San Diego Sports activities Area (2006-2010); Valley View On line casino Middle (2010-2018); Pechanga Area San Diego (2018-present).

Prime-grossing live shows: The Sports activities Area exhibits by Andrea Bocelli in 1998, Roger Waters in 2012 and Madonna in 2015 grossed greater than $1.3 million every. Bocelli topped his personal report right here in 2019 with a report gross of $2,135,995.

Most live shows on the area: Neil Diamond, 23.

Most consecutive live shows: Garth Brooks, 5 in 2015.

Future: To be decided. In September, the San Diego Metropolis Council voted 7-1 to start negotiations with Halfway Rising to redevelop the 48-acre web site the world occupies with a brand new area, greater than 2,250 residential models, a resort and park. Nonetheless, to be able to proceed, voters on Tuesday should approve Measure C, a poll proposal to carry the 30-foot constructing peak restrict in San Diego’s Halfway District.

Wonderfront Music & Arts Pageant

When: Nov. 18-20

The place: Seaport Village, Embarcadero Marina Park North and Ruocco Park, downtown

Tickets: $139 (single-day common admission), $299 (three-day common admission), $499 (single-day VIP move), $525 (three-day Wonderpass), $1,399 (three-VIP move)

On-line: wonderfrontfestival.com/tickets/

Author: Nathan Parker