Postscript to Wanderland 2023: How We Wandered and Won


“We started in a basement in Korea,” one of the members of rap group Balming Tiger said during their set at this year’s Wanderland Music and Arts Festival. “But look at us now playing here in Manila!” 

The words were more than just casual banter to an ecstatic and impressionable crowd. It was a statement on how the country has become a favored destination for international music artists and how far the annual music event has come from its humble beginnings. In a way, Wanderland helped put the Philippines on the map insofar as world-class, big-ticket music festivals go.

Carly Rae Jepsen

Photo by Arnie Bugay.


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Few would argue the claim, especially after eight editions of the event over 10 years (minus the pandemic years of 2020 and 2021, of course) that saw the festival playing host to some of the biggest indie and mainstream artists of the era. Consider the following: The Temper Trap, Neon Trees, Death Cab for Cutie, Bon Iver, Architecture in Helsinki, Explosions in the Sky, The Royal Concept, The Drums, Kodaline, FKJ, Honne, LANY, Daniel Caesar, Two Door Cinema Club, The Kooks, RAC, Augustana, and many more. The festival has also provided a venue for Filipino artists like UDD, Sandwich, Reese Lansangan, Clara Benin, Taken By Cars, She’s Only Sixteen, Hale, among others, to play alongside their foreign counterparts and become representatives of the best the country has to offer. 


Stephen Day

Photo by Arnie Bugay.

The theme this year was “Comeback,” alluding to the “setback” that happened in 2020, when COVID-19 forced organizers to pull the plug on the festival just days before it was scheduled to happen. The “comeback” lineup, as always, featured a selection of both music veterans and relative newcomers. Headliners Phoenix, Dashboard Confessional, and Carly Rae Jepsen drew in the big crowds, while artists like FKJ, Stephen Day, Sunset Rollercoaster, Thailand’s HYBS, No Rome, Men I Trust, Raveena, and yes, South Korea’s Balming Tiger had their own smaller, but no less rabid followings. Repping the Philippines were artists like Rico Blanco, Blaster, Flu, Ylona Garcia, and August Wahh. 


Photo by Arnie Bugay.
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At this point, Wanderland is like a well-oiled machine, and it shows. There were some growing pains over the years (cashless transactions for food and drinks wreaked major havoc one year), but organizers have clearly learned from past mistakes and have made tweaks to improve on the festival experience. As in years past, sponsors’ booths at Wanderland this year provided distractions when people wanted to take a breather from standing and screaming out at the artists; there are multiple food and drinks booths that offered sustenance to keep everyone going throughout the eight-hour plus day over two days; portalets were kept clean and tidy, with plenty of maintenance staff that kept lines moving and organized; and the entire grounds itself were kept as tidy and litter-free as possible thanks to roving cleaning staff that picked up stray trash that more callous concertgoers left on the ground.

The Wanderland main stage

Photo by Arnie Bugay.

There were some minor glitches, like the telco sponsor’s signal failing on the first night so besides people being unable to post their real-time IG stories and Tiktoks, there were some hardships for people who wanted to pay using their e-wallets for food and drinks, though this was fixed on the second day. But the performances more than made up for them. Every artist delivered and gave their all to satisfy audiences, many of whom have been starved of the live music experience for nearly three years. From the insane sing-along to Dashboard Confessional’s hits, the energy and verve of Carly Rae Jepsen, Rico Blanco’s masterful working of the crowd, Raveena’s transcendent stylings, and Phoenix’s always-reliable dynamism and charm, this year’s festival was packed to the brim with unforgettable moments.

Chris Carabba of Dashboard Confessional

Photo by Arnie Bugay.

Rico Blanco

Photo by Arnie Bugay.

Overall, the festival proved to be a major success comparable to well-known and professionally run festivals abroad like Lollapalooza and Laneway. There have been other local music festivals that have attempted to provide the same level of quality to Filipino audiences over the years, and festival audiences certainly appreciate their efforts, but there’s objectively been no other organizer that has managed to provide a comparable level of consistency and value for festivalgoers as Wanderland. It’s no wonder the festival keeps getting bigger and better and has become a bona fide player in the international festival circuit. 

That said, we’re already looking forward to next year’s edition and wondering who organizers can fly over to play for their Filipino fans. If we’re being selfish, the Esquire team would love to see artists like The Strokes, Cage the Elephant, Damien Rice, Wallows, Fall Out Boy, Rooney, Red Jumpsuit Apparatus, Kings of Convenience, Stars, Bamboo, Wonggoys, Nameless Kids, Beck, Norah Jones, the Chemical Brothers, Keane, and Snow Patrol. Some of these choices may be a bit out there, but hey we can dream, can’t we?


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Paul John Caña
Associate Editor, Esquire Philippines
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