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HARD Work Pays Off: HARD Summer 2018 Review

It's very unusual to have such high police activity surrounding the normally quiet suburban city of Fontana. The Inland Empire community usually comes alive on weekends where streets like Etiwanda Avenue, a major north-south road, is bustling with cars and pedestrians. But this past weekend, the miles-long street that begins at the foot of the San Gabriel Mountains and ends at the riverbed of the Santa Ana River, was barren. The side streets that feed into the main boulevard were coned-off, only allowing local access, heavily guarded by patrol officers from the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department.

The few cars that were allowed to travel on that busy arterial road were being directed to continue into the parking lots that surround the Auto Club Speedway. The 20-year-old racetrack is immediately off of Etiwanda Avenue and known to host NASCAR's Xfinity Series and the Monster Energy Cup Series. However, visitors headed into the speedway this weekend were not there to witness stock car auto racing, they were there to rave.

HARD Stage going off. Photo: Calder Wilson, Insomniac Events.

I grew up just west of the speedway, in the neighboring city of Ontario. Having spent my adolescence in Southern California, I was very aware of the rave scene that surrounded me. Being only 30 miles outside of Los Angeles, I had easy access to some of the best music venues and constantly saw myself attending many of those events. Throughout my years in the scene, however, there was always one event that I stayed away from— HARD Summer.

HARD Events had developed a bad reputation over the last decade, mainly due to mismanagement and poor planning. The event's setting changed constantly, practically calling every major Southern California venue home— places like The Forum, L.A. State Historic Park, Pomona Fairplex, Whittier Narrows Park, and the Glen Helen Amphitheater. Yet, the brand grew in popularity. The HARD brand (which fused hip-hop and rap with EDM and underground music) was something unique to Southern California and because of that, thousands of fans kept attending the event no matter where the site was.

HARD's loyal fans. Photo: Doug Van Sant, Insomniac Events.

Last year, Insomniac Events began to pour in support to HARD Summer after Meagan DesChenes, a longtime employee that had been vital to the success of HARD since its inception, was appointed to lead the brand. That change, along with Insomniac's experience in operations, production, and logistics, led to this year's rendition of HARD Summer to be its best one yet.

A promise for a better HARD Summer. Photo: Insomniac.

The first signs of change came with the genius marketing campaigns that took place earlier this year. The trailer video saw DJs and HARD employees poking fun at themselves, calling out the obvious problems that the festival had seen in the past. Also, social media posts assured attendees of plenty of entrances and exits, shaded areas, added VIP amenities, improved shuttle bus services, and a new layout at the Fontana Speedway.

All of those promises and more were put to the test this past weekend, and as I meandered my way through the speedway, I became more and more impressed with how HARD Summer 2018 turned out.

The layout of the festival made it easy to navigate, with two main stages (HARD and HARDER stage respectively) book-ending the speedway. In between those stages was a shade-covered walkway lined with misters, dubbed “Shady Lane”. On the north side of that lane were two other stages, the PINK stage and Corona Electric Beach stage as well as two gigantic shade structures. The south side was flanked by a grassy area and two additional stages, the PURPLE and GREEN stages. Circling the speedway were four easily accessible entrances and exits, a pain-point of the 2016 event.

Fans traverse the new layout at HARD Summer. Photo: Calder Wilson, Insomniac Events.

Hosting an outdoor music festival in the middle of summer brings with it the expectations of extreme heat. Temperatures hovered around the century mark throughout the weekend and HARD Events made sure that their attendees were well taken care of. Plenty of free water refill stations surrounded the venue, as well as shade structures and the aforementioned “Shady Lane”. Signs posted around the speedway (as well as smartphone notifications from their official app) reminded guests to stay hydrated and keep cool.

One of the many shade structures at HARD Summer. Photo: Calder Wilson, Insomniac Events.

Insomniac Event's ground control was also seen roaming the speedway in their signature purple shirts making sure every guest was safe and alert. Project #OpenTalk was also available for attendees and were there to answer questions about sensitive topics involving drugs and sex. The addition of these two important components of Insomniac's festivals were a welcomed sight at HARD Summer.

One of the many free water refill stations at HARD Summer. Photo: Calder Wilson, Insomniac Events.

Of course, no successful music festival would be complete without the music. HARD Summer 2018 saw some of the biggest names in EDM and hip-hop come together to put on amazing performances. Over the two-day weekend, the beats were thumping and state-of-the-art productions were showcased front-and-center at every stage.

The main stage at HARD Summer saw performances by Medasin, Party Favor, JOYRYDE, Rick Ross and Louis The Child on Saturday. Sunday brought out France's Petit Biscuit, Ghastly, and San Holo. Of course, all eyes were on the most anticipated performances of the weekend— Diplo & Dillon Francis, Travis Scott, Marshmello and Zeds Dead b2b Jauz.

Diplo & Dillon Francis drew in huge crowds to the HARD Stage. Photo: Doug Van Sant, Insomniac Events.

The “second” main stage continued on with big names including Flosstradamus, TroyBoi, Will Smith's son Jaden Smith, Mija, Snakehips and Loud Luxury to name a few. The stand out performance of the weekend was found on this stage, and that title goes to Porter Robinson's late 90s and early 2000s inspired Virtual Self.

A-Trak & Baauer at the HARDER stage. Photo: Jason Fenmore, Insomniac Events.

Showcasing a more urban sound, the Purple stage saw names like Lil Skies, $uicideboy$, Saweetie, Lil Xan, Hippie Sabotage, and MO.

MO performing at the Purple stage. Photo: Virisa Young, Insomniac Events.

The Green stage was a popular stage amongst fans of the fusion of EDM and hip-hop, with artists like Bear Grillz, Manila Killa, YehMe2, and JSTJR. Standout performances included Valentino Kahn, Kill The Snails (Kill The Noise b2b Snails), Borgore b2b Getter, Ekali, and TOKiMONSTA.

Valentino Khan rocking the Green stage. Photo: Jonathan April, Insomniac Events.

For fans of house and techno, the Pink stage was the place to be. Omnom, Bontan, Kolombo, Ciszak, and Madam X warmed up the crowds for the bigger names to come later in the evening. Those names included Sage Armstrong, Born Dirty, Sacha Robotti, Virgil Abloh, Fisher, and Felix Da Housecat. Standout performances include Walker & Royce + Ardalan's Escapade and Will Clarke.

House and techno beats at the Pink stage. Photo: Natt Lim, Insomniac Events.

The hosted stage was themed to a beach oasis in the middle of the Inland Empire. Electric Beach saw acts like Born Dirty, Kai Wachi, Loudvck, Snails, Xie, Bear Grills and Ekali grace its stage.

Corona Electric Beach stage. Photo: Ivan Meneses, Insomniac Events.

165,000 fans attended HARD Summer 2018, significantly more people than last year's event at the Glen Helen Pavilion (which was moved there from the Fontana speedway due to lack of sales). Insomniac's touch on HARD Summer can be seen inside and out— from its stage production, festival layouts, comfort-focused environments like “Shady Lane”, and free water refill stations to name a few. This weekend proved that, if done correctly, a brand marred by negative feedback can win back even the most skeptical of festival goers. Moreover, it proved that HARD work pays off.

Sunset over the San Gabriel Mountains at HARD Summer 2018. Photo: Jason Fenmore, Insomniac Events.

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