HARD Summer: New Layout, Same Great Music

written by Mara Manella

HARD Summer at a Glance

Now in its ninth year, HARD Summer never fails to deliver a multi-genre lineup to the masses, and this year HARD pulled off its largest late-summer gathering yet. This year, HARD was a two-day event held for the first time at the Auto Club Speedway in Fontanta. Camping options and even swimming pools catering to about 70,000 fans per day who came from as close as a few streets over and as far as a neighboring state. With 500 acres at the event’s disposal, Fitbits were on the verge of exploding as attendees made their way to the give different stages on the grounds. From 1PM until 11PM each day, music lovers rapped, shuffled and sweat their way through the 70+ artists on the lineup.

Music Genre: Mix of hip hop, trap, techno, house, moombathon, bass, electro house

Camping: Options included car camping and RV camping. Campground was located next to the festival with a bridge and security checkpoint that adjoined the two.

Capacity: Large

Crowd type: Mix of mostly college age to late 20’s attendees, a few kandi ravers

Water stations: Yes

For the First Timers

If flying in, LA/Ontario Airport is the most convenient to the festival grounds at about 12 miles away. The Auto Club Speedway is located in Fontana, CA, with a decent amount of hotels and motels relatively close to the venue both in Fontana itself and neighboring areas (San Bernardino, Redlands, Riverside and Rancho Cucamonga). HARD’s website offered a list of nearby hotels to choose from. The venue offered free parking as well as Uber drop off and pickup areas, but wait times and surge prices were high due to the high volume of requests at the end of the night. Camping on-site avoided not only navigating parking lots and expensive Ubers, but also the lengthy general admission festival entrance lines. The campground was located a few steps from the festival itself and featured a silent disco, beer garden, food vendors and showers.

Stage layout 

HARD Summer featured give stages: the HARD Stage, HARDer Stage, Purple Stage, Pink Stage and Green Stage. The HARD Stage served as the event’s flagship stage with acts like Flosstradamus and Major Lazer shutting it down Saturday and Sunday respectively. Towering scaffolds and massive LED screens were this area’s calling card. The HARDer stage was similar in stature but welcomed crowds with lush green grass to dance on. You could also take it all in from the grandstand seats which faced the stage. Acts like Pretty Lights, Malaa and Porter Robinson electrified the massive crowds here.

The Purple Stage took over a smaller corner of the grounds with a simple but booming setup that featured the likes of Lunice, Kayzo, Bear Grillz and Kaytranada. A home for innovative sounds and gritty hip hop, this area was ground zero for dance circles and wild abandon. A short walk away was the Pink Stage, a huge tent whose lineup included masters of the underground such as Ardalan, Amine Edge & Dance and Green Velvet. With LED’s both behind the decks and overhead, this area was an all-encompassing dirty beat lovers dream. Also situated inside a tent, the Green Stage took some navigating to reach but rewarded those who did with the grimiest of acts. This stage featured Slushii’s inaugural appearance, a bone shattering set by Herobust and a quality set from hometown favorites Bixel Boys.

HARD Summer also welcomed three beverage sponsored stages—the Smirnoff House, Jagermeister’s Haus 56 and Corona’s Electric Beach— all with impressive schedules and surprise appearances of their own.

Musical highlights

My Saturday must sees included Malaa, Lunice and Herobust. At the HARDer Stage, Malaa’s mysterious presence combined with dark and stormy beats drove the crowd wild, even during what was probably the hottest part of the day. Sweat be damned, we grooved to hits like “Diamonds” and “Notorious” as visuals of ski masks flew across the screens. Our next set would also feature a masked man, as Lunice took the Purple Stage in an executioner-like ensemble. The sheer energy exuding from this evil genius gripped the enthusiastic crowd. Ripping through dynamic beat after beat, Lunice eventually shed his cover and treated fans to an inventive set complete with dance moves fit for an exorcism.

We later readied ourselves for the Green Stage closer, Herobust. The assault was already in full swing upon entering the tent—Atlanta’s own was as filthy as ever as the crowd jumped and hair whipped. I waited all day to hear Herobust’s signature snarls boom through the towering speakers, and I was not disappointed. We were even treated to a B2B2B2B as Protohype, 12th Planet and Getter joined the frenzy, and most of my texts the next day went something like “Tell me you were at Herobust last night?!”.

Sunday was stacked from doors open to close, but my bucket list artists were Amine Edge & Dance and Kaytranada. Notable sets of the day included Bear Grillz (who’s CDJ’s got so hot his start was delayed 20 mins), Kayzo who attracted a massive crowd that could not be tamed and a surprise set by Anna Lunoe (in place of no-show Desiigner and a delayed Boys Noize) that was beautifully nasty. Finally the time came to witness greatness—Amine Edge & Dance. The 2+ year wait was so worth it. The French duo blended sounds so masterfully I couldn’t even reach for my phone to document it. For 75 minutes the rest of the world was background noise, this set was the only game in town in my eyes.

We closed out HARD Summer with a talent I only recently discovered (shame) via his new album 99.9%. Kaytranada seemed genuinely flattered by the turnout, as he went up against powerhouses Major Lazer and Porter Robinson. As I listened to the Montreal native artfully layer vocals on top of calculated beats I couldn’t help but think there isn’t anyone in the world who could resist dancing to this. The set was a perfect balance of otherworldly remixes and album tracks that had the crowd happily singing along. Kaytranada’s visuals were completely next level, the most amazing of which was a montage of Janet Jackson’s vacation footage, edited in such a way that reminded me of one of the Kennedy’s—strong and inspiring imagery that depicted a modern American dream.

Things to Do

Not much in the way of extracurricular activities at HARD Summer. A few attractions designed to cool you off like a waterfall walk and art installations with misters helped make the treks to different stages more manageable but other than that, pretty standard fare.

VIP or nah

Though I didn’t experience the amenities of VIP first hand, ticket holders received the upgrades below (VIP was reserved for those 21 + only):

  • Separate VIP entrance for expedited festival entry
  • 3 VIP Gardens adjacent to the HARD, HARDer and Purple Stages; each with spacious and unobstructed viewing areas, close to stage
  • Experience the VIP pool with a walk-up bar in the VIP garden adjacent to the HARD stage
  • VIP Restrooms (lighted restroom trailers with running water)
  • Expanded cocktail and food truck options

I never regretted buying the standard 2-day GA ticket, but the VIP pool was looking pretty wonderful once it hit 90+ degrees. Expedited entry is never a bad thing and with stories of wait times hitting 2+ hours at prime entry time, VIP might be a good option if your group can’t seem to make it out of the hotel on time. The VIP areas that put you closer to the 3 larger stages are a nice option to have, but unless you despise crowds and must be up close, I’m not sure it was worth the couple hundred dollars more these tickets ran. If you have the money to spare and know you’re not one to arrive on time, maybe VIP is your solution. There was an option to upgrade at the venue if jealousy got the best of you.

Story corner

For me, HARD is synonymous with hosting dynamic performances, and this event was no different. The combination of raw talent and the rabid fans there to see them always makes for an authentic and enjoyable experience. Sometimes the hype of heading to a festival and the planning that goes with it can make one lose sight of what the experience is really about, and that’s the music itself. Outfits, meet-ups, kandi and snapping the perfect photo can all start to overshadow the real reason you bought a ticket: to dance like a crazy person (whether outwardly or in your mind!) while an artist pours their heart out for you. In a way, the lack of wild production and attractions to see at HARD Summer helps you focus better on treating your ears to some of the most hard hitting and memorable sets of the year. In the midst of another frenzied festival season, it was nice to have that moment of clarity and reflect on why we dedicate ourselves to this incredible scene.

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