Welcome to the volcanic crater that is a Southern California music festival in an auto speedway in July.

The Hard Summer Music Festival flags were waving in an eastward breeze at Auto Club Speedway of California this weekend, and thousands of hip-hop and dance music fans congregated around the racetrack to experience the event in its new home. New venues always come with surprises and an inevitable “we’ll figure it out as we go along” approach from the staff, so one can expect many improvements in 2017 for HSMF’s 10th anniversary.

Let’s take a look at some of the aspects we’d like to keep and what needs adjustments in L.A. Weekly’s best and worst of Hard Summer Music Festival 2016.

[Ed. note: Obviously, all of this pales in comparison to the tragic news that three Hard attendees died this weekend.]

For better or worse: Last-minute schedule changes 
A big storm rolling through the East Coast caused a few artists to cancel, although it isn’t confirmed which artists canceled because of the storm and which didn’t show up for other reasons.

Manila Killa replaced Mura Masa (Harder stage/Saturday). 
Anna Lunoe replaced Desiigner (Harder stage/Saturday). 
Ghastly replaced Jackmaster (Pink stage/Saturday).

Best: Hard’s kandi ban diverts the focus of this festival from fashion to just dancing.
If Electric Daisy Carnival is too over-the-top for you, then check out Hard’s mellower crowd. There’s still plenty of raver booty to go around, but the crowd is less interested in standing out like the PLURitan Unicorns of EDC and more interested in getting busy on the dance floor.

Anybody know where the Pink stage is?; Credit: Shane Lopes

Anybody know where the Pink stage is?; Credit: Shane Lopes

Worst: Logistics. 
Auto speedways are not built for music festivals, and they aren’t easy to traverse. This left most people congregating around the easy-to-find mainstages and failing to venture out to the Purple and Pink stages despite their alluring lineups. For 2017, we’d like to see more signage inside the speedway and a more orchestrated design for pedestrian traffic, especially getting on and off the racetrack.

*Silver Lining* When stages are hard to find, they often harbor the best environments. You can expect intimate yet roomy dance floors and an artist that is so appreciative for the fans that did make it over that they will really rev up the energy.

Best: Throwback sets.
This isn’t a Top 40, radio-friendly festival. The DJs aren’t expected to play the flavor-of-the-week tracks and they don’t, instead playing the records that they’re feeling, rather than simply playing to the crowd. That meant for lots of 2012 dubstep and trap throwbacks and choice crate-digging from the house and techno maestros.

Best: Slushii’s first set ever.
If you were there, you took part in dance music history. This 19-year-old bass producer is one of the most exciting acts in EDM according to Skrillex, who made a surprise guest appearance during the set. Slushii comes from the same management team behind Jauz, Marshmello, Ghastly and Ookay, so you know his career will be ripe with collaborations and huge tours.

Worst: The Hard Summer app.
Many festivals are relying on apps nowadays to release their schedule. They sound convenient but they’re not. Whenever you gather tens of thousands of individuals in a tight-knit area, cell service is always weakened, and using apps is a major drain on your cell battery.

At most, you missed notifications telling you to stay hydrated and to go see (fill in the blank) artist because their difficult-to-find stage was empty. The latter happened for Belly’s set.

Hard attendees eat like they mean it.; Credit: Shane Lopes

Hard attendees eat like they mean it.; Credit: Shane Lopes

Best: A multitude of food trucks.
There were more food options than were necessary, which is never a bad thing. The trucks were scattered throughout the grounds, so you were never more than a minute’s walk from chowing down, and they offered a great variety of cuisines.

Best: The sunset over the mountains.
As if a California sunset wasn’t captivating enough, it also symbolizes two very important moments in a music festival progression: 1) the heat dissipating into the atmosphere 2) the bewitching hour when the freaks come out. Make sure to take a mental Polaroid of this moment because it’s always a turning point in the day.

Worst: If you were coming from L.A., the exit coming off the 10 was closed.
Vehicles were forced to take the next exit up and backtrack, which isn’t that big a deal except the festival published travel instructions that were inaccessible. 

Advertising disclosure: We may receive compensation for some of the links in our stories. Thank you for supporting LA Weekly and our advertisers.