Every Festival Should Adopt 88rising’s Head In The Clouds Hybrid Streaming Model

One of the benefits of all the advancements in technology we’ve seen over the years is that nearly everything has become more convenient. Even music festivals have seen the benefit of adopting a hybrid streaming option, because not everyone can always make it out in person. While my experience in this respect is limited – usually, I’m either there or I’m not, as watching a stream on TV just doesn’t appeal to me as much – I got the chance to compare the live and streaming experiences side-by-side over the weekend thanks to 88rising’s annual Head In The Clouds festival.

Held at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena this year (moving from Los Angeles State Historic Park), you’d think this would make the festival extremely convenient for me as I headed over after watching the Drew League playoffs in Torrance. But that’s only because you don’t know those LA County logistics (Angelenos read “Pasadena” and “Torrance” in the same sentence and involuntarily cringed on the inside). It wasn’t that bad of a drive, though! It took less than an hour to actually get to the Rose Bowl and I was excited to catch acts that I’d only heard peripherally like Jay Park or that I’ve nurtured a burgeoning affection for like Audrey Nuna, who was billed for a joint set with Deb Never (a clever combination that I secretly pulled for, for like a year before they teamed up).

However, after running into a snag with parking, which was at least partially my fault, my girlfriend and I wound up running behind. Fortunately, this was the first time that the hybrid experience came in handy. While sorting out our passes, we were able to watch Audrey Nuna and Deb Never’s energetic set from my phone even as we could sort of hear their stage’s sound from just outside the Bowl. Watching them bounce around and trade sarcastic bars in their matching skate punk outfits on the stream, we still felt included, and the experience only amplified the excitement of getting in.

Once we were inside, we quick-marched to the 88rising stage to catch Jay Park. Park’s a name I’ve seen a bunch, but I’ve rarely had the opportunity to check him out and since I knew I was coming to see him in his element, so to speak, I decided it’d be fun to go in fresh. The eclecticism he exudes is genuinely fascinating to me as someone who grew up with hip-hop in the musically stratified ‘90s. My brain is wired to separate genres like rap and rock and pop into separate categories; it’s incredibly interesting to me to see how folks who grew up experiencing pop culture through a different lens synthesize those experiences and styles as if the differences were nonexistent. Park, who grew up B-boying in Seattle and spent a significant chunk of his adulthood as a K-pop trainee, has a completely different musical perspective that took me a minute to adjust to but was very enjoyable.

A fun aspect of going to festivals live is checking out all the food options. Here, because the target audience’s palates are a bit more diverse than usual, it appeared (to me, at least) that there were more interesting options than the usual pizza and fries. And while most festivals will have maybe a KBBQ bowl place or a Sweetfin pop-up, I’ve never seen squid skewers at a festival before. We opted for kalbi skewers and bulgogi bowls due to our orthodontic needs and snacked while listening to Filipino crooner Yeek from a distance. Next up was Mxmtoon, who I found charming. She reminded me of the sort of twee pop stuff that had a moment in the 2000s and 2010s, but with a bit more bite. It probably helps that her upbeat, infectiously sweet anthems are backed by chunky, four-on-the-floor, honest-to-goodness get-down beats.

The in-person drawbacks reared their heads as we left, though. Because the parking was set up on the massive golf course next to the Rose Bowl and there were few markers left to help guide attendees back to their cars in the dark, many of those heading home could be seen wandering the endless-seeming rows of vehicles with bewildered faces, doubling back, and even walking in circles trying to figure out where they parked. There weren’t too many parking attendants either, making the process to exit much more chaotic than it has been at comparable festivals like Camp Flog Gnaw.

That was something that we took into consideration on Sunday as the Drew League Championship Game wrapped up. Did we want to risk getting stuck in another situation like the one from Saturday night? Another consideration that I hate to bring up but must was the security check as we entered. You’d think that after multiple highly publicized incidents at festivals – including a fatal one less than a year ago only a 20-minute drive down the same freeway that goes to Pasadena – festival security companies would be hypervigilant about what all attendees are carrying into the fest. Considering that we were waved in without so much as a cursory glance in our bags on Saturday, I didn’t like what that assumed about the crowds or about the potential safety situation.

Which is why I loved that we could simply put the festival on via Prime Video and catch the remaining sets that we wanted to see, including Rich Brian, Raveena, and Teriyaki Boyz. Of course, we missed out on the excellent food and the shared sense of community that comes from being in the crowd rubbing shoulders with fellow fans. Experiencing it both ways, though, allowed that perspective to come through. Usually, by day two, I’m grousing about the dirt and dead foliage filling up my shoes and getting a little sunburnt from being outside all day. This time, I was able to miss the feeling of being outdoors and among crowds of like-minded individuals all looking to have a good time.

It turns out that there are pros and cons to the streaming experience, just like everything in life. Head In The Clouds is definitely a festival I’d want to visit again, but if I don’t, I know exactly what I’ll be missing out on – and what I won’t. Considering it’s still a relatively young festival, perhaps the kinks that kept me on the couch Sunday will be worked out enough to warrant hanging out in person for both days.