Founder of THOPFest 60 East performing at Firewater in Ontario on Saturday, October 2, 2019.

The Happiness of Pursuit, (better known as THOPFest) will be happening on Saturday in Ontario. Earlier today the city gave its official headnod by raising a banner over Euclid Ave in the downtown area, showing support for the festival organizers. Located in the far east end of the Inland Empire (IE), the city of over 180K people will be having visitors coming into town this weekend to check out their favorite acts at Firewater.

Not too long ago, we had the opportunity to interview the founder of the festival. Ontario native and rapper 60 East has been actively putting the IE on the map, but more making noise for his home town. His early start on throwing events was through his old record label First Dirt (from Sacramento).  Besides Noa James and Curtiss King, in 2013, he got his biggest break performing on MursPaid Dues lineup – being one of the few artists from the IE to have blessed their stages on a main platform. He has a tattoo of the logo on his neck as a tribute – and a ‘thank you’ to the now-defunct festival.

We got the chance to ask him about his inspirations for THOPFest – the name, its pop-up shops, and its future; the special guests, its relationship to the city, and more. This will be THOPFest’s fifth year running at Firewater.

How did the idea of THOPFest come about?
I always had like throwing events and event planning and stuff like that and we had to throw shows in the Bay and LA via our record label at the time (First Dirt). (We) kinda always knew we wanted to do a big show. Then I had read this book and it kinda gave me the inspiration on what the concepts of the festival would be. Surely after that, I was throwing shows at a local venue. The person of the venue was like ‘yo what could you do with the parking lot instead of the inside…’ and that’s where the idea of the festival was born.

So to be clear, the book inspired you to put together THOPFest?
The book – that kind of inspired the name. The book had nothing to do with the music. The book was about (Chris Guillebeau) who had the ideal – or goal – to visit every country in the world by the age of 35. While he was on that journey, instead of writing the book about himself he was going to write about the people he met along the journey that were on journeys of their own … and it reminded me of all the dope artists I’ve met.

You know I’ve been lucky enough to tour the country a couple of times. I’ve toured Europe and a couple of other places. I’ve come across so many artists that I wish I could tell the world about. So the idea behind THOPFest was to be giving a platform for all these artists that I’ve met around the world to come to my city and perform in front of a different audience. So that was the inspiration I drew from the book.

You know how people would go to LA for events, especially when Rock the Bells and Paid Dues were around? Can you tell me what inspired you to keep this festival in your hometown?

It’s my hometown. If im gonna invest in any city I would rather it be my city. If im gonna put everything together I want people to come see (what’s) out here. I’m trying to put my city on the map through my music, but here’s another way that has allowed me to do that. Ive seen the commerce that grows with the festival. We got people flying into Ontario airport staying at these hotels, shopping at all the local businesses, eating at all these local restaurants. The festival is bringing ‘x’ amount of dollars to the city, and that’s a lovely thing to see.

When RTB and PD were around including these other festivals, they had their events here in San Bernadino at the NOS Event Center. I got tired of seeing people throwing events out here and not putting on any of the artists that are actually from here. I was like ‘fuck that, we’re gonna do our own thing; put ourselves on, and welcome people over here’.

Speaking of Paid Dues, in an interview with The China Show – Murs gave THOPFest a shoutout and told the audience to support it. He also let everyone know that Paid Dues is never coming back – and to tell everyone to move on. How did you feel about seeing that?

That to me meant so much because I came up on Paid Dues. Growing up as a kid, I was a kid in the crowd saying ‘one day im gonna be on that stage’. Fast forward a couple of years and I eventually got to perform at Paid Dues. I’m one of the few IE artists that ever got to perform at that festival. I have a tattoo of Paid Dues and to me that was the biggest show I’ve ever done. That was like me graduating college into hiphop.

For it to come full circle, we actually had Murs on our festival. To get his approval means the world to me. There’s nobody else’s approval who I would want more than his. And that probably had a lot to do with why I wanted to book him on the festival other than being a fan and him being a dope artist. I want this dude to know and see what I got going on because of him. I came from his tree in hiphop. 

One of the ideas you guys brought to the table this year is the ‘pop-up’ shop. How did the idea of the pop-up shop come about, because that’s something I’ve never seen done before?

A friend kind of brought the idea to me, and it was something that we had been playing with. When covid happened it kinda shut all that down. But as things started to open up and outdoor events started to become (a thing), we came with the idea of throwing a little outdoor market and book artists that we don’t usually book on the festival. Just trying to bring in new flavor.

We threw the first one, and people seem to like it.. so we decided to double down on the next one. We kept doing it, looking at it as a fundraiser/promotional-type idea for the festival – as having mini-shows (while) building up the hype to the festival. It worked, … and all these shows are free too, so we’re offering dope acts that people usually must pay to see.

You guys added Ruby Ibarra from Beatrock as a special guest on THOPFest. How did that happen?

She’s somebody that we’ve been trying to get on the festival since year one. We’ve had our eyes on her but it just never been able to work out. It’s kinda funny how it went down for this year. We’ve had our eyes on her label for a minute. We’ve always wanted to get them involved. She brings something to the table that not a lot of people bring – especially heritage-wise and representing for the Filipino people. They’re (Beatrock) a whole movement, and we like movements … which is something we’re looking for – for the festival.

We needed to replace a female act that was on the original lineup. We’re trying to keep it (consistent with a woman as a replacement). And that’s a problem in itself, because they’re only a certain amount of woman that fits a certain level within this niche market. We sent 10-20 emails (to various artists), … and (Beatrock) managed to get back to us quick. We came to an agreement, and we were able to get her on the show. And artist-wise I think she’s dope. I took a deep dive into her music – and yeah, she’s really dope. Her album conceptually really did a lot.
What the album did for me was show a correlation between immigrant struggles (with me) coming from a Hispanic background, and her coming from a Filipina background.  I seen a lot of similarities, but just a different language – but the story is exactly the same. It was like ‘Damn, I didn’t know that we were that much alike’. That album really opened my eyes to that.

THOPFest is obviously growing in popularity. Where do you guys see yourself in five years?

I’d like to see us on Coachella’s level, but maybe not. Hiphop, especially the ‘underground’, we’re very particular people. I don’t know about camping out for three days-type people (laughs). I don’t think we’re onto that. I remember when Rock the Bells decided to do two days. I went both days. But seeing the difference in crowd, it just kind of wasn’t there. Those are my people, so I’m never talking bad about them; just giving an example. But just seeing what they were trying to do was not working for the hiphop crowd. So I wouldn’t necessarily want to do that.

As far as what I mean by ‘Coachella’ … I would like to be a national brand, where everybody knows ‘oh that’s the Happiness of Pursuit … that’s where all the backpackers go and all the indie hiphop acts (go).’ I would like to be known for that festival in the states. There’s only a handful of hiphop festivals in the country. Most of them cater to what’s current. Although we do book current acts, we also book legacy and older hiphop acts. I can’t name one other than the Soundset Festival that’s doing it right now. If we were able to be the west coast “Soundset Festival,” that would be ideal. Maybe to reach a bigger venue, start working with bigger acts. The Paid Dues I got to perform at which its biggest year was 30K ppl at the Glen Helen Pavilion … Murs got there in 8 years. If we could get anywhere near that, then I would be happy.

I have one more question for you. Who would you like to put on your lineup for the next THOPFest?

Oh man I have so many different scenarios and different lineups already drawn out. It’s kinda like a Tetris puzzle just trying to fit in the pieces. I think it would be dope … having Griselda’s Benny & Conway co-headlining back in 2019. Not a lot of people were up on them yet, but they still pulled a crowd. If we were to grow to a bigger level, I think it would be dope to be able to bring them back. Just to see each other again at a higher level with a bigger name. I think that shit would be dope. 

I think it would be dope to get the whole crew, because we didnt have Westside Gunn in 2019. So if we could get all three of them, and to get Boldy James and everybody that’s on their collective label – get the whole Griselda Army, you know what I mean?

Thank you for this interview, and thank you for your time. I really appreciate it so much.

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