Joey Atilano, the artist known as 60 East has taken his passion for independent hip-hop to places where few artists would dare or dream. With a career spanning over a decade, 60 East has etched his name into the very fabric of West Coast hip-hop. His passion and dedication to the culture have taken him around the world, performing on over 500 stages and collaborating with renowned artists like Joell Ortiz, A-F-R-O, R.A. the Rugged Man, and Skyzoo.But it’s not only music accolades that set 60 apart. In a tireless pursuit to truly change the game as we know it, he established the Happiness of Pursuit Festival.
Now in its fifth year, the Festival has become a source of hope and inspiration for independent artists in California and beyond. Held annually in Ontario, CA the festival has welcomed performances from acclaimed artists such as Mobb Deep, Conway, Benny the Butcher, and Obie Trice. It has earned a reputation as the region’s premier event of its kind, attracting both established and emerging talent. Classic and modern alike.
With each passing year, the festival continues to grow, drawing bigger artists, more fans, and industry professionals who seek a space where creativity comes first and gatekeeping is shattered. This year’s festival will be held October 7th and 8th at Firewater Bar in Ontario. Tickets are available here.
We caught up with 60 to discuss the history of Hapiness of Pursuit, and learn more about what he’s looking to accomplish.
Early on my journey as an Artist I began working with a small independent label based out of Sacramento, CA. As a label we would host events in Sacramento, bringing in national artists. Throwing these small intimate shows really helped build our name early on and I began starting to like throwing our own events. Instead of waiting for a promoter to call us or to get booked on a certain showcase, I liked having the control of our own event/careers. Instead of waiting for someone to pay us what we want, we can just do everything ourselves and make the most out of it.
I’ve always had that independent mindset. After making my rounds around the festival circuit as an artist, I had an itch to throw another show, but this time with multiple headliners. Using everything I gained from performing and attending Festivals and throwing smaller shows, I decided I was going to start a festival. I had seen other artists do this so people like Murs, Rhymesayers and Tyler, The Creator were big inspirations behind starting an artist founded festival.
The first obvious challenge is figuring out the finances. Luckily for me I had an investor put up the money for the first festival, so that was not a challenge I had at the beginning. As the festival has grown however the need for help financially has grown so has our efforts in finding sponsorships. This remains to be a challenge but every year we try and hire people to fill in these roles.
At the beginning the first challenges from an organizational stand part are first the branding. The name, concept, logo, website, starting social media accounts, etc. I really just sat down one down and mapped out the brand and what I wanted it to represent. Then came the booking process and facilitating artists, vendors, staff, security, etc and having forms and contracts in place for each person. Luckily there are a lot of templates online for things like that I was able to find and adjust.
I think what sets us apart from other events is that we try to book a combination of classic, current and up and coming artists. We also do not stick to one sound or type of Hip Hop. We try to include Hip Hop from different walks of life. Being that a few of the people on our staff are artists, I think we create opportunities for up and coming artists that we would have liked to see. That’s something I don’t see any other festival doing. I believe that is something that makes us special.
I think one of the things that draws some of these artists to the Festival is me, or their relationship with me. As an artist, I’ve been able to tour, make music with, perform with and work with a lot of the artists I’ve had on the Festival, which has allowed me to invite them out. I think another thing that has been drawing artists to us, is that word has started to get around about us. We are a relatively small show, we don’t have the budget these big festivals have so the growth has been a bit slower but for people paying attention they have seen us making major noise and want to be a part of it.
To me, people don’t really consider someone like Obie Trice as an “indie rapper” because of the critical acclaim with being signed to Shady records and having music with Eminem and Dr. Dre brought him. But after that he went on to continue to release music independently. Which qualified him to get on the festival. I don’t think the average listener puts Grieves and Obie Trice in the same realm, but the fact is they are. Another fact is there are not a lot of independent Hip Hop Festivals, or festivals that cater strictly to independent artists. Most hip hop festivals cater to mainstream artists. So I think, being that we are one of the only indie festivals left, artists see the need to conquer our show.
Yes, most definitely. We always try our best to bring in the hardest working independent artists from around the country from the past, present and future. We always have some big names, but I think one of the things we have become known for is our ability to spot the next big artists. Catching the big name before they become a big name has been something we try to focus on. Some of those include Conway and Benny The Butcher, Sa-roc and Che Noir.
I think after being an indie artist for so long and coming from the path I came from it was only right to create something that gave back to that. But along with that comes the time it takes to create something indie for indie’s. Without any major backing we’ve had to build this thing up brick by brick. It’s taken longer for us to get major recognition but I always wanted to start small and build up. And I think our consistency and constant growth has shown people that though we are not the most prestigious festival out there, we are doing something right reaching our 6th year.
Experience first and foremost. I think for a lot of the up and coming artists we book this is their first festival, which is cool because it’s not too big and overwhelming for them. I remember being a young artist and getting booked on my first festival and not knowing anything. So with our festival we are grooming artists for the bigger festival stages they will be playing in the future. Also fans. A Festival stage and the months of promotion leading up to an event can really expose an artist to a lot of potential fans in their demographic.
Winning a slot on the Paid Dues Festival changed my life, it gave me a career, it made industry people start paying attention to me and placed me in front of thousands of people and I always wanted to recreate that opportunity for younger artists, like MURS did to me and that’s what we are doing with these contest/competitions. On top of getting to perform at the Festival, I think the overall experience of getting flown out to a different city, and put in a hotel to do what you love among some of the best in the business is an experience that will stay with a person for their whole life. It will add to their confidence as an artist. And they may meet that one person that can change their life at the Festival, the possibilities are crazy.
So the criteria is that we are looking for the best hip hop performer whether it’s a Rapper, Producer, DJ, Singer or Beatboxer. They must also be at least 21 years old. And that’s basically it as far as criteria. Judging the contest we have international Hip Hop artist/actor A-F-R-O, Editor and Chief/Shade 45 Co-Host of The Wake Up Show Skyy Hook, The founder of the Festival 60 East (Me), and the fans who we have vote online for who they want to see on the show.
Artists can enter by signing up on our website at www.thopfest.net/contest. The winner of the contest will be winning a 15 minute set on the main stage at this year’s festival + a bunch more. The contest really made sense to us because as I stated we are always looking for new ways to provide opportunities for up and coming artists, and we are also constantly in a search for the best new artists out there.
I think one of the biggest challenges is not having a lot of big stages to perform on. As I said earlier the amount of events out there that book independent hip hop are very small on a global scale. With that also comes exposure. I think a lot of independent artists have limited budgets, so they are not always able to invest a lot of money into marketing and promoting themselves.
We plan on helping by continuing to provide a platform for artists to showcase themselves with the Festival and Online. Most festivals do not promote the individual artists on their bills, they usually just promote the event as a whole. When we are promoting the festival we make sure to promote every artist individually and put their music directly in front of our fans. We really try to put the artist first, and maybe that is because a few of us on the team are artists.
For the past few years I had a goal to take the brand on the road, but not as a festival, but as a performance competition tour in search of the best artists from around the country. This year we actually made it happen and will be hitting 10 markets around the state. The idea was to go to all the different counties in California and host a competition for the best artist. The winner of each competition will then be the representative of that county at the next Festival.
So in a sense we have the best artists from around the state performing at the festival. Looking forward to taking this tour around the Country and finding the best artists from (nearly) every state to book on the festival, which will then host the best artists from around the country. This is just thinking big. Along with that I’d like to see my festival continuing to grow into something that can house all of this plus more. I’d like to see us sell out our current venue and move into one of the bigger venues around the city. I would also like to see the festival grow into either a multi-day event or a twice a year event.
In 2019 we had 2 events in 1 year and they both went very well. We planned on doing it again in 2020 but then the pandemic hit, so we had to hold off on the next event till fall 2021. I was not ready for the amount of work I had to do to manage to maintain 2 events a year along with being an artist so we decided to keep it at 1 year until we have the resources to switch it up.