This Memorial Day Weekend, the Neon Desert Music Festival celebrated its 6th year in El Paso, TX. Music festivals have become common place all around the country so standing out is key. Although relatively young compared to larger festivals here in Austin or around the country, Neon Desert is unique in that it is held in the heart of downtown El Paso, surrounded by its buildings and overlooked by the Franklin Mountains.
As someone who grew up in El Paso, it is an awesome experience to be able to see bands next to the famous Mills building and watch some up and coming local talent while walking through the newly renovated San Jacinto Plaza. You could lounge in the VIP area nestled in Cleveland Square Park between the El Paso Public Library and Museum of History, overlooked by Southwest University Park, where the El Paso Chihuahuas play. As much controversy as the growth and change of downtown El Paso has faced, the 35,000 people in attendance sure seemed to be having a good time downtown.
As a modern musical festival, those running Neon Desert knew that the audience needed to be entertained beyond just the music. There was plenty of food provided by local restaurants and if you were just walking around the festival grounds you might witness some live art being created by local artists. The silent disco tent provided lots of dancing all day long, and if you turned to the right of the stage you might see a wrestling match or gnarly trick in the skate park.
Neon Desert did a great job of not only bringing in large national touring acts like Future or Daddy Yankee, but also giving playing time to many local bands and DJs spread across its 5 stages.
On Saturday I started the day with a great set by Juarez based, Nalgadas. The high energy punk rock and roll set was a great way to start the weekend. Shortly after, I was able to see a performance from another long time Juarez/El Paso staple, Tolidos. The band led by singer Luis Cortes ran through many of their old pop punk hits as well as played some songs off their upcoming album. While strolling through San Jacinto Plaza, you could overhear a great up and coming Americana group from El Paso named the Alabama Deathwalk. The smooth sound and docile tones were a great respite from the rest of the music that weekend.
I was able to catch many of the headliners that evening from Cults, Deftones, Tyler, the Creator and Carnage, but the artist who stole the evening was Future. Neon Desert was lucky enough to have booked Future at one of the highest points in his career, this was confirmed by the fact that nearly everyone in attendance appeared to be at the Rio Bravo Stage. Future ran through his hits, almost chronologically, rapping through them without the need of a hype man, he held the crowd in the play of his hand. The El Paso fans were delighted to have him at the peak of his powers with an impressive catalog to show off.
On Sunday, I was able to start the day with a couple of local bands, Mijas and Sluur as well as hometown favorite, rapper Mr. Crazy, who is proud to boast “I love my city!” The days acts were not as conventionally known as those the day before, but you would surely recognize AlunaGeorge and Duke Dumont on the radio. That evening, the crowds went wild for A$AP Ferg & Tory Lanez’s crowd surfing and Daddy Yankee had the entire crowd dancing to his reggaeton hits, but the big draw that night was Ludacris. The star, whom those younger in attendance might know for his appearances in the Fast and the Furious franchise, had both young and old bobbing their head. Running through early hits like “Area Codes” and “Rollout,” Luda had the entire crowd entertained for his 75 minute set late that evening.
With so many festivals popping up all around the country, its good to know that many people of the Southwest don’t have to plan long trips for a great festival experience. Beyond that, many who have never been may consider visiting El Paso to take in the city and perhaps the Neon Desert Music Festival.
Sarah Jasmine Montgomery