A year shy of its 10th anniversary Neon Desert Music festival broke attendance records this past Memorial Day weekend with over 45,000 glitter-globbed bodies pounding pavement in the Government District of Downtown El Paso.
Having skipped the 2018 festival on the same terms as Cardi B’s 8th month of pregnancy, I returned with a new road dawg (or puppy) this year: my 10-month-old Ava Sunflower.
Neon Desert had seemed family-friendly enough in the past, so taking her to the daytime sets was a definite weekend plan. After a Tacos Don Cuco and 501 Bar & Bistro pre-game, we doused ourselves in sunscreen and celebrated her inaugural festival junkie initiation for the weekend. The kid loved it.
Already walking, this baby ran circles around the art work, pointed out the brightest and boldest outfits and danced her signature baby toprock any time she heard bass. Daytime baby-festing was a success, and we safely grooved to bits of local sets with favorites by Ribo Ruckus, Lavell Jones (with band comprised of Afro Pick members!) and the DJs at the Los Visionaries stage.
For families on the fence, daytime was a perfect dose of local culture and not-quite-overcrowded landscapes. The tiny Sunflower was also out cold within a couple of hours, even with the help of lemonade and ice cream sugar highs.
In 2020, she’ll be back with a dance party goal that lasts until sundown.
As the moon rose, that record-breaking attendance surge was obvious amidst the festival’s new footprint. By dusk, headliners and their openers stared out at a narrow sea of tens of thousands of screaming attendees, making any form of stage perspective a challenge for late spectators.
But what lacked in visual observance made up in good sound systems, great music and groovy energy; but it did bring up the question constantly: Has Neon Desert outgrown its downtown home?
Perhaps 2007-2017 Bianca would have dived in headfirst into the blocks-long crowds to catch bits and pieces of the festival wish list. This year, the treks felt daunting and the easier access head-bang and dance parties at the Paso del Norte, Homegrown and Visionaries stages were more worth the time and energy.
Silent Disco had technical problems the couple of times we attempted a groove sesh, but overall, NDMF pulled its weight in art and music selection on the local level and solidified the yearly (now family) tradition.
The once-chiseled bikini bod of the festival body undeniably gained some uncomfortable love handles after shifting from the Plaza location. One can only hope organizers adjust to its successful growth by moving up a few outfit sizes.
Lord knows I did.