“I’m never coming back to El Paso.” ~Naive Bianca, Austin-bound, 2004.
“El Paso could be the next Austin.” ~Recession Bianca, college grad living with parents, 2008.
“I #$%! love El Paso.” ~Somewhat Grownup Bianca, hometown ambassador, present day.
El Paso was the invisible high school chick; forever unnoticed until suddenly she’s the bodacious lead singer of an up-and-coming indie rock band scoring the not-so-primetime but close enough 3pm stage slot at festivals like Coachella, ACL and Bonaroo.
You know she’s on the cool-but-not-yet-trendy level, and you better stand at the front of the stage while you still have the chance because when she headlines in two or three years you’ll need binoculars to see her up close.
The Sun City really is a rising rock star in the music festival scene actually, offering a medley of options from EDM at Sun City Music Fest held at Ascarate Park, and the Hip Hop/Rock & Roll hybrid of the Texas Tattoo Showdown at the Coliseum the past few years.
Much of that shine however, also beams through the heart of the city, where tens of thousands of pounding feet rage and dance on the streets of Downtown each year. There’s a very special business breed of local lovers cultivating, supporting, investing and pumping promotional blood through the veins of Downtown’s cultural and communal body that’s catalyzing the growth we see today.
It was 15 years ago when Brad Dubow, General Manager of TownSquare Media (back then it was Regent Broadcasting) brought on the bright-eyed and energetic Gina Roe-Davis to rekindle the Rocky Mountain Oyster Fest that entertained Downtown El Paso through the 1980s until it fell on hard times.
In 2002, Roe-Davis led the direction of the first official Downtown Street Festival that immediately became one of the first cultural staples of El Paso. Downtown was in a ghostly drought, and the Street Fest stormed in with relief by way of music, food and good ol’ El Paso culture.
“People were waiting for that to happen, it was insane” Roe-Davis said. “They came out in droves, they embraced it.” The one day event sandwiched between Main and El Paso Streets evolved into a two-day fest due to its high demand and popularity, featuring classic and contemporary rock on multiple stages.
Headliners have ranged from Styx, Bush, Weezer and countless others. This year, the June festival will bring Goo Goo Dolls and Seether, along with a lengthy lineup of El Paso’s rising local talent. The event also hosts the largest car show in the city, a craft beer party area and an art competition.
“At TownSquare, throwing the party is about the audience, the music, our sponsors, partners and the people putting it all together,” Dubow said. “The great teams of KLAQ, KISSFM, 600ESPN and the people at El Paso Live and Destination El Paso.”
Showing your gratitude for the countless hours of blood, sweat and tears in planning this event can be done by simply attending. And screaming lyrics at the top of your lungs. And drinking beer.
Fast forward to Memorial Day weekend 2011 and a different corner of Downtown El Paso is glowing and swarming with thousands of festival goers.
The entrepreneurial lineage of those ever-evolving local lovers brings a new magic to the Downtown potential with the Neon Desert Music Festival that was conceived from a simple but penetrating question amongst four El Paso natives living in Austin: “Why couldn’t El Paso have this type of scene?”
Zach Paul, one of the founders of the Neon Desert Music Festival and 5th generation El Pasoan, wanted to bring the experiences he was getting outside of the city, back to his hometown.
His friends and festival cofounders shared that sentiment. “Its funny, the whole conversation started one night over beers after an AC/DC concert in Austin,” Paul said. “And it just slowly took off, we didn’t know what we were getting ourselves into. We had to earn it, we had to prove it, and we did. I’m so proud of what we’ve done.”
Neon Desert embarks on its 6th Memorial Day weekend with headliners like Ludacris, The Deftones, and Tiesto with no signs of slowing down. As Downtown evolves in infrastructure and business, the festival also continues to grow in attracting bigger name artists, tourism and most importantly, a sense of pride and inspiration amongst El Pasoans.
“I feel like the border has a tremendous amount of smart, creative, progressive people, and I feel like that is starting to shine through more and more each year,” Paul said. “To think where Downtown El Paso is going to be over the next 5 years, over the next 10 years. It’s just really cool to know that everyone is sharing the vision, it’s all about the future, it’s all about the big picture.”
Though they are two entirely different festivals, Neon Desert and Downtown Street Fest share much more than just a location. At the core, both celebrate El Paso history in showcasing beautiful architecture in their staging, they honor creativity in nurturing the local music scene, and they commit to their belief that El Paso is in the words of Gina RoeDavis “pretty BAD ASS.”
Aside from increasingly impressive musical acts, these festivals bring in the badassiest (did I just make that up?) of craft vendors, live painters and the evergrowing food truck community.
“Finally, there are different generations saying ‘we are damn good at what we do and we have something that is so unique that other towns don’t have,” she said. “Neon Desert, Downtown Street Festival, those are the horns that say, look at us, look at what’s going on in El Paso.”
The music festival circuit in Downtown El Paso will only continue its momentum. Most recently, the Mother of Pearl Block Party made its 2015 Fall debut at Union Plaza, giving El Pasoans the opportunity to rock out to artists Mike Jones, Neon Indian and Peanut Butter Wolf for free. The outdoor event proved successful in attendance and atmosphere.
The pet-friendly Sunset Heights Block Party, happening on the outskirting Prospect Street on the border of downtown continues a nineyear Summer/Fall tradition showcasing local musicians, artists and vendors.
In the Government District of Downtown, La Parada, happening every first Friday of the month takes on its sixth season since its kickoff in 2010. The event showcases diverse genres of local and national musicians, live painting and craft vendors.
Join me in #$%!ing loving El Paso and its entrepreneurial promotional lovers that ensure the continuance of its rockin’ growth. Festival junkies unite!
For more information about the El Paso Downtown Street Fest
For more information about the Neon Desert Music Festival