Refrigerated air may have seduced many El Pasoans during the menacing weekend forecasts, but Downtown Street Fest organizers remained unfazed, and the rock ‘n’ roll die-hards swept the streets of Downtown El Paso glaring down the uninvited triple-digit guest.
Headliners this year included Papa Roach, Alice Cooper, Jackyl, Dokken, Starset and In This Moment, a headbanging medley guaranteed to leave sore all necks involved. Two stages glorified local acts with genres ranging from Americana-Folk singer Emily Davis to Latino favorites Frontera Bugalu.
The traditional air-conditioned Custom Car Show brought boasted some new, glossy additions, and the indoor stroll through the Convention Center was a sure recalibration of body temperatures for sticky guests.
The Street Fest is a familiar downtown El Paso excursion, but a few 2017 standouts reinforced my annual desire to return to see how organizers are keeping the party fresh.
The live art concept has become a staple in El Paso’s festival and block party planning, but during Street Fest, a whopping 220 feet of mural space took the cake for one of the most impressive live art installations I’ve seen to date.
Los Visionarios’ artistic army returned to the Downtown Street Fest with an arsenal of artists, paint cans, rollers, brushes and palettes to create what may be perceived as an artistic chronology of border culture, while managing to portray the artists’ evolution of collective growth.
The mural, located on the north side of the convention center, is still freely accessible, and photos are encouraged to preserve the memorable masterpiece.
All of the local band selections for Street Fest boast extreme talent, impressive stage presence and memorable audience engagement. One band however, does deserve a mention for refreshing and awakening all the overheated, lazy dance bones in the body.
Frontera Bugalu, shaking dance floors since 2011, emanates the spirit of El Paso with that hypnotizes all shoulders and hips in the vicinity.
Listen to their latest release here. Upcoming gigs (recommended) can be found here.
Though the eardrums are still recovering, nothing beats watching a 69-year-old rocker in smeared black eyeliner wearing a cape. From the pyrotechnic theatrics to baton-swinging demands to hype the audience and even sacrificed plastic baby dolls decorating the back line, Alice Cooper is the creepiest of cool.
The rebellious, respected rocker laughs age in the face and delivers an energy capable of summoning a storm. Literally. Rain poured and scattered crowds, only for the show to get louder and the fanatics to head-bang harder.
Thunder, bass, rain and even a giant Frankenstein prop made it true rock-n-roll.
The Annual Downtown Street Festival kicked off Friday night, bringing thousands of fun-loving El Pasoans to the heart of the city. Bolstered by great music and food, the crowds rocked on ’till the early-morning hours.
Check out Andres Acosta’s view of the party, in this ‘Story in Many Pics’
“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!