The Sun City celebrated the eighth edition of Neon Desert Music Festival in the heart of El Paso, Texas this past weekend, welcoming local music lovers from all over the binational metropolitan area. Although it reached 100 degrees, sweltering temperatures didn’t stop the 30,000-plus attendees who endured the heat and wiped the sweat from their foreheads for the two-day festival.
Since its inception in 2009, organizers have proudly booked a genre-diverse offering of Latinx acts, including Daddy Yankee, Mala Rodríguez, Molotov, Calle 13, Carla Morrison, and J Balvin. This year was no different, with both international and El Paso’s own Latinx acts gracing the festival’s eclectic lineup.
Day one started with indie R&B duo The Swell Kids and local band Divine Kegel proudly representing the city with their raw punk riffs. Rappers Playboy Carti and Lil’ Wayne delivered a much-needed dose of hip-hop, crowding both of the festival stages. As the night went on, Caloncho made his El Paso debut, drawing an audience of fervent fans who belted every single line of the singer-songwriter’s discography. Closing out the night, cult post-hardcore band At The Drive-In proved that although 24 years have passed since they first broke on the scene, they can still rock their hometown effortlessly.
The festival also offered a ton of activities for attendees looking for entertainment in between sets, including skateboarding ramps and half pipes, a pro wrestling ring, live art displays, and local food, like the Tap’s legendary nachos. On day two of the festival, 19-year-old Chicano balladeer Cuco cemented his status as crowd-pleaser, drawing his desperately loyal fans to the Paso Del Norte stage. Bomba Estéreo’s Li Saumet arrived donning a glorious head-to-toe yellow outfit, meditating with the audience in between performances of the duo’s beloved electro-cumbia hits. Headliners Café Tacvba did not disappoint El Paso’s most devoted fans, as they played classics from Re, as well as some standouts from their latest album Jei Beibi. Gucci Mane and Dillon Francis closed out the festival by packing each stage and allowing attendees to release all their pent-up energy from the weekend.
Neon Desert’s continued success over the years proves that El Paso and its metropolitan area is hungry for a festival that acknowledges local Latinx art, music, and food, while also bringing international artists of all genres to the city. It’s easy for our communities to feel alienated in corporate festival settings, but it seems the tide is turning. Through examples set by festivals like Neon Desert, gatekeepers are finally acknowledging the power in catering to a blend of local and mainstream tastes. This strategy has been the hard-fought accomplishment of journalists, bookers, and other stakeholders, and it seems like the festival landscape is paying attention. El Paso is a historic city with an abundance of cultural offerings, and as the city continues to grow, it’s important for newcomers to understand the complex identities and communities of people who make the city what it is today.
Editor’s note: Remezcla’s Neon Desert coverage was made possible through accommodations from the City of El Paso.