Neon Desert Music Festival has announced its 2016 lineup, with Daddy Yankee, Future, Tiësto, Deftones and Carnage as headliners. That some of the biggest names in music are playing the El Paso festival points to just how much Neon Desert has grown over the six years since its founding in 2011. In addition to the headliners, the two-day festival will also welcome such in-demand acts as Natalia Lafourcade, Tyler, the Creator, and AlunaGeorge to the border metropolis’s downtown. Though the festival organizers are dialing things back from three days to two this year, festival partner Zach Paul says he and the other organizers are expecting a record crowd, or at least their usual turnout of around 15,000 people per day of the festival.
It may be a relative newcomer to the crowded music festival scene, but Neon Desert is quickly finding ways to distinguish itself by booking an eclectic mix of world-class talent and local up-and-comers with an eye toward serving native El Paso music fans as well as those in the wider Paso del Norte area. The festival draws local music fans, attendees from neighboring cities in Mexico, as well as people from all over the Southwestern U.S.
Its organizers have always booked a mix of international artists with broad appeal on both sides of the US-Mexico border. Bills from previous years have surpassed Coachella for high-draw Latin alternative groups like Zoé, Calle 13, and Babasonicos. “Doing a Latin fest or an EDM fest or a hip-hop fest or a rock fest – that was never even part of the discussion. We wanted to have something for everyone. When you look at El Paso and being on the border it obviously makes sense to have some of that Latin influence with the bands that we book,” Paul says of the festival’s eclectic curation.
Still, Daddy Yankee’s name stands out as a particularly interesting choice among this year’s headliners. Having the world’s preeminent exponent of reggaeton on the poster is a coup, but also a bold move for a festival that, in general, hews closely to the rock, hip-hop, and EDM musical food groups. No one is arguing against the Puerto Rican star’s popularity, but reggaeton continues to have a polarizing effect in the Latino community.
Paul admits he was “a little bit of a risk to book,” but he’s quick to add that “the feedback we’ve gotten has been great,” noting Daddy Yankee’s solid Mexican fanbase. Daddy Yankee also constitutes a first for the young fest. “We’ve never booked anything like it, at least from a headliner standpoint, but he’s a huge artist and we’re really excited to have him on the bill,” says Paul. Overall, the choice makes sense, since reggaeton is making a mainstream resurgence.
“We want them to feel like this is what El Paso and Juárez feels like. This is what the border feels like.”
As the festival continues to evolve, staying local remains an important theme. There’s a dedicated stage for Texas artists, and Paul estimates that more than 20 of the performers are from El Paso. Omar Rodríguez-López of The Mars Volta and At the Drive-In is an El Paso hometown hero, and his projects as Bosnian Rainbows and Antemasque have appeared on Neon Desert stages. All of the fest’s food and merch vendors are local, and it can claim Texas-bred companies Whataburger and Mattress Firm as sponsors. Paul feels this is central to the festival’s spirit. As he puts it: “When people come to this festival, they’re coming from Chihuahua. They’re coming from Denver or Phoenix. We want them to feel like this is what El Paso and Juárez feels like. This is what the border feels like.”
Neon Desert takes place in El Paso, Texas on May 28 and 29, 2016. Enter to win tickets below, or purchase tickets on the Neon Desert website.