Scenes from the 2019 Neon Desert Music Festival
By Richard Gonzalez
Held annually in El Paso, Texas, the Neon Desert Music Festival may be a boutique festival by definition, but now in it's ninth year, it deserves recognition for doing something that was in a lot of ways ahead of its time—incorporating Latinx acts alongside some of the biggest names in hip hop and electronic music. If you look at music lineups like this year’s Coachella, you recognize the trend, but Neon Desert has been doing it for years. El Paso serves as the perfect backdrop for NDMF and it's one that artists who are performing—as well as attendees—have come to appreciate. This year’s festival saw a 50% increase in attendance over last year’s event and included a new set up that provided room for massive crowds while placing an emphasis on spots for local artists to showcase live murals, pro wrestling, and a skate park.
We made the trip to El Paso to catch up with some of our favorite acts and to discover some new stuff along the way. Our first act up was Ximena Sariñana, but unfortunately, she was unable to make it due to VISA issues. Heartbreaking, yes, but we were able to check out her replacements, El Paso natives The Swell Kids who have had spots opening up for Khalid and have a loyal hometown crowd. From there we caught back to back sets from Tyga and Tory Lanez who both had massive crowds of hip hop fans going crazy.
The fun part about NDMF is how quickly you can switch tones, and what better example of that than the next set with Steve Aoki. Leading up to the show Aoki tweeted about El Paso noting it is one of his favorite crowds to play for in the U.S, and from the start, you could see exactly why. From the second the show started, to the last minute, it was high energy lights, confetti, and of course, cake. After that, we headed over to see Dashboard Confessional deliver a purposefully nostalgic set that delivered some of his most memorable songs from a set list that he performed because "he doesn't make it to El Paso very often." It was a unique show for his most diehard fans.
Closing out Saturday was Miguel, who has solidified himself as one of today's most impressive R&B stars and one that has made efforts to stay true to both sides of his roots. He was the perfect headliner for the biggest night of the festival and played the kind of set that showcased his level of talent. Closing things out with "Skywalker" was the perfect end to the first day.
Banes World kicked off our Sunday in appropriate fashion with his chill blend of guitars and overall relaxing vibe. Not surprising from an artist who released an EP called "Drowsy." Next up was one of the highlights of the entire weekend. While we have caught Kali Uchis a couple of times over the past year, she continues to not only amaze but to elevate as a performer. Uchis came out with a swagger and was relentless throughout her set. She pounced from each side of the stage to the other and her confidence was contagious. She set the crowd to a perfect pitch for Young Thug, who was next up and took the energy and ran with it performing some of his biggest hits today, and from our vantage point, was surprised with the power of the crowd. Halfway through the set, even Miguel ran through the front of the stage to get a better view.
After that, we headed to see one of our favorites, Chicano Batman, who are always magnetic when you see them perform and from what we could tell we got a preview of new material. The set also consisted of some of their best songs from each album and showcased a band at their most polished and confident. Even though we went to check out Wiz Khalifa for a few songs after this in our minds, Chicano Batman were the real headliners for the night. A band that is doing something in a classic style but in a uniquely original way.
Neon Desert Music Festival is a weekend that continues to improve and grow, and with such a successful run this year, we look forward to seeing what the 10th anniversary has in store for us. One thing we learned is that Ximena has already committed to 2020 after this year’s forced cancellation, so that's a pretty good start.