Neon Desert Music Festival
Downtown El Paso, Texas
May 27-28, 2017
"From the city of the 9-1-5
Where all the girls are pretty
And they're down for the hype
All my boys are with me
Going up for the night
But who cares, who cares
'Cause this is our year!"
— "American Teen," Khalid
Exactly one year ago, Khalid Robinson was walking across the stage at his high-school graduation. To celebrate, he attended the Neon Desert Music Festival in Downtown El Paso. Fast-forward to the present day, and now he's walking, singing, and dancing across much bigger stages. With a hit single on the charts ("Location") and serving as the opening act on Travis Scott's Birds Eye View Tour, the American Teen is definitely living out his American Dream.
He rolled up to this year's festival in a Lamborghini, or at least that's what his Instagram account insinuated. Dressed in a hot pink neon outfit and rocking the Afro flat-top look, the budding R&B star packed close to six city blocks off Main Street. From youngsters under ten, teens, and grown folks, it seemed like every El Pasoan in attendance was singing along with every track. Supported by a stellar backup band, Khalid delivered a spectacular late-afternoon set.
That combination of new talent mixed with homegrown hype has lately boosted Neon Desert into the class of the country's premier music festivals. Now in its seventh year, the event continues to grow by offering international acts in a small-town atmosphere. Only this small town knows how to party like the big boys. The stage production was top-notch, from the video boards to the lights and lasers, and certainly to the heart-shattering speaker towers. Once again, Neon Desert lived up to the high standard that Splendid Sun Productions and Scoremore Shows have jointly built up through the years.
But that growth didn't come without a few setbacks. An early set on the Rio Bravo Stage by Houston's own Trae Tha Truth was marred by sound and power issues. The Franklin Mountains Stage lost power intermittently at the beginning of Nelly's set, and completely during headliner Logic's late-evening performance. As tension and frustration grew, Logic reminded everyone that things like this happen sometimes, and that he was ready to extend his set to accommodate the delay. He even started to sing along to The White Stripes' "Seven Nation Army" as the crowd chanted the iconic fanfare.
The most awesome part about El Paso is its music fans, who are both appreciative and patient. They raise their hands and wave them as instructed by the performers, sing and dance along to the tracks, and respond just right when prompted by the performers onstage. In many ways, El Paso is a perfect music town of and for the fans. Their enthusiasm is certainly one of the main reasons we have enjoyed Neon for the past several years.
By the way, the culprit of the downtime was a faulty generator, followed by an equally faulty backup. True to their consummate professionalism, however, the Neon Desert crew made sure Day Two carried on without any sound or power issues. Both the stage manager and my media rep assured us that those issues were resolved and dealt with. I guess even power generators need a break every now and then, especially when providing the electric output necessary to create onstage magic of every Neon Desert performance.
Other highlights includes Colombian pop/reggaeton superstar J. Balvin drawing in possibly the livest crowd I've ever experienced at this festival. It was almost hard to fathom the nearly endless amount of hit records Balvin has in his arsenal, as he blessed the crowd with "Ginza," "Safari," "6 AM" and "Ay Vamos" to a roaring response. The crowd erupted when he shouted out Justin Beiber before dropping the "Sorry - Latino Remix" into the cool El Paso night. His set was super-polished and hype, with a cool but inviting attitude and smooth dance moves.
Also on deck were trap-rap superstars Migos, who are currently experiencing an uplift after Donald Glover shouted them out during his Golden Globe acceptance speech earlier this year. In reality, the trio has been locked in for at least the last five years, giving us such American poetry standards such as "Versace", "Fight Night," "Hannah Montana," "Pipe It Up," "Look at My Dab" and, of course, "Bad And Boujee." Each track pumped up the massive crowd more and more, causing the buildings surrounding the stage to shake. It was certainly a glorious spectacle of down and dirty Southern hospitality. After all these years, just as André 3000 prophesied, the South still has "something to say."
And if this year is any indication of its bright future, so does Neon Desert.
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