Unbeknownst to me was what I was about to hear during the meeting that would change the course of this past weekend.
A group of El Paso natives living in Austin wanted to gain support for their plan to organize the first ever music festival in El Paso. They called it the "Neon Desert Music Festival” and fortunately they had an opportunity to speak to city council about their plan and ultimately gain their support that would make the festival a reality.
Months of promoting and planning continued and would end on Saturday April 30th when the inauguration festival would shake and move downtown El Paso to its core.
It also managed to make my feet and calves hurt to this very day from all the walking, jumping, grooving and dancing due to the incredible music played by all the performers.
Let's just say the pain was worth it!
As most days in El Paso, the sunny sky filled the city with light and warmth.....perfect music festival weather. No rain, humidity, snow, or storm in sight. Wind was the most worrying factor; our desert is known for its strong winds especially during the spring. According to the weather forecast, wind was expected but that did not stop anyone from showing up. Fortunately the tall buildings downtown helped keep the winds to a minimum for the festival.
I joined my friends and headed to see our first band of the day play....Radio La Chusma(picture on the right), a local band that fused different genres of music together including Latin, reggae and cumbia. Their performance was great and it pumped me up for the rest of the day. My favorite song that they played was "Cumbia de Maracumbe"which propelled my body to dance to the rhythm.
After that, we saw the DA, another local band that played indie/electronic/dance music. It was the first time, I've ever heard them and I especially liked the incorporation of a trumpet played by a UTEP student. The crowd was pumped and grooved to the music for the entire performance including a much older lady that stood out from the entire young college student looking people. My friends (Ricardo and Melissa) and I assumed that she was one of the band member's extremely supportive mother who was dancing to the music and singing along to the lyrics.
When it was over, we headed to the food court where a number of food vendors were cooking and selling food for the public. Favoring Mexican food, especially tacos over anything, I headed to the taco stand selling my favorite, tacos al pastor!! I was also incredible surprised that there was Mediterranean food available especially since I have been searching high and low in El Paso for some souvlaki and baklava (my mom's favorite). My friend and Latinita Helen, purchased humus and baklava for us to share along with my tacos. It was delicious! Also, on an interesting side note, tacos al pastor were introduced by Lebanese immigrants in Mexico and were inspired by araba shawarna cooking that is similar to the Turkish döner kebab and the Greek gyro (a Mediterranean food that's an absolute favorite of mine!.
Los Amigos Invisibles (picture on left), a Latin Grammy winning band from Venezuela, were coming up to play and we were ready to be knocked off out of our socks with their set. We danced; we took pictures and jumped up and down to the music. The set was great and at the end, the crowd was yelling "Otra, Orta!" And though we were feeling good, we were also starting to get really tired.
I began to feel the pain in the feet and the feeling of exhaustion creeping through but my mind was not ready to go home and rest. We were still waiting for more great bands and the headliner. I couldn't wait! We took more pictures and decided it was that time where we would have to use the dreaded pora potty.
Images of smelly, gross, dirty bathrooms and porta potties went through my head but were diminished by the fact that I had to go!
We decided to use the little porta potties because we figured that kids went there and therefore wouldn't be as dirty. The girls and I choose to go in the pink one with a Cinderella picture on it. Although small, I was very surprised that it didn't smell and that there was toilet paper!! One of them even had hand sanitizer! I'm glad I had my own little bottle of hand sanitizer! It's a life saver sometimes.
We sat down in a bench to rest our feet.....bad idea! It hurts more when you have to get back up. And the light headache from the sun that I had been feeling since lunch was getting a bit stronger. “Oh body, don't give up on me now” is what my mind kept saying.
The music kept me going, the sounds that were coming from the stage were telling me "come hither" and like an obedient student I followed until we were in front of the stage among all the other people dancing and enjoying the music. The energy was high and we were in the moment. It was Designer Drugs that was playing their addictive electro beats, perfect prologue to the upcoming headliner, MSTRKRFT.
After the performance we sat underneath a tree and rested while we listened to Kinky perform. My foot kept tapping to the beat. I continued enjoying the music while we took a break. We also took a
walk to view the art displayed throughout the festival. I admired some of the huge canvas paintings (on right), one that had a portrait of Benito Juarez. I loved how the festival showcased our borderland culture that is a fusion of many different influences especially our Mexican heritage and U.S. culture.
We also noticed a huge canvas painting with the artist working on it right there as we walked by. It was creativity in the making!
So it was 15 minutes before MSTRKRFT and one of my friends, Ricardo, was so anxious that he wanted to get to the stage so that we would get a good spot. By the time we got to the stage, there were already people gathered around. MSTRKRFT came by shortly and that’s when the energy went from high to full blast that kept going on for an hour and a half. As we got closer, the space got tighter and Helen was getting a bit claustrophobic and I wasn’t very comfortable either. I was wearing sandals and I knew that it would be a matter of time before I would get stepped on. I did not want to take the risk and so we left my friend Ricardo who refused to lose his spot. Shortly after, Melissa and her boyfriend (who joined us during lunch) followed us. We hanged out on the tree where we were sitting down earlier where we stayed for the rest of the concert dancing. Unfortunately by headache was pounding and the upbeat music was not helping. I was a bit frustrated that my head and feet were ruining this because I had looked forward to it for such a long time. I endured though as much as I could and enjoyed the performance. I did not go to the other headliner, the Omar Lopez Rodriguez Group, formally the Mars Volta band that originated in El Paso. Melissa went with her boyfriend and told me that the atmosphere there was much mellower.
The end of the Neon Desert Music Festival was approaching and in spite of my worn out body, I was very happy to be a part of this and to share this with my friends (on left). Never in my wildest imagination would I think that I would encounter these new friends to share an extraordinary event that occurred in El Paso.
I believe that El Paso is changing. It’s flourishing its rich history and culture that seem to have taken the backseat for a while. This city is full of talent! I have seen it with the people that I have met and interviewed since I have been back last May.
I left El Paso in 2007 with a very distinct image of the city. I did not ever know about events like music festivals or even things that I am know aware about like Open Mics, Poetry slams, art galleries, cultural parties, literary organizations, creative writing workshops, different styles of bands – jazz, cumbia, hip hop, etc. I’m grateful to be able to share witness and be a part of this change for the better.