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Neon Desert Music Festival kicks off in downtown El Paso

Gaby Velasquez
Lil Wayne performs at the Rio Bravo Stage at day of the Neon Desert Music Festival on Saturday, May 26.

It was a hot day as expected, though the slightly cloudy sky offered some relief from the heat as festival-goers made their way into downtown El Paso for the eight annual Neon Desert Music Festival.

Day one of NDMF kicked off with local popular acts Dulce Mal on the Paso del Norte stage and The Swell Kids on the Franklin Mountains stage. Both acts drew small crowds, however, that included everyone who arrived as soon as the gates opened and more continued to arrive throughout their sets.

Saturday had the largest lineup of notable acts including Lil Wayne, Martin Garrix, Playboi Carti, Third Eye Blind, and El Paso’s very own At The Drive-In. Yet, the crowd was sure to enjoy performances by some of the other acts.

Boogie, an up and coming rapper from Compton, had the crowd riled up as he crowd-surfed a couple of songs into his set. The 27-year-old rapper who just signed with Eminem’s label Shady Records in October played his popular new single, “Self-Destruction” along with other songs like “Nigga Needs” and “Sunroof”.

Just across the way at San Jacinto Plaza, Mikey Cloud had a loyal gathering at the Homegrown Live stage while another El Paso favorite, Great Shapes took the Paso del Norte stage with their cool colorful outfits. They played tracks off both their albums, First Form and Murmuration.

Little Jesus, all the way from Mexico City, was another popular act on the Paso del Norte stage. The Latin rock band kept the crowd feeling good.

It was entirely different vibe just down the block at the Franklin Mountains stage as Playboi Carti got the crowd hyped as he told the crowd to make mosh pits throughout his set. Meanwhile, EDM artist Malaa hit the Rio Bravo stage.

Malaa, is known for his house sound and served as a precursor to those waiting for Martin Garrix later on in the night. The crowd received him well as he donned his signature black full-faced mask, keeping his identity incognito.

The first night of NDMF encompassed some nostalgia as rock bands Third Eye Blind and At The Drive-In rocked the Franklin Mountains stage back-to-back.

First up, Third Eye Blind served well with those who remember hearing their songs on the radio back in the 90s. They opened up with “Graduate” taking the crowd back in time as they cheered in reminiscence. Songs like “Semi-Charmed Life”, “Never Let You Go” and “Jumper” were also a part of their set.

Lead vocalist Stephan Jenkins stopped to speak to the crowd about life and “being in this together”. He asked everyone to turn to someone they didn’t know and say, “I’m so glad you’re here.” He also mentioned that the band is currently working on a new album.

Soon after, the crowd slowly started dissipating as people started making their way to the Rio Bravo stage in anticipation of the largest act of the night, Lil Wayne. Tunechi, as he’s also known, was a replacement for former headliner Cardi B who just last month announced she would not be playing any more shows due to her pregnancy.

The popular rapper drew a massive crowd that spanned more than two blocks from the stage. He took it way back performing hits such as “A Milli”, “Pop Bottles”, “Lollipop”, “Every Girl” and many more songs from the beginning of his career up to now.

Weezy took the time to speak to the crowd, thanking them for their support over the years, asking who has been a loyal fan from the beginning. “I’ve been doing this for over 20 years, so I’m going to ask again,” he said into the mic. The crowd roared as he continued his set, rapping hit after hit.

Once he left the stage, it was time for legendary local band At The Drive-In to shine over at the Franklin Mountains stage. Festival-goers waited early to hear the band rock it out. ATDI who reunited in 2016, released their latest album in•ter a•li•a last year, and have been playing sold-out shows all over the U.S. and Europe ever since. Their last show in El Paso was just over a year ago when they kicked off their reunion tour, so it was about time they made their way back home.

Closing out the night was Dutch DJ Martin Garrix back the Rio Bravo stage. Everyone gathered to hear Garrix’s feel-good house music including songs like, “Animals”, “Scared To Be Lonely”, “In The Name Of Love”, “Forbidden Voices”, and many more. He greeted the crowd, jumping on a platform exclaiming how much he missed El Paso. The crowd enjoyed every minute of his set as they jumped up and down with their hands in the air feeling the vibes. His laser light show made for an amazing way to end the night with a bang.

Overall, day one of NDMF was filled with great local acts, talented headliners, amazing live art installations, and good vibes. Stay tuned to learn more about the artists for day two of Neon Desert.

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About the Contributors
Elenie Gonzalez, Web Editor
Gaby Velasquez, Photo editor
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Neon Desert Music Festival kicks off in downtown El Paso