News Column

Neon Desert Music Festival: Omar Rodriguez Lopez brings his new band home

May 24, 2013

YellowBrix

May 24--Omar Rodriguez Lopez remembers being nervous for the first Neon Desert Music Festival in 2011.

"I just wanted to do a good job. I wanted it to be the best show possible," the guitar virtuoso said, laughing as he recalled that performance with the Omar Rodriguez Lopez Group.

"To put that into context for you," he said, "I normally don't have those thoughts running in my head before we play."

Rodriguez Lopez returned for Neon Desert 2012, playing bass with Le Butcherettes, which he called "a really memorable performance for us."

The prolific guitarist, known for his work with El Paso's At the Drive-In and progressive rock's The Mars Volta, returns for Saturday's third annual festival with Bosnian Rainbows, a

band so new its debut album won't come out until June 25.

They're one of 34 indie, Latin and electronic acts who'll perform from 3 p.m. Saturday to 2 a.m. Sunday on five stages stretching from San Jacinto Plaza to Cleveland Square Park in Downtown El Paso. Bosnian Rainbows go on at 8 p.m. on the Splendid Sun Stage by the Mills Plaza parking lot.

Festival organizers hope the third time's the charm -- for their bottom line, the 12,000 to 15,000 people they're expecting, and the ever-evolving guitarist's latest musical incarnation.

"Omar, in terms of musical identity, is highly respected. If he didn't want to play the festival, he wouldn't," said Zach Paul, a partner in Austin's Splendid Sun Productions, which produces Neon

Desert.

He said it's a seal of approval any time Rodriguez Lopez or any other of El Paso's internationally known musicians -- like Jim Ward, who played last year with Sparta -- want to play Neon Desert. "It makes us feel good, like we're on the right path," Paul said.

Rodriguez Lopez thinks they are. "I just think it's a really incredible thing. The coolest part, obviously, is just to play in your hometown, to be Downtown with all of your friends, to see the city come to life on a musical level," he said from Los Angeles, where Bosnian Rainbows prepared for a summer tour.

"It's even cooler being outside of El Paso and realizing how many people became aware of the festival very quickly," he said. "I could be in New York with somebody and say we're playing Neon Desert again and they'd say, 'Oh, yeah, that's the one in Texas.' "

The festival is carving out that niche with a hybrid of music reflective of the area's bicultural makeup. The first two hosted sets from Moby, Ghostland Observatory, Kinky, CSS and Los Amigos Invisibles, among many others.

This year's Neon Desert Music Festival features electronic acts Martin Solveig, Wolfgang Gartner and Dragonette; Latin rockers Molotov, PXNDX and Carla

Morrison; and indie rock's Best Coast, Interpol's Paul Banks and a second appearance by El Paso's The Royalty.

They'll perform on four stages -- two bordering San Jacinto Plaza, one next to the Mills Plaza parking lot, and one at Cleveland Square Park. A silent disco, where local DJs perform for headphones-wearing revelers, returns to San Jacinto Plaza.

Paul said organizers have learned from past experience to work with a tight budget and tighter time constraints. The four portable stages don't go up until after perimeter streets are closed at 6 p.m. Friday.

They've pushed back this year's start from 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday to stagger stage setups and make more economic use of the stage crews, he said.

Also new: an autograph tent sponsored by Whataburger and four El Paso Water Utilities hydration stations. Returning staples include live art and food trucks.

Bosnian Rainbows, which debuted last year, grew out of Rodriguez Lopez's recent work with Mexico's Le Butcherettes and singer Teri Gender Bender. He produced their first album and was working on a second when Mars Volta drummer Deantoni Parks and his Kudu collaborator, keyboardist-singer Nicci Kasper, joined them at the guitarist's former home studio in Guadalajara.

"It all happened rather quickly," he said. They worked on several recordings, few of which have been released.

Rodriguez Lopez alternated last year between a European tour with Mars Volta and a reunion tour with El Paso's long-dormant At the Drive-In. He formed what would become Bosnian Rainbows to back him on a two-month solo tour of Europe late last summer. It was during rehearsals in Germany that it "all came together," he said.

"It was a month of real chemistry and living together, being around each other, cooking, playing soccer, going to movies, writing music, and then we went on the road," Rodriguez Lopez said.

The band, which he calls "a four-way partnership," toured Europe and recorded its 11-song album of boundary-pushing, accessible rock in Germany. Its members have toured, written and lived together to the point where "we finish each other's sentences," he said.

The band lived in El Paso in January while Rodriguez Lopez, who's also a filmmaker, worked on his next movie, "Nino y La Esperanza," which he plans to finish in the fall.

His involvement with the Rainbows angered Mars Volta singer and longtime bandmate Cedric Bixler Zavala, who quit in January to focus on a solo album. Rodriguez Lopez doesn't consider that band to be over.

"I don't close doors. I only open new ones," he said. "If any door exists, it's always open for me, as long as it's a positive thing energywise."

Saturday may be his third Neon Desert appearance, but it's a safe bet it will be unlike his others.

"I go through a lot of different changes. I'm lucky enough to have my creative expression serve me as an outlet and keep me from going mad," he said. "An added bonus is the fact that I can also eat and live off of it."

Doug Pullen may be reached at dpullen@elpasotimes.com; 546-6397. Read Pullen My Blog at elpasotimes.com/blogs. Follow him on Twitter @dougpullen and on Facebook at facebook.com/dougpulleneptimes.

Make plans

-- What: Neon Desert Music Festival.

-- When: 3 p.m. Saturday to 2 a.m. Sunday.

-- Where: Five stages from San Jacinto Plaza to Cleveland Square Park in Downtown El Paso.

-- How much: $55 in advance, $65 at the gate, $150 VIP. Advance tickets are on sale at All That Music & Video, Happy House, the Headstand and WB Liquors. VIP passes are available from the Neon Desert website.

-- Information: neondesertmusicfestival.com.

Stage schedule

-- Budweiser Stage (Franklin Avenue and Santa Fe Street): Ribo Flavin, 4:30 p.m.; Black Coats, 5:30 p.m.; Carla Morrison, 7 p.m.; PXNDX, 9 p.m.; Molotov, 11:15 p.m.

-- Splendid Sun Stage (Mills Plaza parking lot): Electric Social, 4 p.m.; Viernes, 5 p.m.; Paul Banks, 6 p.m.; Bosnian Rainbows, 8 p.m.; Best Coast, 10 p.m.

-- El Paso Electric Stage (Mills Avenue and Mesa Street): Johnny Kage, 4:45 p.m.; Nortec Collective Presents Bostich+Fussible, 6:15 p.m.; Kidnap Kid, 8 p.m.; Wolfgang Gartner, 9:30 p.m.; Martin Solveig, midnight.

-- Mack"Massey Stage (Mills Avenue and Oregon Street): The Royalty, 5:15 p.m.; A Band of Bitches, 7 p.m.; STRFKR, 8:45 p.m.; Dragonette, 10:45 p.m.

-- WB Liquors Silent Disco (San Jacinto Plaza): DJ contest winners to be announced, 3 and 4 p.m.; Teddy Prince Jr., 5 p.m.; Amer/Glitterface & Jason O, 6 p.m.; Rob Bass/One Man Jazz, 7 p.m.; Souldies/D.A., 8 p.m.; L.I.G.R.E./Freddy Towers, 9 p.m.; Stereo Thieves/Midnight Response, 10 p.m.; Tom Laike/Dirty Funk, 11 p.m.

Autographs

At the Whataburger Autograph Tent, Oregon Avenue and Main Street.

-- STRFKR, 5-5:20 p.m.

-- PXNDX, 6-6:20 p.m.

-- Best Coast, 7-7:20 p.m.

-- Molotov, 8-8:20 p.m.

-- Bostich+Fussible, 9-9:20 p.m.

-- The Royalty, 10-10:20 p.m.

___

(c)2013 the El Paso Times (El Paso, Texas)

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