Bright lights, big music festival

Neon Reverb presents more bands and venues than ever before

The twice-yearly Las Vegas music festival known as Neon Reverb has done it again, growing even bigger, badder, meaner. Last September, co-organizer James Woodbridge said he couldn’t imagine the event expanding unless more venues opened up. Well, a rotten economy hasn’t dampened the enthusiasm for live music apparently, since there are now 12 venues on board (up from nine last year), including four all-ages clubs, with new establishments Yayo Taco and Area 702 skate park. If you choose one week to hit the town in search of an awesome live act, this is the week to do it.

The latest (and fourth) Neon Reverb installment offers a whopping 116 bands over five nights. It’s not all about sheer numbers, there’s also an emphasis on genre-blending and diversity, with two hip-hop nights and a Hispanic rock lineup. The genre-blending includes a March 13 CD-release party featuring rappers HighDro and Shamroc at the Aruba, while three bands from Mexico kick up the diversity a notch.

Forget the usual categories. What is the average Vegas hipster going to make of Spindrift, a psychedelic Spaghetti Western heavy rock outfit that somehow brings together composer Ennio Morricone, The Doors, Velvet Underground, and gothic rockers Fields of the Nephilim? Chances are Las Vegans will be smitten March 13, when the L.A. band sets its sights on the aptly Western-themed Bunkhouse.

There’s even more extreme music being offered at Boomers, a bar located just behind Palace Station off Rancho Drive. There you’ll be hit by everything from the crushing arena-rock of Slow to Surface (March 11), whose song “Shake the Rafters” will do just that, to the gothic and melodic post-punk(abilly) of Devilcar (March 13), whose profile is starting to heat up substantially.

On top of all this, The Box Office in the Downtown Arts District will be organizing what it promises will be a “high-quality” battle of the bands contest on March 12. (Bands are still being confirmed as of this writing.) That same evening, there’s a live graffiti-on-canvas art show taking place at Gypsy Den with four bands (including punk act Majority Lost) providing accompaniment.

The diversity of pop and rock genres—while mixing in a bit of visual art—is in keeping with the festival’s established philosophy of inclusion. “It’s about bringing together as many different bands, national and local, as possible while keeping the quality high and raising the bar over last fall’s event,” co-organizer Thirry Harlin says.

“Because the festival is larger, we need more momentum as far as getting the word out and attracting people in larger numbers,” Woodbridge says.

Much of that momentum has been provided by the hour-long Friday night Neon Reverb Radio program on KUNV 91.5-FM, spearheaded by Vegas scenester Donald Hickey with some spiritual guidance courtesy of Killers bassist Mark Stoermer. Having debuted last November, the radio show seems to be drawing listeners eager to find out which bands are coming to Vegas—not just for Neon Reverb, but throughout the year. Woodbridge says the show hopes to expand to two hours as soon as they work out when Hickey can be on the air and if they can finance an increase in staff.

It’s not all roses. The whole Neon Reverb shuttle from venue to venue didn’t work out last time. And the outdoor stage on Fremont Street never materialized. Still, who needs a shuttle when you can ride an accelerating beer buzz in the same club all night and enjoy multiple bands? It’s as good a way as any to ride the Reverb.

And if this month’s event does well, Harlin says he’d like to add a film event. Everything hinges on whether Neon Reverb can secure a corporate sponsor for the year’s second installment. Don’t worry, though. Festival organizers have no intention of going soft with a bigger budget.

“We’re still very much a D.I.Y. [do it yourself] effort,” Woodbridge insists. “We’re not flying out bands here and making them any $10,000 guarantees, OK.”

Of course, he’s been wrong about Neon Reverb’s growth spurts before.

For more info on Neon Reverb, including ticket prices and show times, visit

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