Depending where you sit, Neon Reverb is either a can't-miss party or a total nonentity. Those who attend — namely, those directly involved in the local music scene plus a smattering of diehard music heads who spend their free time studying band MySpace pages — no doubt had a blast assaulting their eardrums last weekend. Those who don't, i.e., the rest of humanity, might be tangentially aware of the festival's existence, but might not be able to identify a single band on the 100-plus-act bill.
Organizers talk of wanting to "grow" the event — by bringing in more recognizable headliners, by stepping up to larger venues, by attracting national press, by somehow involving The Killers. "We should be bigger by now," co-founder Thirry Harlin told me in the days before the twice-annual fest's fourth edition in 19 months. But while he isn't wrong in theory — who wouldn't like to see Band of Horses playing a 550-capacity room? — in practice, maybe Neon Reverb should be okay being "just" what it is.
What's that? For one, a grand gathering of local talent, at a time when the long-maligned Vegas scene is far better than many folks realize. Afghan Raiders, Imagine Dragons, The Clydesdale, Twin Brother, The Skooners, The Lazystars, the National SouthWestern contingent — the list of local bands worthy of your consideration grows lengthier all the time, and Neon Reverb's condensed format makes it easy to stay current. Also, while out-of-town names might not jump off the flier, vanloads of talented visitors were on display Downtown and beyond. Those who did their homework were rewarded, in the form of memorable sets from the likes of Twin Tigers, Rainbow Arabia, Sole & The Skyrider Band and The Delta Mirror. Sure, the list won't ever rival Coachella's, but does it really have to when it's cheap and happening in our very own town?
Could Neon Reverb run smoother? Certainly. Band times — for every venue, posted early enough for folks to make plans — would help. It's uncool showing up to find out the band you came to see is done, or still three hours from starting. Also, empty rooms make for negative vibes; bragging rights aside, there's no point in having 100-plus acts if a quarter of them play to friends and family only. NR planners might consider slimming down the festival slightly, perhaps only scheduling events away from Downtown if there's an identifiable reason a crowd might head "off-site" to attend them.
But complaints are few. For a nonprofit event without major sponsors, run by volunteers and helped out by local bands who play for free, Neon Reverb always manages to rock pretty hard.