Last fall’s Neon Reverb festival marked a high point for the twice-annual Downtown event, in buzz, attendance and lineup, topped by the headlining Walkmen. Yet heading into this weekend’s sixth edition, organizers don’t sound concerned about living up to past successes. A big reason: Neon Reverb’s continued evolution from a series of concerts into a more wide-ranging cultural gathering. Along with close to 100 bands, the spring 2011 version features film, visual art, comedy, storytelling and even a food fair.
“We’ve always wanted it to be more than a musical festival,” cofounder Thirry Harlin says. “From the beginning, our idea was to make it a cultural festival, but you have to start somewhere, and music just made the most sense to begin it with.”
Neon Reverb will still present plenty of music, four nights’ worth spread across its traditional venues—Beauty Bar, the Bunkhouse (this time featuring a new, outdoor stage), Las Vegas Country Saloon, the Gypsy Den, the Griffin and the Beat—along with one new room, at the Royal Resort on Convention Center just east of the Strip. San Francisco indie rockers The Dodos are set to headline the fest, and from there the poster features its traditional blend of veteran and rising local and visiting acts, from Neon Reverb returnees like Vegas’ own Black Camaro, Twin Brother and Pan de Sal to such newcomers as New Yorkers Asobi Seksu and Brahms and Montreal’s Braids.
Still, cofounder James Woodbridge acknowledges that Neon Reverb was forced to scale back its music side somewhat after losing one key venue, the Aruba Showroom, along with several of last fall’s corporate sponsors, chiefly key contributor Budweiser. (The fest’s new beer sponsor? Sierra Nevada, $2 sales of which will help cover festival and venue expenses.) “The music part of the festival got shrunk down a little bit,” Woodbridge explains. “But we still have a bunch of great bands this time, and lots of other stuff going on.”
Among that “other stuff”: FilmFest screenings earlier this week at the Sci Fi Center, featuring independent shorts and features; a comedy showcase hosted by Jason Harris at the El Cortez this past Wednesday; the We Are the NRA (Neon Reverb artists, not National Rifle Association) group art exhibit, showing through March 31 at PWC Gallery (1221 S. Main St.); The Tell storytelling event, hosted by Dayvid Figler and Heather Hyte and featuring Pamela Des Barres, Derrick Brown, Ryan Pardey, Krissee Danger, P Moss and Paige Overton; and the Vegas StrEATS fest, a congregation of food trucks in the El Cortez promenade on the night of March 12.