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September 21, 2014

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Neon Reverb and the Pastel Project battle for indie music fans’ hearts and minds

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Bill Hughes

Jeff the Brotherhood’s Jake Orrall went into the crowd during Neon Reverb’s fall 2010 edition.

Since its inception in the fall of 2008, the twice-annual Neon Reverb music and arts festival has spawned a series of tough choices. Rock at the Aruba or electro at Beauty Bar? Get to Fremont early for an acoustic set at the Beat or stay Downtown late for rockabilly at the Bunkhouse?

This weekend, however, local fans of independent music will find themselves facing a decision Neon Reverb never intended: whether even to attend. A separate, second music fest—the brand new Pastel Project at the Royal House on Convention Center Drive—will run Friday, March 23 and Saturday, March 24, conflicting with two of Neon Reverb’s biggest days. Not surprisingly, Neon Reverb organizers don’t sound thrilled.

“When the goal is to help the scene, you do things to help the scene. Now, instead, we’ve got a splintering of the scene,” says Neon Reverb co-founder James Woodbridge. [Full disclosure: the Weekly is a Neon Reverb sponsor.] “They knew in advance that we were doing ours that weekend. We’d locked in our contracts with our headliners before they even decided on a date. And when we heard they were doing theirs the same weekend, we asked if they could do it a different weekend. Their response was, ‘Nope.’”

Adam Mizzi, owner of the Royal, says it wasn’t that simple. “We started doing a lot of planning for that weekend, and then it clicked with [Pastel co-organizer] Ryan [Pardey] that it was the same weekend as Neon Reverb. But by then, if we moved it, we were gonna have to cancel it. We’d already started talking to agents and having them reach out to their artists, and it felt like we just couldn’t go backwards.”

Mizzi insists he harbors no ill will toward Neon Reverb. “It probably doesn’t seem like an innocent mistake, but it really was. I love Neon Reverb, and they’ve been good to us in the past. I hope they have a healthy event.”

But Jason Aragon, co-organizer for Neon Reverb, says the Pastel Project’s choice of dates feels like a “very deliberate act.”

“We actually had confirmations from some of the bands they have now, and then we lost them to the other fest because they just threw a large sum of money at them,” Aragon says.

No matter how anyone else feels about the two-festival showdown or how the competition might impact either’s success, one result is undeniable: Las Vegas will play host to an unusually high number of quality touring acts this weekend, along with shows from some of its best local bands.

The Pastel Project will bring to town rock bands like The Whigs, Autolux and Le Butcherettes, pop groups like CSS and Tennis and electro acts like STRFKR, the Chromatics and Glass Candy. Vegas will be represented at the Royal by Zach Ryan and the Renegades, Minor Suns, and Pardey’s own Halloween Town.

Bands and DJs will perform in the Royal’s rear parking lot, inside the hotel and poolside, with passes running $39-$99 for Friday, $49-$99 for Saturday and $69-$149 for the full weekend.

And, Mizzi promises, music will be just one aspect of an event he expects to draw as many out-of-towners as locals. “We’ve got a 90-foot Ferris wheel. We’re gonna have a lot of art installations, including one that’s a dump truck turned into a praying mantis—the back lifts up and it shoots fire, like, 20 feet into the air. We have performers, dancers, stilt walkers … It’s gonna be a great production. I’m incredibly confident it’s gonna blow people away.”

Neon Reverb, meanwhile, will be co-headlined by YACHT and VHS or Beta, set to share a Saturday night bill with local favorites Kid Meets Cougar. (That all-ages outdoor show, originally scheduled for the alley behind Beauty Bar, moved to the Junkyard due to permitting issues.)

Also coming into town for Neon Reverb: Crystal Antlers, The Aggrolites, Nico Vega, Cuckoo Chaos and Three Bad Jacks, among others. Locals playing the fest include The Clydesdale, Most Thieves, Dude City, Ministry of Love, The Lucky Cheats, Dusty Sunshine, Close to Modern, The Objex, Dreaming of Lions, Jacuzzihidive and Mama Zeus. Neon Reverb admission ranges from free to $15 per show.

“I think this is probably the most prepared we’ve been—the website, the scheduling, the confirmations,” Aragon says. “We were done weeks before the fest this time.”

Woodbridge chalks that up to shoe and apparel giant Zappos’ return as Neon Reverb’s primary sponsor. “The support from Zappos allowed us to start getting into making advancements,” he says. “We just need to figure out more ways to get more attention and more backing moving forward.”

As for Pastel’s future, Mizzi says in large part, this weekend’s fest will be a demo, where potential sponsors and partners—along with the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, which has already provided some marketing support—can glimpse Pastel’s vision for a much grander event.

“I call this one a festival celebration,” Mizzi says. “When people refer to festivals, I think of hundreds of thousands of people. For this one, we’ll maybe have 4,000 to 5,000 attendees, max, so this is an appetizer. And then, moving forward in the fall, we’ll put on a real, bona fide festival on Convention Center Drive.”

And before he finalizes that one, Mizzi promises, he’ll check in with the Neon Reverb folks. “We definitely won’t book on the same weekend, or at least we’ll communicate with them to make sure they’re aware,” he says. “I’ve got three weekends to choose from in September, so I won’t make that mistake again.”

This story first appeared in Sun sister publication Las Vegas Weekly.

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