Under the lights of Fremont Street last night the Neon Reverb music festival was making its mark. At the Beauty Bar Pan de Sal delivered a surprisingly large crowd for an early show, leading them in the “peanut butter smushy” line dance and ending their participatory set with a call and response chant: “When I say ‘Pan de’ you say ‘Sal!’ When I say ‘undies,’ you say ‘off.’ The crowd happily obliged – with the chant, that is, not the strip tease.
A couple hours later and five blocks away, the festival’s success was equally evident in the locals filling in empty spaces at The Bunkhouse. A circle of listeners sat cross-legged around the stage like a kindergarten class at story time, looking up as local cow-punk outfit The Clydesdale crafted country campfire tales and love songs with all the grit and swagger of the Old West.
“You better say your hellos/You better say your goodbyes/Last thing your gonna see tonight is that big old black sky,” Lead singer Paige Overton snarled into the microphone. “You better find a lucky star/you better pick the right one/’cause I hate to tell you my prayers have been answered and your time is done.”
The four-day Neon Reverb music festival, which is slated to return for its second appearance in March, was created by concert promoters Thirry Harlin and James Woodbridge with the goal of turning Downtown into a destination for more than tourists and hipsters. The fact that it was working last night wasn’t an illusion of the flashing lights or PBR tall boys. Neon Reverb has worked for the simple reason that it’s delivered acts that people want to see – popular, predominately local bands gathered together for easy access in a kind of Captain Planet “our powers combined” approach.
As The Clydesdale stomped, strummed, crooned and hollered, it was easy to feel the oft over-analyzed local music scene rallying around the new festival and its simple message - the same message Overton vocalized perfectly midway through The Clydesdale’s set when she turned to lead-guitarist Andrew Karasa and spoke in her classic deadpan.
“Quit talking; start playing.”