Neon Reverb music fest kicks off tonight

They call themselves facilitators, not promoters.

There’s a difference, you know.

"I try to make that clear to everybody," Thirry Harlin says between bites of his lunch at The Strip Sandwich Shop on a recent Tuesday afternoon.

"We’re not corporate guys," his cohort, James Woodbridge, notes.

Together and on their own, these two fixtures of the Vegas indie music scene have booked tons of shows over the years, Woodbridge as the head of his MetaMeta Productions company, Harlin as the former manager of the Bunkhouse.

Now, the two friends are about to launch their most ambitious undertaking, Neon Reverb, a four-day downtown music festival spread across five venues that kicks off at 9 p.m. today at the Beauty Bar.

A mix of local and smaller national and international touring bands, Neon Reverb’s lineup ranges from Vegas acts like art pop ensemble The Big Friendly Corporation and attitudinal rockers the Stript to glammy Danish hams Turboweekend and country-tinged Californians Dusty Rhodes and the River Band.

Set to take place twice a year, in March and September, the debut of Neon Reverb is meant to set the stage for a bigger installment next spring.

"The main intention was to pair the best local bands with these touring bands, so that it shows people that this is a viable scene," Harlin explains.

Of course, downtown already hosts one music fest, the annual Amplify conference, which takes place in August, but Neon Reverb is a different, more homespun beast. Whereas Amplify features more than 100 bands, many of them playing at the same time as one another and competing for an audience, Neon Reverb features a much more streamlined lineup of about three dozen bands with a staggered running order so that attendees don’t have to miss any one.

"Our idea was to get people moving through downtown," Harlin says.

Moreover, where bands that play Amplify are required to sell tickets, thus skewing things a bit to younger acts who are just beginning to build a name for themselves, many of the acts that play Neon Reverb were hand-selected favorites of Harlin and Woodbridge who simply wanted to spotlight some of their favorite bands.

"Mainly, we just try and get bands we like," Woodbridge says.

"We don’t care about the money," Harlin adds, noting that he often pays bands out of his own pocket. "We care about doing the right thing for the local music scene."

This includes helping to foster more of an arts community in the heart of the city, as Harlin and Woodbridge aim to use Neon Reverb to make downtown a destination for more than just deep-fried Twinkies and plastic footballs filled with beer.

"This is a decent place to come down to," Harlin says. "There’s the beginning of a vibrant cultural nightlife here."

Contact reporter Jason Bracelin at jbracelin@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0476.

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