Downtown music venue Tricky Falls closed its doors in October 2018, spelling out a cautionary tale to the existing music scene at El Paso and sending waves of shock to everyone from show goers to venue owners. “I think it’s terrifying that you had a main stage like Tricky Falls that brought in all of these huge shows…(and it) closed,” said co-owner of east side Rockhouse Bar & Grill Matteo Martinez.
Martinez was previously in a band and has now transitioned to becoming a co-owner, booking touring and local bands alike. He says the scene was different from when he was growing up to how it is today. “It was really united back then – a lot of the bands really helped each other out, supported each other and would come to shows together,” he said.
El Paso’s music scene has its ebbs and flows. In the ’90s and 2000s, the lively music scene spawned great bands like Sparta and At the Drive In. But now, Martinez points to the lack of support from both show goers and other bands as a symptom to El Paso’s poor music scene.
Martinez remembers “hustling” to promote his band and other bands that he considered friends. Selling merchandise, passing CDs from person to person and even promoting other bands to electrify more unity among everyone was his goal and continues to do so today as a co-owner. “I try to do whatever I can, however I can, to support the scene,” he said.
Even Leo Lara, who manages Monarch on the west side of town, has been active in the music scene since coming from sister city Ciudad Juárez in México. Lara also books bands or plays in his own psych/punk band, Nalgadas. He says the music scene is different from before. “It’s a lot of the same people, and it’s a lot of different styles of bands. So it’s still around, but not necessarily how it was when we started,” he said.
Martinez and Lara both expressed that another inevitable symptom of the music scene’s slump has been life itself, and its ebbs and flows. Relationships, families, career changes and even death affects a band from continuing. “There’s a lot of things to take into consideration when you either wanna pursue it 100 percent or you wanna take a step back,” Martinez said.
They agree that the lack of support is the main indicator. “It’s tough here. I know there’s a lot of people here that don’t feel the support and it’s tough, but you have to do it,” Lara said.
He compares the scene to that of Austin, Texas. Lara thinks that people prefer to travel to support existing major music-based cities like our capital rather than promoting the one at home. He prefers to bring people together in El Paso and in Juárez to promote local bands and fellow venues in hopes of expanding the music scene. “It’s better to bring it all together and work together to make it fun for the city, for everybody,” he said.
Lead vocalist of Pilots of Venus, Joel Chavez, who has been on the rise in the music scene says that he remembers the scene as being “strict” and uniform, but thinks it’s now diverse and a great time to be in the music scene. “I think we have a musical renaissance happening in this city,” he said.
With the help of Martinez and Lara bringing touring bands from every point of the country and the world, Chavez and his band mates meet people slowly gaining El Paso and the existing scene on the map. “I think right now it’s kind of thought of like a hole in the wall. But with all of these bigger acts, it slowly gets more respect. It’s insane to be a part of it,” he said.
Chavez also mentions the talented younger musicians immersing themselves and expanding the music scene while still appealing to the audience. He thinks that those bands will diversify the scene further in a positive direction. “I think it’s cool that they will be able to transition (from high school) into a scene that is very accepting and very loving and welcoming. They get exposed to this other music and then they transition into later years and the cycle repeats,” Chavez said.
Despite the closure of Tricky Falls, Chavez, Martinez and Lara are hopeful that the music scene will continue along.
In the near future, Lara and owners of Monarch will open another venue to replace Trost building known as Warsaw on First Street and South Florence Street downtown. Changing the name and renovating the interior of the building, Monarch will be near the new location of The Lowbrow Palace on Texas Street. Lara hopes that even with the new location and the growth of other music venues like Lowbrow and Rockhouse, it can create a more united scene. “There’s a lot that can be said for working together, instead of looking at it as competition between venues,” he said.
Lara says that he will continue to book shows and support the growing music scene around him. Martinez is also in for the longevity of the love for the scene and anticipates the unification and an increase in support from bands and show goers. “I think if people open their eyes a little bit, open their minds a little bit, embrace one and each other, I think this will be a very special place,” Martinez said.
Story by Jacqueline Aguirre.