Relevance leads to an internship epiphany in the neon desert

EL PASO — The music festival was a living, breathing organism of 11,000 blurry faces, bright lights and loud sounds. Walking through the darkness and seeing the excitement of people dancing frantically to their favorite artists made me understand that we all shared the same mutual amazement for the present. And I had helped to make it happen. Two months earlier, I had received one of these so called “suggested student opportunities” messages via email. I needed an internship I could care about and Splendid Sun Productions wanted interns to help put on a music and arts festival entitled Neon Desert Music Festival on April 30th, 2011.

Building community with percussion

EL PASO — If you are ever passing by Rim Road near Scenic Drive in West El Paso in the summer on an early Friday evening, you might hear a throbbing sound of tribal drums pulling you in closer to the infectious pulse that is Echos in the Park. What started out as a series of relaxing outdoor musical improv sessions by heads of the local jam band, Stanton Street Collective, has evolved into a weekly fluid gathering at Tom Lea Park of musicians and percussionists from all walks of life. “There is something special about having an impromptu jam session with a bunch of people that have never practiced and sharing that feeling of camaraderie,” said Roberto Santos, organizer for the Barbed Wire Open Mic Series. Since getting its start nearly four years ago, Echos in the Park has been gradually growing its circle of amateur percussionists up on top of one of the most beautiful and accessible scenic points overlooking the Downtown El Paso and Juarez area. Though the event’s lack of centralized ownership, formal structure, legitimate promotion and fixed schedule, it has some how managed to continue to thrive efficiently and effectively with word-of-mouth throughout intimate circles of music lovers across the city.

Local comics strive to perform Chucano comedy

EL PASO — Amidst a drab beige desert of lame punch line jokes, a group of subterranean wise-cracking comedians are reclaiming funny in the name of El Chuco. Since 2005, the El Paso Underground Comedy Group (EPUCG) has gradually risen from the darkest cantina crevices to routinely packing weeknights in local hotspots in a town that would otherwise be devoid of many serious local jokesters. “It’s definitely grown,” said EPUCG founding member Jerry, “El Malkreado” Karnes, “when we first started I couldn’t get four people to come out and watch a show. Now I love the fact that [we] can bring in about 20-30 people to a bar and make them laugh.”

EPUCG frequents local watering holes such as: Bordercity Ale House, Coconuts Bar and Grill, Players Billiards and Smokey’s Bar and Restaurant. The troupe of six entertainers has been brewing a unique melting pot of styles that spring from the vast different cultural influences that make up El Paso.

More craft beer quenches thirst in the high desert

El Paso — Even as beer drinkers around the U.S. are still suffering from a recession hangover that has hurt major brewers, craft brewed beer is continuing to please more palates and this trend is finally showing positive signs in El Paso. “This trend has been increasing in the past four years [in El Paso], where as before it was almost non-existent,” said Adrian Perez, craft and imported beer specialist at L&F Distributors in El Paso. “Our craft beer selections have increased at 30-40% each month for the past year.”

Craft beers are defined typically as unique beer styles made by small independent brewers that are free from corporate large brewer ownership, such as Anheuser-Busch which produce more than 6,000,000 barrels a year. According to the Brewers Association based out of Boulder, Colorado, in the first half of 2010 the craft brew industry grew by 9% in volume and 12% by retail dollars, while overall beer sales dropped 2.7% by volume. Perez, also an active beer enthusiast, spends his spare time sponsoring craft and domestic beer tasting events at local restaurants and supermarkets to increase beer appreciation in the city.

Investigative journalism in decline in U.S.

EL PASO, Texas — The economic gloom continues to loom over the media industry. With major U.S. media companies dealing with decline in revenue and diving into bankruptcy, news publications have been forced to cut costs to maintain profit margins. Among the hardest hit are those staff in the newsroom, particularly those involved in public investigative and accountability reporting.  During this dismal economic climate, the expense to fund a potentially lengthy, time-consuming investigative story, the reluctance to engage potential legal consequences, and their possibility to be fruitless endeavors are often the reasons why media companies are still reluctant to keep funding investigative issues, media critics say. According to the American Society of News Editors’ annual newsroom census approximately 5,900 positions were eliminated during 2008, and 5,200 full-time newsroom positions where eliminated in 2009. This means the total employment in American print newsrooms has dropped by around 14,900 since 2000.