Say you’re in a band, packed in with your buddies and equipment, and hitting the road to share your music with the U.S. If you’re driving from Dallas to Phoenix, or Austin to Los Angeles, El Paso is a perfect halfway point. But lots of touring acts go straight through the city without stopping to perform. A new music venue, Outpost El Paso, is hoping to change that. It’s trying to lure bands and fans in by offering free shows and perks for performers.
It’s easy to miss Outpost El Paso. It’s a black concrete building situated between a gas station and a credit union. But with its spot right off of Interstate 10, the location is perfect for traveling musicians.
The singer-songwriter JMSN recently stopped in at the Outpost to play a quick show before heading to Tucson.
“Literally got off the exit and it was right there,” he says. “I thought wow, what a random place for this to be. On the side of the freeway.”
But that’s the point. Tour vans can pull right in, play to an El Paso crowd, and fill up their tanks on the way out.
Inside, the venue is sleek and modern, with room for about 35 people. As JMSN runs a sound check, he’s lit up by a mirror lined with bright, tiny bulbs.
The Outpost is both a performance space and a sort of a luxury rest stop for touring musicians. The community floor downstairs is open to the public for free live music, talks and art shows. But the second floor is reserved for musicians and has the kinds of amenities they might crave on the road: a full kitchen, hair salon and a washer/dryer, all available at no charge.
“That’s much needed on tour,” JMSN says. “You really need laundry.”
Musicians can unwind, freshen up and even lay tracks. There’s a small, paint-splattered recording studio, with equipment donated by Gibson.
The shows are free to the public and the amenities are free to the bands. How does that work as a business model? Well, Outpost El Paso isn’t here to make money. It’s the latest in experiential marketing. Exactly what is that?
“That is the question that our moms ask us almost every day,” says Jessica Resler, the co-founder and creative director of the Participation Agency, the New York-based marketing firm that launched the Outpost.
“Experiential marketing is really about how you create an environment that helps to explain either a brand’s mission or purpose or a project’s mission or purpose,” Resler says.
And to get creative and influential people, like JMSN, behind that. The Outpost also features a General Store, with shelves full of free products.
“Beard oil, Indian hemp Haitian Vetiver hand cream. We got bamboo creme frappe. Do you eat that?” JSMN says as he checks out the goods. “And then we got Herban Essentials lavender essential oil towelettes. There’s lots of good stuff.”
There are small, gleaming bottles of shampoo and delicate boxes of organic tampons. It’s a little higher-end than the stuff you might swipe from a Super 8 Motel.
Why the free store? Musicians like JMSN might get hooked on those lavender towelettes, and Resler’s hope is he’d hype them to friends and fans. There are local products too, so JMSN could promote El Paso brands on his next tour stops or his Instagram.
The Participation Agency plans to open four other outposts like this one across the country. Resler says they started in El Paso because of its prime location and blossoming art scene.
Local rapper 3AM is part of that scene. He’s standing in the Outpost parking lot, waiting for JMSN’s show to start. A food truck sells plastic cups of helote, corn soaked in butter and lime juice, with a generous sprinkling of chili powder.
3AM says the Outpost is a natural fit in a city that’s recently attracted bigger names.
“It was once they started doing festivals and the artists started coming out here and realizing they could do large shows with large people and there was support,” he says.
Also waiting for the show is Gabriel Acuna. He says El Paso’s music scene has ebbed and flowed over the years.
“I’m quite a bit older than some of the people here. So they don’t remember those days,” Acuna says of the music scene’s vibrant periods.
But he sees those days coming back. He says the whole city is on the upswing.
“The music scene is kind of just a microcosm of everything that’s going on in El Paso,” Acuna says as he steps inside to catch the show.