The DUSK Music Festival rhapsodically captured the minds of concertgoers over Veterans Day weekend in Jácome Plaza, the heart of downtown Tucson. The festival was headlined by performers Young the Giant, GRiZ, NGHTMRE, Sofi Tukker and Alison Wonderland.
These kinds of events are fairly new to me — I’ve only attended one other music festival, and it was the Goldrush Music Festival in 2021 in Phoenix. Before that, I hadn’t known what music festivals were, other than people listening to loud music and drinking cocktails. Sounded interesting.
Having now gone to both Goldrush and DUSK, I’m realizing that there is a whole culture surrounding music festivals — the live music, booming speakers, flashing lights, popup henna shops, gourmet food vendors and craftmade beer stands — it’s all part of music festival lore. And I can tell for certain that the DUSK Music Festival does all of it perfectly.
For starters, both days began at 3 p.m. to combat the seemingly-frigid November 60-degree weather of Arizona (the weather really wasn’t cold, it just feels like ice when wearing crop-tops and short-shorts, as most of the concertgoers were).
I loved that the festival took place in the middle of downtown Tucson — there were buildings all around, making for great surfaces where flashing lights and projected images could be displayed. Before the concert, I was able to walk to a nearby sweet shop and buy a Snickers donut.
I had no need to buy food outside the concert, however, because there were local vendors inside the gates serving any food I could possibly imagine — anything from wood-fired pizza, street tacos, and pan-fried bread to sugar cookies and crepes. There was even a place that served handcrafted sodas.
The grounds had no shortage of picture opportunities. There were 14-foot-tall lighted arches that flashed rainbow colors, hand-painted mannequins, neon signs pointing to music stages, a stationary double-decker bus (that doubled as a lounge area) and a giant oak tree strewn with bright string lights. It was like an Instagram influencer’s favorite photoshoot destination.
The best part was the small, amusing add-ons placed all across the park. There were self-timed photography stations with shiny backdrops that acted like the big kid version of photobooths. Users could grab massive glasses or sailors caps to wear for the picture.
There was cornhole, giant tic-tac-toe, and oversized chess. There were multiple makeshift lounge areas that were quite literally piles upon piles of sparkly pillows. I got a kick out of the hidden disco room that could only be accessed via a fake porta-potty.
Melissa Cereceres has been a chief nurse for Dependable Health for 30 years, and she had the opportunity to be a vendor at the festival to hand out light-up glow sticks and wristbands.
Cereceres said she was impressed with the representation of the event, as she believed it showed “every kind of music and every kind of person.”
“It seems like a very inclusive festival. This is Tucson at its finest,” Cereceres said.
Cereceres particularly liked the costumes visitors showed up in — anything from pink jumpsuits, monochromatic jackets and shark onesies to letterman's jackets and thigh-high boots.
“Everyone came and wore their finest outfits,” Cereceres said. “This is definitely a place to be put on display.”
The decorations were dazzling. The vendors were welcoming. The games were fun. Even the visitors were picture-perfect. But the music was on a different level.
When I saw the headliners, I knew the night would be full of great music. But I never expected every artist to have a fresh, exciting set. Across three stages and eight hours, each of 41 th artists or bands all gave riveting performances in electronic dance music (EDM), dubstep, techno and house music.
Sofi Tukker’s set was electric, not only because it occurred right during the sunset hour and had the epic orange sky as a backdrop. The duo donned the most extravagant clothes — Sophie Hawley-Weld in a gray trench coat and gray jumpsuit with a gold belt, Tucker Halpen in a bright orange shirt and sweet Nike kicks. The two would often jump on the disco table and dance with the audience. The performance of their hit single “Best Friend” was accompanied by smoke cannons, spotlights and a giant screen displaying retro images. The audience was jumping well after the song ended.
Kyle Walker opted for more lo-fi beats and songs that brought a chill vibe to the Presidio Stage. He was followed by Spag Heddy, who went with his usually fast-paced, bass-boosted hits.
Meanwhile at the Alameda Stage, the festival’s main stage, Aluna performed electronically-enhanced renditions of well-known songs. Aluna, one half of the duo AlunaGeorge, performed hit songs “Not Above Love,” “I’m In Control” and “You Know You Like It.” Being a fan of AlunaGeorge, I felt in my element during her set.
Dion Tucker may have been the most surprising set of both days. He performed during the eight o’clock hour on Saturday, and his heavy, electro-rock style of music had the audience going berzerk. He quickly became festival famous by repeatedly headbanging along to the beats of his techno songs. I thought the people next to me would pass out after ten straight minutes of headbanging.
NGHTMRE had his usual massive audience of listeners. He played hyped-up house music while chanting to the audience and blaring funky tones. He was one of the most popular headlines going into the event, and he delivered quite the show.
Young the Giant’s performance was an epic collaboration where all five members stood on the stage and danced, sang and yelled. They had a bit of a slower vibe but it felt almost trippy. I was lost in their melodies as I stared at the stage and the huge screen that displayed yellow and pink images.
GRiZ’s performance of the hit song “Griztronics” was masterful — a testament to how well his showing went. Not only was the music fast and upbeat, but he had the audience jumping in the air during every single song. It was a blast to see him engage with the audience through various chants and rhythms.
But Alison Wonderland was by far the star of the weekend. She is known in the EDM world as one of the best to ever do it — she’s great at sound mixing and has a knack for what people want to hear. She absolutely killed her Saturday night set by playing hyped song after hyped song.
Her music had the audience clapping, chanting, jumping, and dancing to the beat of her brilliantly remixed renditions of Dua Lipa’s “New Rules,” Nicki Minaj’s “Monster,” Blur’s “Song 2,” and Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ “Heads Will Roll.”
The instrumentals were loud, the lights were bright and the crowd was alive; I could feel the bass in my soul. At one point, Alison Wonderland got on top of the disco table and cursed out her record label for “doing nothing for her.” The audience roared in laughter. “I sign to all of you guys, you do the real hard work,” she chanted.
It seemed like everyone was able to sing along to Alison Wonderland’s performance of her hit song “I Want U,” which felt like a unifying experience among the crowd.
Alison Wonderland even performed her new song “Down the Line,” which has not yet been released yet. It was a slower song with lyrics like “We need the dark times to figure out what’s right.” Those lyrics felt like a good reminder of why everyone went to the festival: to celebrate music, culture and ,in a broader sense, each other. It was a beautiful song that capped off the two days of the festival in an emotional fashion.
When the night was done, I felt thankful for attending, and I wanted to attend more festivals just like the DUSK Music Festival. The two days were an animated atmosphere and an energetic experience.
The DUSK Music Festival is a yearly occurrence, so if one wasn’t able to make it this year, they can prepare for next year’s festival (and can also prepare to see me there).
A festival like this one deserves all the praise and more. It’s helping the music festival culture thrive, and that’s worth cheering about.