This was my first pilgrimage to Marfa, TX in anticipation of the 10th annual Trans-Pecos Festival of Music + Love. There’s something ritualistic about the seven hour car ride from Austin, the landscape becoming more remote the farther west you drive. It’s nothing but big beautiful sky, open road, and nature (and lot’s of roadkill).
Upon reaching Marfa, the energy instantly changes. There’s activity, there’s art and most notably, there’s design. Marfa looks like a town forged by graphic designers. Every building, every sign looks intentional, from the quirky taco stand to the gas-station converted into a modern art gallery.
Perched half-a-mile down the road is hotelier Liz Lambert’s compound El Cosmico: the location of the Trans-Pecos Festival and the grounds many of us called home for the weekend. Those who plan way ahead can reserve one of El Cosmico’s coveted glamping digs in the form of teepees, yurts, airstreams and tents. The rest campout or Airbnb it.
While the music’s certainly a major draw, the “love” portion of the festival shouldn’t be overlooked. With one stage, and around 1,000 people in attendance, the intimate setting truly does create a feeling of community and camaraderie. It was easy to strike up a conversation with others and instantly feel like friends even if you were just tent neighbors, or breaking bread over Lou Lambert’s Barbacoa dinner.
During the day people are free to do as they please, exploring the town, driving 37.3 miles to take a selfie in front of the Prada Marfa building, or staying on the El Cosmico grounds for one of Trans-Pecos many workshops. There was tie-dying, bitters making, bolo-tie making, dutch-oven camp cooking with Lou Lambert, papier-mâché making, and many more fanciful offerings.
After sun-down the tides change, the drinks flow, and the stage comes alive with music. Thursday night was unquestionably the highlight of the festival thanks to a breathtaking performance by Jenny Lewis and some flawless harmonizing with her backup singers. This in and of itself was majestic, but Jenny had more in store.
Halfway through the set Annie Clark (aka St. Vincent) appeared on stage to accompany her friend on drums and then guitar. Together they played Lewis’ “Just One of the Guys,” the unreleased song “Girl on Girl,” St. Vincent’s “Cheerleader” and for an epic ending, a cover of Deee-Lite’s “Groove is in the Heart.” Like I said, it was epic.
While Jenny Lewis and Annie Clark were a tough act to beat, all the music was exceptional. The Americana-heavy lineup fit perfectly with the vibe of the festival and felt that much more resplendent with the vivid sunsets and bright full moon shining its spotlight on the campgrounds.
Other highlights included Phosphorescent who brought Robert Ellis on stage to perform “Songs for Zula.” Then there was Ben Kweller, Bee Caves and Langhorne Slim who all killed it. Meanwhile Mexican Institute of Sound brought a serious dance party and light show with them which had everyone smiling and grooving.
Portugal. The Man closed out Trans-Pecos Festival on Saturday night (before the after party with Golden Dawn Arkestra), and to be perfectly honest, it was disappointing. The sound was off, the lead singer was hating on songs he was covering, (though he seemed to prefer them to his own material since they played about two originals the entire night). They had handles on stage and were definitely drunk for their set. Maybe a little too drunk to give a proper performance. I couldn’t tell if they didn’t care or if this was their idea of having fun. Either way it missed the mark for me.
Then out of the darkness, Golden Dawn Arkestra appeared with their alien costumes, dream-catchers and glitter, for a quintessential “keep Austin weird” after-show. It was the cherry on top of what was an unforgettable weekend for more reasons than one.
Now back in Austin, I’m left feeling more connected to nature, the people I experienced the festival with, and the transformative power of music. Thank you Trans-Pecos for sharing your music and love with me. I’m counting the days until we meet again.