For over 10 years, weirdos from across Texas and beyond have gathered in Marfa, TX for the annual Trans-Pecos Festival of Music + Love. It’s a weekend full of Americana music, great food and tons of fun (+ love) in the West Texas desert. Easily one of the best kept secrets in the music festival circuit. I was fortunate enough to attend this year’s event, which now tops my list of favorite festival experiences. Here’s why:
1. It’s in Marfa, TX
Oh you haven’t heard of Marfa yet? Get with it already, ‘Yonce did it three years ago. Marfa is and is not your typical West Texas town, where cowboys and artists co-mingle as if they were cut from the same cloth. Hell, maybe they are? A million miles from anywhere it may be, but a road trip worth taking nonetheless. It’s where Austin goes to remember the old ways before the tech boom.
Since the seventies, it has been a refuge for artists looking to escape the confines of city life for wide open spaces, spectacular scenery and that dry, desert air. Littered with contemporary art galleries, it’s most notably home to the Chinati Foundation, Donald Judd’s ode to large scale installation art and a destination worth the trip alone. More recently it’s become the stomping ground of a younger set of artists and makers dabbling in everything from handmade boot and soap making to furniture and textiles.
It’s also got it’s very own Prada store. Although technically in Valentine, TX (a ghost town with the coincidental population of 214), Prada Marfa is an Instagrammable art installation in the middle of nowhere. The juxtaposition is kinda brilliant, don’t you think?
2. You Can Sleep in a TeePee
The festival’s venue, El Cosmico, is a magical place known for its converted trailers, teepees and yurts. Although available to rent during the festival, the permanent accommodations are priced accordingly and fill up quickly. To boost their capacity and ease the burden on travelers, Shelter Co. tents are available to rent or if you’re balling on a budget, you can pitch your own tent.
There’s no pre-assigned campsites so you can circle the wagons with your friends and bring your own everything. The accommodations are top-notch and well maintained by the extremely friendly staff. There’s like hardly any rules other than be cool, man.
3. The Food Is Amazing
Now that food trucks are the norm, most festivals have pretty decent dining options but the Trans-Pecos Festival takes it to another level.
First off, there’s local legend, Food Shark, who makes the best falafel you’ve ever tasted. Beyond that, there are a surprising number of options for such a small festival from grilled cheese sandwiches to wood-fired pizza, sliders and of course, tacos.
On a Saturday evening during my trip, they hosted a Community Barbacoa wherein six whole pigs were roasted by Chef Lou Lambert, a CIA-educated chef who cooked alongside Wolfgang Puck but now focuses almost exclusively on BBQ. He teaches a weekend-long camp cooking workshop at El Cosmico every year.
Austin institution, Frank, was also there slanging Frito Pies and gourmet hot dogs. If you’ve never had a real Texas Frito Pie, you ain’t been living!
4. It’s like summer camp for adults
Makers and creatives from all over come to El Cosmico, not only to hawk their wares, but to teach workshops so you can bring home some useful DIY knowledge instead of just a hangover (or VD). We aren’t talking about making friendship bracelets or painting pre-made pottery here either.
Workshops range from basic welding taught by furniture and fabrication duo, KKWD, to candlemaking, tie-dying and more. Workshops are not included in the cost of admission but are well worth the associated fee. I learned I have a real knack for paper marbling thanks to the ladies of Dallas’ Oil and Cotton Creative Exchange, and got to take home the stool I made in class next to this guy…
5. You might meet a celebrity
Yes, that’s right, the Incredible Hulk himself not only attended the festival but participated in workshops and fested it up right alongside the rest of us.
I didn’t realize it until later but I bought a silver cuff from Jenna Lyons herself at the Giles & Brother pop-up that jewelry designer, Phillip Crangi, then personalized for me. As if that weren’t enough, St. Vincent’s Annie Clark showed up to sit in on a set with David Garza and the El Cosmico Family Band.
6. You might meet a celebrity dog
Equal parts Doug the Pug and Marnie the Dog, Spanky has a squeal-inducing face and chill af temperament that will break your heart into a million stupid little pieces. His master just so happens to be the owner of Austin’s Cold Ones Pops, purveyor of gourmet paletas, but for some inexplicable reason has yet to create Spanky his own account.
7. You can bring your dog
Well-behaved pups are always welcome at El Cosmico. Need I say more?
8. The Topo Chico is FREE
Hydration is important when you’re festing, especially when it’s in the arid climes of West Texas. What better way to obey your thirst than with copious amounts of the Topo Chico, the best sparkling water in the world.
Listen, if you’re still stuck on La Croix you are basic AF. In Texas, it’s Topo Chico or nothing. Bottled at the source and imported from Monterrey, Mexico, it’s completely free of pretension and doesn’t come in a bunch of dumb flavors because it’s just that good on its own.
9. You can watch your favorite band from a hot tub
For serious. Whether you’re in need of a camp bath or just some relaxation time, you can’t go wrong chilling out in a dutchtub. El Cosmico’s Welvetree dutchtubs may look like guacamole bowls but they’re actually wood fire heated relaxation pods that will transport you to higher levels of consciousness. They’re normally $85 to rent but the staff lights ’em up during the festival.
10. You can see the stars
Sing it with me now, “The stars at night are big and bright, deep in the heart of Texas!” Every child in Texas learns to clap along to that song but never has it been more appropriate than staring up at the star-riddled West Texas sky. I don’t know why the sky appears so much broader there but it does and because there’s nary a building taller than four stories and Marfa and very little light pollution, you get a clear view of the most beautiful night sky you’ve ever seen.
11. It smells amazing
Most festival situations rapidly devolve into cesspools of human filth but because El Cosmico is located in West Texas, it pretty much just smells like cedar and wild sage all the time. It smells so dang good in fact, that Brooklyn-based perfumiers, D.S. & Durga created a signature El Cosmico fragrance that brilliantly captures the intoxicating aroma of this “cosmic nexus.”
12. You wake up to Stumptown coffee and breakfast tacos
Camping out doesn’t always yield the best night’s sleep, making morning coffee all the more important. Good camp coffee is hard to pull off but thankfully that was of no concern considering Austin’s Jo’s Coffee was on-site pulling shots of Stumptown and serving up those essential Texas breakfast tacos as early as 7:30am. You could wake up to a hell of a lot worse if you ask me. Just make sure you don’t sleep in too late because the line gets long and once they’re out, they’re out.
13. There’s a Mexican Morrissey cover band
You haven’t really heard the Moz until you’ve heard it Mexican cumbia-style. Mexrrissey takes the Pope of Pope’s greatest hits and turns them into a Latin dance riot. Complete with border crossing jokes and all manner of Mexican stereotype humor, their set may have very well been the highlight of the weekend. Well it was the highlight until Calexico brought them out to close out their performance with a collaborative cover of Bigmouth Strikes Again.
14. Beers are $5
Festivals do a great job of taking advantage of the fact that you’re not allowed to bring in outside booze by charging ungodly amounts of money for beer. But at Trans-Pecos, you can cop an ice cold Shiner for $5 or a tall boy of Dos Equis for $6. Plus, they’ll make you one hell of a Michelada for just $1 more!
15. It’s perfectly acceptable to wear a cowboy hat
It’s hard being a Texan in Florida. You have to have a really good reason to wear a cowboy hat and not catch a world of shit from your friends. But in Marfa, cowboy hats are practically required and not in a hokie way.
16. You’ll make some new friends
Even if you actively try not to, you will meet and make friends with complete strangers. Txas is named after the native Caddo Indian word Tejas which literally means “friend.” It’s not a myth, Gary P. Nunn was dead on when he sang that Texas has “the friendliest people and the prettiest women you’ve ever seen.”
Even if you suffer from crippling social anxiety, the Texas sense of friendliness and hospitality will win you over, especially in places like Marfa where the otherwise conservative states freakier refugees tend to congregate.
It’s a little oasis of acceptance and genuine positivity. Muster all your willpower and your East Coast cynicism will melt away in the presence of a happy Texan. It’s science.
17. That sunset though…