Dark Skies, Milky Ways, Music + Love
It was a year ago. I’d made my way to Marfa, Texas, for the Trans-Pecos Festival of Music + Love.
It was my first big trip after retiring the past June 30.
Taking a break from the music and wandering about a hundred yards away, off into a camping area, that’s when I saw it.
Up in the night sky, stretched out throughout the heavens was the Milky Way. It was perfectly clear, shining brightly and one of the most beautiful sites I think I’ll ever see.
For people in that part of the world it’s a common experience but for me it was a first.
Little did I know the entire area, 15,000 square miles stretching down through Big Bend National Park and past the Mexican border, is known as the Greater Big Bend International Dark Sky Reserve, the largest certified reserve in the world.
Dark Sky Reserves are lands known for their exceptional quality of starry nights and are specifically protected for their scientific, cultural and educational enjoyment. There are only 20 such sites in the world.
Just two are in the United States. The other is in Idaho.
I wish I could show you a photo but that would have required me having my tripod at the ready, something I just didn’t anticipate in the middle of a music festival.
That being the case let me point you to someone else’s photo from the same location, El Cosmico:
It’s worth your time to click on it and take a look. For the best look, click on the image to enlarge it once you get to twitter.
I’d long wanted to go to Marfa, a magical small Texas town where art and music meet the old West. When mention of the Trans Pecos Festival of Music + Love crossed my way, and that Rickie Lee Jones was in the lineup, I knew it was fate.
I have a short list of musicians I would like to see before, frankly, it’s too late, and Rickie Lee was on it. If you’re not familiar with her, well, I’m sorry. You should be. I know I wore out her Pop Pop cd back in the early 90s. Most people remember her for Chuck E’s in Love.
But, as I have a habit of doing, I digress.
Trans-Pecos Festival of Music and Love
The Trans-Pecos Festival is held at El Cosmico, right on the edge of Marfa. Of course, Marfa only has 1,900 residents so a lot of things can be said to be on the edge.
El Cosmico is kind of an Airbnb meets campground. It’s a large area with old, remodeled, trailers, tipis, yurts and even a couple of very modern-design places for people to rent. You can also bring your own tent and camp out there.
The word I heard from a couple of other festival-goers is the woman who owns the place puts on the festival each year as a big get together for people to come and celebrate as friends. A sort of four-day music party in someone’s backyard.
That’s exactly how it feels. There’s only a couple thousand people there, maybe a little less, maybe a little more, and everyone just kind of hangs out together in a very laid-back atmosphere.
It’s so laid back there’s even big metal, kettle-like, hot tubs, heated using wood fire, within shouting distance of the stage.
My tent happened to be right across from one of the refurbished trailers on the property. The people renting the place during the festival had definitely been there before and came prepared.
I sat there on the first day, fascinated as I watched them put up a very long screen/tent beside the trailer, complete with tables for eating and a chandelier.
Come to find out they were one of the regional acts who regularly perform at the festival and so this was not their first rodeo.
One night I stepped away from the music stage to sit and relax for a bit back at my tent, only to discovered I’d stumbled into my own personal musical performance as they were playing a kind of zydeco music around their area with another of the performers from the festival.
I mean seriously, how could you ask for anything more?
Trans-Pecos is the first, and so far only, time I’ve done what you might call glamping. I normally set up my own little tent for festivals but because this was a four-day event, I sprung for the additional comfort.
These tents were brought in specifically for the festival. It was darn right spacious compared to what I'm used to. I could even stand up in the middle. Inside was a twin size bed with a tiny nightstand on either side, a carped floor and battery powered light rested on one stand.
I was extremely happy and grateful for the soft, overly-stuffed, blanket draped across the bed. The nights in the West Texas desert can be just as cold as the days are hot.
The lineup for the festival is all across the board with rock, Mexican, old and new country and more.
Headliners for the event included Paul Cauthen, Parquet Courts and Sleater-Kinney. If you’re not familiar with those names you might recognize one of the Sleater-Kinney band members, Carrie Brownstein, from the Portlandia television show. Let me tell ya’, she can rock!
The atmosphere around Trans-Pecos is so relaxed Brownstein was out the night before she was on stage watching the acts perform and people actually left her alone, no one was bothering her for autographs and selfies. I’m guessing you wouldn’t see the same thing happening at most festivals.
Among the reasons I love camping out at music festivals is that I experience performers I would never be exposed to other wise. Almost always I come home with some new favorites.
I speak not a lick of Spanish but I could spend an entire day listening to Grand Sur Lead Singer Sofi Mayen all day. Hers is one of those voices that can bring tears to your eyes even if you have no clue what the words are.
I also have to give a shout out to Jade Bird, an English singer who performed Friday night. She’s a hoot, saying pretty much whatever happens to pop in her head as she talks to the audience. Coincidentally, I caught her appearing on Austin City Limits just a couple weeks after the festival.
Mezcal, Wine, Tie-Dyed Shirts and Geologic History
I like mezcal, who knew?
A great thing about Trans-Pecos is there is so much more than the music. The mainstage doesn’t kick off until the late afternoon so the day is filled with local acts on a smaller stage up near the front gate and workshops.
Yep, I said workshops. There’s a long list of them from which to choose. There is a fee, which varies depending on what it is.
That’s how I found out I like mezcal. I’m not a tequila fan and have always associated mezcal with it, so never have tried.
But, I took a workshop in grinding your own spices using mortar and pestle. Of course you have to have a little, maybe more than a little, mezcal to try with those salt combinations and, I like mezcal!
P.S. One of the salts included a little dried worm mixed in.
I now like making my own spices as well but still haven’t found a mortar and pestle I really like. The search continues.
I also signed up for a tasting of wines made in the region, a presentation on the geological history of the area and I learned to tie-dye using turmeric. You never know when that might come in handy.
Wait, There’s More!
Not enough for ya? Well, there’s more.
Saturday afternoon features the annually, highly-contested, or not, softball game between Austin’s Texas Playboys and Marfa’s Los Yonke Gallos. Sadly, I cannot report on who won, I was in one of my workshops at the time and missed the event.
If you’re just not quite yet ready to stumble back to your tent after that last performer shuts down on the mainstage, another act opens up for the Late Night Party at the opposite end of the El Cosmico grounds.
Oh, let’s not forget, mechanical bull riding, a tattoo artist ready to add to your ever-growing personal collection, tarot reading, a Breakfast for a Great Cause benefiting the local Public Radio station and, well, you get the idea, the list goes on and on and on…..
Oh, almost forgot! The dogs, lots and lots of dogs. If you're a dog person, this is the festival for you, they definitely have a dog friendly policy.
**I allow use of my photos through Creative Commons License. I'm not looking to make money off this thing. I only ask you provide me with credit for the photo by noting my blog address, alansheaven.com, or a link back to this page.