I have been hearing about the popular music and art festival in Marfa for years with its close tie to Austin, and I finally made it to El Cosmico’s Trans-Pecos Festival of Music + Love this year thanks to my friend Abbey, who invited me to join as she hosted a plant dying workshop at the fest! The drive to West Texas and Marfa is so beautiful! Once you pass Fredericksburg, the expansive view and scenery is an amazing contrast with the mountains and the desert side by side.
People talk about Marfa as this destination for artists, while also being an escape from a big city, and to me it’s so unique because in reality there is NOT a lot to do. I hadn’t been since 2019, when I got to enjoy all the restaurants they had to offer (like less than 5) and the special Judd Foundation and The Chinati Foundation art tours and works. I was so excited about this visit four years later, full of art and music programming and community! I loved knowing that there were activities and workshops onsite at El Cosmico during the day, but if you wanted to explore and do your own shopping and art seeking, you could venture out. The music started at 6 p.m. all three days with no rush, tons of space, ridiculously gorgeous pink and purple sunsets, and even the Full Moon shining bright over the stage on Friday!
Trans-Pecos truly felt like being back at summer camp with all the organized fun. My favorite part was meeting every business owner in the boutiques, art galleries, shops, and then seeing them all over town, along the way and at the fest throughout the weekend. The person you buy soap from at Marfa Soap, you see dancing at the Spoon show, and the person checking people in at the hotel is your bartender later on in the day at new restaurant Margaret’s. I loved seeing so many Austin creatives and artists who I consistently run into at C-Boys and Barton Springs all here for this special weekend in a small town that is about 6-7 hours away! In addition, Marfa really is an anomaly to me — there’s all these brands and CPG’s like Olipop and Wonder Valley Body Oil you would see in Tiny Grocer or Erewhon, but you’re in the middle of nowhere, Texas. “Do the locals buy this or is it for the out of towners?” I kept wondering.
Being in Marfa for an event, because we had plenty of activities to do over the weekend, made me appreciate it in a different way this visit. There were so many people I knew at the festival, plus people I don’t know as well and really admire in Austin, and it was so fun to people-watch and just feel like we were all there for the same artistic reasons. Liz Lambert brings together so many amazing artists and musicians for the fest every year, and I can’t wait to go back to this festival as they are taking off 2024 to move into the new space and will be back in 2025.
WHERE TO STAY
We stayed at this Airbnb, which was on a really big property that was a 30-to-40 minute walk from El Cosmico. The house is a former art studio that sits on a shared 8-acre ranchette on the western edge of Marfa. The top windows that lined the one-room place reminded me of Chinati as you could see the clear skies right through it. We had a decent kitchen and brought our own Smoked Salmon, Chickpea Salad and fruit, because, like I said, you just never know when you’ll be able to find food in this town with the weird hours and small amount of restaurants. The space was fun and three of us shared it, which is probably the max that would be comfortable. It was a great price and location so that we could have an enjoyable long walk to the main areas.
We did a lot of wandering and shopping on Thursday, and I basically interviewed every shop owner or worker trying to learn about the people of Marfa and their lifestyles. I really wanted to know if they felt the new change was good or bad and if they welcomed the new people who have been moving there (kind of like Austin). What interested me so much is that people from large cities where art is huge, like Boston or New York, come to this small town to work for The Chinati Foundation or Judd Foundation and then they never leave, eventually opening up their own shops! What a delight for them!
I discovered Michael Wayne Hall’s paintings on the walls at Wrong, a store and gallery in town, with wild shapes, creative forms and color. My friends were laughing at me because again, I kept interviewing everyone I met at every store, but it’s because I’m so fascinated by this middle-of-nowhere town! Most of these owners that I met did not grow up there, by the way.
My favorite store (besides Marfa Brands Soap, which is sold at Tiny Grocer) was Raba Marfa, where they had baskets, candles, ceramics, totes, records and more rainbow-hued things. I came home with a Le Bon Shoppe t-shirt from Raba Marfa that I love! We also went to Rule Gallery to see Diego Rodriquez-Warner’s work on Thursday. This gallery was a person’s home complete with a bedroom and kitchen. I haven’t seen a lot of art like his with white outlines of people on almost a butcher paper-looking canvas and then color splattered inside and outside of the lines. At Cobra Rock, they sell handmade shoes, but they also had an entire Wonder Valley Skincare pop-up in the back. When we went to Marfa Brands Soap, the owner Ginger took us into the studio to show us how she makes soaps after I told her I work with Steph at Tiny Grocer. I guess I was kind of “people shopping,” talking to the locals about what they were thinking about everyone visiting from Austin. This is what I love about traveling and how I immerse myself in the experience.
Later on, we hit the first night of the fest. As you walk into El Cosmico, everyone is wearing hats and overalls and cool Western fringe. There’s one stage, plus vendor shopping, hot tubs (I forgot to get in), and spicy drinks at the Herradura Tequila bar. What makes Trans-Pecos ideal is you can get as close as you want to the stage because everyone’s just so laidback, boppin’ around, and it’s not crowded. On the first night, I barely watched the music because I was too busy talking to everyone. Oops!
At Abbey’s plant dying workshop on Friday, we decorated a bandana with natural dyes, flowers, and plants like hibiscus and cochineal, before she steamed them for finishing touches. It was so cool to see how each bandana turned out and fun to see Abbey lead the whole thing.
Everything at the fest felt SO Austin with a wide range of people, although the camping in tents part we obviously skipped. One of the best parts of the night was the cracker-y, Roman-style pizza from Oh My Pizza Pie, which is a traveling pizza company. I stood talking with the pizza guys for 30 minutes while I watched them top crusts with ingredients and throw them in the oven, and I think they might have gotten distracted while we were talking because about 10 minutes after I got my pizza, I heard my name again and they gave me a second pizza. So I ate both! Yes, this would only happen to me!
We ate at our Airbnb a lot, but I did enjoy a Bad Larry Burger Club burger for lunch on Friday. We got started a little later this evening, and before the fest, went to the beautiful St. George pool for a cocktail. The pool and bar open to the public after 5 p.m. so we slid in and indulged in a frozen mango kiwi margarita – yes, both flavors in one! We laid on the comfy pool lounge chairs staring up again at the clear blue sky before walking back to El Cosmico.
Moving on to music, I went to the front of the crowd to see The Heavy Heavy, who I had seen at Luck Reunion and SXSW and is my favorite new-to-me band from 2023. The lineup also included Heartless Bastards, El Cosmico Family Band (people just kept coming out like Kelsey from Sir Woman and Robert Ellis, who really played every instrument all weekend), and a late night show with THEBROSFRESH. We walked home looking at the gray, clear, black skies with the full moon pushing through at 2:30 a.m. W-I-L-D.
Saturday started with a grilled burrito at Marfa Burrito before the Austin Texas Playboys vs. Los Yonke Gallos de Marfa baseball game took action. The tailgating was great — my friend Lucas made adorably surprising mini mezcal negronis out of the back of his car, and John C. Reilly announced the whole game. He also played in a band during the festival! Liz is friends with everyone and gets them all together for the festival in such a fun, casual way around her birthday. The halftime show is my best memory from the ballgame, which showed off an exhilarating group dance to Shania Twain in neon costumes led by Erica Nix.
Afterwards, we wandered into Marfa Spirit Co. for some tasty sotol drinks. The place reminded me of Lambert’s with a big neon sign that said “Liquors,” and my pink drink was amazing. I made us hit Dairy Queen before we got ready for the fest because I hadn’t had dessert all weekend! Then we saw Spoon and Ben Kweller, who performed an incredible tribute to his talented son who passed away in February.
For our final day, we packed up and drove to Balmorhea State Park, the biggest natural swimming pool in the world (although, I do think I love Barton Springs more.) The drive there was almost like Sedona meets Texas. I loved swimming and coming up to see the desert-style terrain on the other side of the pool. Of course, I brought my goggles and watched fish swimming through the deep blue waters. We ran into a bunch of people there because everyone’s doing the same things in and out of Marfa!
The cool thing about Marfa is it’s a place for artists and musicians to be appreciated, but it’s also about celebrating people’s arts. I loved seeing everyone in Austin sharing the same activities daily, catching up with people at night about what they did during the day. It’s also great that there is little cell service! There were so many special moments, like watching my friend teach a class and seeing people wear their bandanas and watching my photographer friend Chad shoot The Heavy Heavy. Marfa is a special place, all about art and people. The drive is worth it to experience the beauty of the land and interact with so many interesting artists and people.