Photos courtesy of Trans-Pecos Festival
Marfa’s Trans-Pecos Festival of Music and Love is a queer fantasia for all
RICH LOPEZ | Staff Writer
Marfa lives up to the magical hype often given it by the art world. This tiny Texas town in the Big Bend is full-on desert hipster fused with a mix of original residents, trendy food spots, world-renowned art and a sky that goes on for days.
And every year, the Trans-Pecos Festival of Music and Love brings all types together for a brilliantly curated lineup of music, a psychedelic dance party, a strong annual rivalry baseball game and an overall spirit that could be the closest thing to what Woodstock felt like.
TPF may also be the queerest festival in Texas in all the best ways. I’ve been a few times and can verify this.
When I say this, it’s not about hookup culture or anything like that (although, I’m sure that happens in a free-spirited fashion as well). It’s more like a shedding of any pretension (although that’s there too) and just enjoying the sounds and sights of the surroundings.
Owner Liz Lambert described the festival, held at the El Cosmico campgrounds — a member of the Bunkhouse group of hotels —as a more personal experience.
“After 15 years, the Trans-Pecos Festival has come to be a family reunion of sorts, or at least it feels like one,” Lambert said by email. “I really think it’s a love letter to our community near and far. We don’t have a big production company; we do it all ourselves out here in the high desert.”
This year, the festival will be held Sept. 22-26, with performances by such queer music luminaries as Meshell Ndegeocello, Sleater-Kinney and Caroline Rose. Other highlights in this year’s lineup include Rickie Lee Jones, Ben Kweller and Ross Cashiola.
“At its core, the festival is simply good music and good times. I curate it with the help of some friends, like Matt Hickey at High Road Touring, and try to put together a diverse mix each year so that there’s something for everyone and you’re likely to discover something new,” Lambert mentioned.
Out musicians and allies who have previously performed there include Orville Peck, Kacey Musgraves and Lee Ann Womack. That the musicians are queer or queer-adjacent is secondary, if even that. The queer and queer-adjacent artists simply fit into the spirit TPF has cultivated. And while it definitely helps, it’s not even just the music that makes this festival so queer-friendly.
“We’re a lot of queer people making the festival, so I suppose it came naturally. But making a safe space for all is by design,” Lambert added.
That safe, comfortable feeling is immediate, from the check-in to that last fundraiser breakfast on Sunday morning benefiting Marfa Public Radio. Any staff there, from the campgrounds to the vendors and food trucks, have always been friendly, helpful and gracious. (Also, tip when you can.)
People roam the grounds at all times and say “Hello” with ease. Some will come give you a hug when the music brings out unexpected emotions (or so I’ve heard).
It really is like a utopia.
Perhaps it’s the remoteness of the desert that allows for this easy, breezy feeling that infects everyone. You might get offered homemade granola or a joint from a stranger. You can’t help but make new friends on walkabouts from the grounds to the downtown Marfa. A campfire sing-along in a huge teepee is easy to walk in on and enjoy.
All of these have happened to me, and I can definitely say I’ve no regrets.
For Texas queer highlights, add this festival to the list.
Now, having said all that, getting there and enjoying it can be a challenge — particularly if you’ve never gone.
Personally, I hate camping — or at least the camping I’ve had there. Also, I don’t think I know how to really camp. Small tents, cold rain and lack of blankets made for some miserable moments. So learn from my experience and either reserve a trailer, a yurt or a teepee. There are often regular tents to rent that are already set up.
But to be honest, if you decide to go at this point, much of those may already be reserved.
Lambert basically advises to think like a Boy Scout: “Come prepared, but embrace the possibility of the unexpected.
“There are some obvious practical things festival-goers can plan for: high altitude and cooler nights,” she continued. “Don’t forget that Marfa is almost as high as Denver. And it’s also one of the darkest places in North America, which means you will get to see some amazing stars, but you may not see the cactus right in front of you while you are looking up at the night sky.
“Bring a headlamp, closed-toed shoes and lip balm, because your lips will get chapped. You’re probably going to be very active, so be sure to hydrate,” she advised.
And she speaks the truth. Bring clothes to bundle up for overnight. The best tip I got was to wear a hoodie or cap to retain heat. It made a big difference. And your shoes must be durable for the terrain.
Otherwise, it’s totally fun.
Traveling there can be an ordeal. Driving takes about nine hours. If at all possible, fly to Midland/Odessa and rent a car to drive from there. It’s a flight less of than an hour to Midland/Odesse and a gorgeous drive of just three hours from there.
With that housekeeping out of the way, my hope is that queer folks will make the trek at some point and discover a whole new world that way that’s painted with subtle rainbow tints amid the sand and sky.
For more information about the festival and the full lineup of musicians and events, visit elcosmico.com.