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RECAP: The Trans-Pecos Festival in Marfa

A Gathering of Music & Love

marfa trans-pecos

Under a majestic harvest moon in Marfa, Texas, Austin-based singer Amy Cook sang about shedding her summer skin at the Trans-Pecos Festival of Music and Love, the perfect metaphor for the final night of desert revelry. Despite the cold steady rain of the first two days, the spirit of the weekend still inspired dips in hot tubs, dancing in galoshes, and steeping in the sweet sounds of rock and blues.

The gathering is hosted annually at the end of September at El Cosmico, a lodging community owned by hotelier Liz Lambert, who is known in Austin for renovating the iconic San Jose hotel after leaving her life in New York as a prosecutor and lawyer. Lambert famously worked the front desk at the San Jose, then known as a magnet for hookers and the criminal element, as she transformed it into a swanky destination for visitors and socialites. El Cosmico, her latest project, is an RV park and campground in Marfa dotted with yurts, teepees, and an enchanting landscape. “Marfa’s full of artists, writers and freaks,”' she told the New York Times in a 2010 profile. “I’m in that third category.”

The Trans-Pecos festival, then, is a celebration of these artists and freaks led by the ruddy-faced, gregarious Lambert. She expected to draw fifteen hundred people over the course of three nights, but the rain deterred some of those prospective guests, which made for a cozy vibe, as damp musicians and their fans mingled under the tent drinking coffee and praying for reprieve from soggy sleeping bags and muddy trips to the outdoor showers.

Under a succulent-kissed horizon, the festival gathered friends of Lambert’s—Meshell Ndegeocello, Ben Kweller, David Garza, and Robert Ellis, to name just a few. After Dan Dyer kicked off the festival, Meshell Ndegeocello sang a few Nina Simone songs from her latest album in a tender evening set with Chris Bruce. The rain started Thursday night, when sixty-eight-year-old blues legend Bobby Patterson was kicking ass and taking names in apple-red pants and a vest embroidered with Tweety Bird and Sylvester the cat.

On Friday, the rustic city allowed Lambert to move the party from El Cosmico to the site of the Farmer’s Market (which happens “most Saturdays” according to a sign on site) next to the train tracks that split downtown in half. The Eastern Sea, Lil Cap’ Travis, Ben Kweller, and the Heartless Bastards played to the largest crowd of the festival, and the Shiner flowed as those of us who were camping warmed our bodies near a fire toward the back.

marfa texas trans-pecos festival

Amy Cook, the final act, matched the mood of the weekend—hypnotic, yearning, and celebratory. Even in the rain. A sign from the festival said it best: “Let it rain love and music.” Indeed, it did. 

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