Marfa, Texas is unlike anywhere else on earth. The West Texas town, with its population hovering around 2000, defies all stereotypes of what small country towns should be. With a thriving art/film/music scene, local food galore and more unique culture than you can shake a stick at, Marfa is an ideal place for a weekend getaway. Fortunately, that’s exactly what L Style G Style Online Editor Shelby Cole and I did.
We were set to head to El Cosmico (Liz Lambert’s secret Marfa getaway: a hippie-chic refurbished trailer park with beautiful vintage trailers, teepees and campgrounds lit by string lights) for the annual Trans-Pecos music festival.
After approximately seven hours in a car, a run-in with local law enforcement and potentially thousands of calories of junk food, Shelby and I arrived in (sorry Disney World) the most magical place on earth.
The town itself makes no sense, and I mean that in the best way. It’s a clash of cultures: a perfect blend of rural West Texas living—where people still ride horses in the street—and an incredibly hip and modern art community. When minimalist artist Donald Judd moved to Marfa in 1971, he transformed the town from any other west Texas town into 1.6 square miles of art heaven, fully equipped with public art installations, galleries and the still-burgeoning art scene that followed.
Marfa is also a short trip away from “Prada Marfa,” a permanent sculpture by artists Elmgreen and Dragset that stands in an open field off the highway in the middle of nowhere. When visiting the installation, we were equidistant from thousand-dollar shoes and a field of grazing horses. The piece, built in 2005, contains real shoes and bags from Prada’s collection of that year. The storefront is almost identical to a Prada you would find in any affluent shopping area, except that the door is sealed shut and can never be opened. Prada Marfa is a huge tourist attraction and even Beyonce has taken an obligatory picture in the storefront.
Miles away from the iconic Prada Marfa, a new art piece has popped up. In July, Playboy (yes, that Playboy) erected a huge neon sign of its iconic bunny next to an all-black 1972 Dodge Charger. While Playboy also claims the piece as art, local officials see it as an unpermitted advertisement and have vowed to remove the piece.
The most famous attraction of Marfa, though, are none other than the Marfa Lights. The lights are different things to different people. Some claim they are a supernatural manifestation. Some claim they are visitors from the cosmos. Some claim they are just cars driving in the distance. Regardless of what they actually are, the town has become famous for them—enough for the local government to build an official Marfa Lights Viewing Area just miles from town. But beware: the lights are shy. Unfortunately, we weren’t able see any them on our visit, but there’s always next time.
The El Cosmico Trans-Pecos Festival
Remember what Fun Fun Fun Fest was like back when it started? No? It was a couple hundred music lovers and some relatively unknown bands, many of which were local. Take Fun Fun Fun Fest, subtract hip hop, multiply by folk music, add one part camping, add three parts West Texas starry skies, shake well and voila: you have the Trans-Pecos music festival.
The festival was hosted at El Cosmico, the weirdest, quaintest campground I’ve ever experienced. El Cosmico is not the Man vs. Wild wilderness type of camping, it’s more like the lets-drink-in-the-desert-and-look-at-the-stars type of camping. The grounds have hammocks, campsites, yurts and fully-furnished trailers available for rental, all of which create a community vibe.
The individual campsites blended into a tent city in which most everything was shared. There was an open tent policy and dancing with strangers was not only condoned, but encouraged. During the concerts, the crowd of no more than 300 reached an unspoken consensus to just enjoy the music. No one rushed the stage, everyone had space to sway and there wasn’t a bad spot in the crowd.
The festival itself hosted an eclectic line-up over the course of three days. We attended the saturday night show which included Will Johnson (of Monsters of Folk), Nicki Bluhm & the Gramblers (who will be playing in Austin later this month), M. Ward (the “Him” of She & Him), and David Garza & the Cosmico Family Band featuring Margaret Cho (a collection of local artists with everyone’s favorite offensive Asian female comedian).
The morning after the festival, El Cosmico hosted a benefit brunch for local NPR affiliate KRTS-Marfa Public Radio, which is one of only two radio stations our car could pick up in Marfa. The brunch featured all you can eat breakfast for $12 with all of the proceeds benefiting the station. Live music accompanied the brunch and featured members of Austin’s own Mother Falcon.
Close Encounters of the Famous Kind
The most striking part of the festival was the sense of community inherent throughout my time there. The musicians and performers camped with us, ate with us, drank with us. Leisha Hailey, actress known most for her work on The L Word, was roaming the grounds and dancing along to the bands. Liz Lambert, owner of El Cosmico as well as Austin establishments Hotel San Jose and St. Cecilia, was everywhere during the festival. Margaret Cho was seen hanging out at brunch with the common folk after her late night performance.
A sense of community and mystery just flow from Marfa. If you’re able to make a trip out there, you will come back home rejuvenated and inspired, and with a mental map for your next trip back.