First Timer’s Guide to Texas’ Trans Pecos Festival
Everything you need to know for your journey to Marfa
By now you’ve likely moved on from your Instagram envy of everyone who made the voyage to far west Texas for The Trans-Pecos Festival of Music and Love, and, by gosh, you are determined to make it for next year’s. But for a first-timer, traveling across the desert to this amalgam of music, art, and food might seem intimidating as much as it does exciting. This isn’t your typical festival after all.
Set in one of our favorite postage stamps of Southern soil, Marfa, on hotelier heroine Liz Lambert’s El Cosmico dreamscape campground (featuring yurts, teepees, and technicolor vintage campers), this weekend long celebration has everything from live performances by artists like Kacey Musgraves, Calexico, and Neko Case to workshops on screen printing, DIY cocktail shrubs, welding, cabinetmaking, and yoga, among others. You can get your jean jacket chain stitched with your nickname or the likeness of your dog by Fort Lonesome or go to a pig roast or have your tarot cards read. There’s a baseball game and a pancake breakfast too. And look over there! Life-size, salsa dish-shaped, wood-fired hot tubs.
For all you first-timers it’s never too early to start planning for your journey. Here’s our game plan along with pro tips from Isadora McKeon, Director of Marketing & Communications at Bunkhouse, the management company over El Cosmico and other Texas favorites like the Hotel San Jose, Havana Hotel, and Hotel Saint Cecilia.
- If you choose to camp at El Cosmico (either in one of their tents or your own), you’ll need to prepare for all the items and mindset that entails. El Cosmico has bathhouses and other amenities for keeping clean during the weekend, but don’t expect to look like your best selfie the entire time.
- There are also more traditional lodging options near El Cosmico including the Hotel Saint George and Hotel Paisano (Elizabeth Taylor and James Dean stayed there during the filming of Giant). The Thunderbird Hotel is also downtown, and there are Airbnb options in town too. If you don’t mind the 50-minute drive from Marathon, another small town down the highway, the Gage Hotel is a ranch-like desert oasis.
- Don’t forget to explore outside the festival. Some of our favorite destinations in Marfa include: Cobra Rock Boot Company, Donald Judd’s Chinati Foundation, Planet Marfa, Tumbleweed Laundry, Do Your Thing Coffee, Food Shark, Museum of Electronic Wonders and Late Night Grilled Cheese Parlour, Marfa Book Company, and Freda.
- Check out the galleries that make Marfa a contemporary art destination for people all over the world like Ballroom Marfa, Ayn Foundation, and the Indie/Jacobs Gallery.
- Forget something? Don’t worry. The Get Go, Marfa’s surprisingly upscale grocery store, and the Dollar General are there for you.
- Travel with cash. There are only a few ATMs in Marfa and none from larger banks.
SL: For the first-timers, do you have any pro tips for pre-planning a trip to Trans Pecos?
IK: I think my best advice would be to come prepared, but embrace the possibility of the unexpected. There are some obvious practical things festival goers can plan for: high altitude and cold nights. Marfa is as high as Denver! The darkness. It’s 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.
Once you’re at the festival, what’s your strategy for getting the most out of each day?
Be adventurous. Sign up for workshops, try something new, make a friend. While music is the main focus of the festival, daytime workshops offer a chance to learn from some amazing craftspeople and to get to know other festival goers. This year’s mala bead workshop with Michelle Quan was a huge hit, as was Fort Lonesome’s chain stitching class, among others. But we also saw some great organic community interaction taking place. One camp made a huge pot of pozole and posted on the festival Facebook group, inviting folks to join them. Looks like some new friends were made and recipes traded around that pot of soup, which is wonderful. Also, I highly recommend getting out at some point to check out Marfa. There’s some world-class art here, and some great stores and restaurants. No matter where you came from, you drove a long way to be here, so take a moment to get to know this magical place. And please drive slowly – this isn’t the fast-paced city most of us are used to and they don’t take kindly to speed racers.
What is your favorite thing to do/see each year at Trans Pecos?
My favorite thing to do is to see old friends and make new ones. In a lot of ways, this festival is more like a community gathering and extended family reunion. If you don’t already know a lot of people, fear not—you will leave with new friends. And I love just letting the weekend take me where it wants to. Maybe I’ll get in some serious hammock time, maybe I’ll dance until 2 am, maybe both. Roll with it. You’ll enjoy the adventure.
What is one thing no Trans Pecos festival goer should miss?
The baseball game on Saturday! No matter your relationship to sports, you will come to love this game. It’s a good-spirited rivalry between Marfa and Austin teams, there’s always an amazing 7th inning stretch show, and you never know who’ll be singing the opening anthem. Last year it was St. Vincent; this year Dan Dyer sang “This Land Is Our Land”.