Few events incite feelings of FOMO quite like the Trans-Pecos Festival of Music + Love, in Marfa, Texas. Every year, against the dreamy backdrop of the West Texas desert, an intimate crowd of a couple thousand artists, musicians, and music lovers come together for what feels more like a chill family gathering than a typical festival. Here, learn more about the festival’s history, what it’s like to attend, and what to know if you’re a first-time attendee.
What to Expect
Held for three days and three nights at El Cosmico—the ultimate campground, with its candy-colored vintage trailers, safari tents, and tall teepees outfitted with their own fire pits—the Trans-Pecos Festival offers everything from nightly musical performances to daytime workshops on tie-dying, natural skincare, mixology, candle making, water marbling, and more. Past musicians have included Jenny Lewis, Angel Olsen, Future Islands, Fiona Apple, St. Vincent, Patty Griffin, and Phosphorescent, among others.
Festival-goers can start their morning with whiskey-spiked coffee, an Outdoor Voices yoga session, and breakfast tacos, and then spend the day exploring eclectic Marfa and going to workshops; nights are reserved for music (there are six bands every evening), Ferris wheel-riding, tequila-swilling, and impromptu jam sessions with your camp neighbors. Additional weekend highlights include a communal pig roast (with alternate menu options for vegetarians), an on-site masseuse, facialist, and tarot reader, wood-fired hot tubs near the stage (yep, that’s right!), and even a community baseball game. Bonnaroo, this is not.
The History of Trans-Pecos
Famed Austin hotelier Liz Lambert, of Bunkhouse Group, started the festival in 2005. Bobby Johns, Director of Culture + Experience at Bunkhouse, offered the following mini-history of the festival: “We had our first Trans-Pecos Festival in 2005, back before El Cosmico was open. It was just pasture with a tin shed and a few horses living on the land back then. It made sense to do something there since Liz owned the land, and we wanted to see how people would use the space, to get a sense for the natural flow there.”
“In the early years, some students from the UT School of Architecture came out with Jack Sanders and built sort of ghost trailers—sculptures in the place where we thought we’d put trailers one day. We probably had 400 people that first year, and it’s been growing and evolving ever since. We’ve finally built a permanent stage, and there’s more fun to go around, from a Ferris wheel to day-parties and great workshops. It just keeps getting better. And even though it’s gotten bigger over the years, the festival still feels a bit like a family reunion.”
How to Get There
If you’ve never made the trek out to West Texas, you’re in for a treat: The journey to get to Marfa is all part of the fun. You can travel by plane, train, or car—if you’re coming from Austin, the drive is seven hours; from San Antonio, six hours; Houston is about 10 hours away. The closest airports are in Midland and El Paso, both of which are about three hours away. For a real adventure, take the Amtrak to Alpine and rent a car to drive the remaining 25 minutes or so to Marfa.
Where to Stay
Tickets include camping (or you can opt for Music Only tickets). Not up for roughing it? You also have the option of renting a deluxe, furnished tent complete with amenities from Shelter Co. (though it’ll cost you a pretty penny). Or, book an Airbnb or hotel room right down the road, in downtown Marfa—be sure to book well in advance; lodging is limited out in these parts.
What to Pack
- A reusable water bottle. Marfa is in the high desert, about a mile above sea level, and the altitude and dryness are real. Stay hydrated, folks.
- Sunscreen and a hat
- A flashlight or headlamp
- Boots or otherwise sturdy shoes
- A jacket and plenty of layers. It tends to be hot during the day and cold at night (welcome to the desert!)
- Towels and shower shoes
- Rain gear
- Bug spray
- A carefree attitude. Prepare to embrace the weirdness, the music, and the lack of cell service.
You’re welcome to bring your (well-behaved) dog; alcohol isn’t permitted but is available for purchase on-site.
Tips for First-Timers
- It never hurts to bring cash; ATMs are few and far between in Marfa.
- The workshops are worth doing if you’re willing to splurge, in most cases. Last year's options included Snail Mail Art with La Ropa Vintage, Storytelling 101 with Marfa Public Radio, DIY Healing Crystal Jewelry, and Tie Dying with Jungmaven. And come on, how often do you get to take a class in Handcrafting Floral Moon Milk?
- Look alive out there—the desert is full of natural, um, surprises in the form of bugs and snakes, so watch where you’re walking and shake your shoes out before you put them on.
- Don’t forget to explore outside the festival. Marfa is a contemporary art destination for people from all over the world, so be sure to check out the town’s galleries and shops (Ballroom Marfa, Marfa Book Company, and of course, Donald Judd’s Chinati Foundation are all must-dos.)
When asked what festival-goers can’t miss during Trans-Pecos, Johns had the following to say: “It's a real build-your-own-adventure once you've decided to buy a ticket and take the ride at the Trans-Pecos Festival. The Barbacoa Cosmicoa pig roast by Lou Lambert is a fan favorite along with the Saturday sandlot baseball game. Workshops, the spa at El Cosmetico, and the wine lodge from our friends at Scribe Winery are all great ways to spend an afternoon with friends. The music and late-night shows in such a beautiful and unique setting are also hard to beat.”