To me, places are just like people. There are so many of them yet we will meet so few. And even fewer will touch us in a way that makes us pause with admiration.
In relativity, I’ve been to a lot of places. Rarely do I come across a place that makes me mourn when I leave. It happened when I went to Montreal a few years ago. It was summer, the African jazz festival was in full form, English and French were all around me, the air was crisp and the moon was large. I felt it when I lived in Antigua, Guatemala- cobblestone streets, papaya every morning, majestic volcanoes and gorgeous, round faces. Admittedly, I cried after I left each of these places (not like sobbing, like quiet, soft tears). It was an overwhelming feeling of belonging in a place where I didn’t belong. It was me reflecting on how much I admired these cities, their cultures, their obstacles, and most of all the inspiration they evoked in me.
I had heard different things about this little town in West Texas. “It doesn’t feel like Texas.” What does that mean? “You think you’ve gotten there but then you have to drive further.” Ok. “It’s in the middle of no where.” Where is no where? “Wear layers!” And my favorite: “There is literally nothing there.” So when Do512 asked me to cover Transpecos Festival of Music and Love, I was all in. I mean, who doesn’t want to see what nothing looks like?
I packed rice cakes, peanut butter, trail mix, a jug of water, too many clothes, not enough bug spray, blankets, 3 cameras, 6 lenses, and 7 rolls of film. My friend, Katherine, also a photographer, and I hit the road late Thursday morning. Our drive was supposed to take us 6 hours and 19 minutes. But we’re photographers so it took us 8. Whoever thinks the desert is filled with nothing is just not looking. Abandoned, dilapidated houses, grass to your knees, old, weird gas stations, battered signs, huge, vast skies. I mean, come on. Aesthetic.
When you arrive in Marfa you’re kind of like “Oh, this is it?”. It’s not like some huge white light shines down and everything is glowing. It’s subtle, humble, pulling you in slowly. By the time we arrived at El Cosmico (Transpecos’ venue) tents were everywhere. I heard Dan Dyer’s soulful voice in the distance, a couple tipsy girls passed by, a man tipped his hat at me, a little boy exclaimed as his dad lifted him on his shoulders, and there were dogs everywhere. This was the kind of place where dogs had the right of way. It was the kind of place where everyone was smiling, there wasn’t a single piece of trash on the ground, the air smelled like charcoal, incense and sandalwood, the toilet paper was always full, the coffee always hot…nothing? You call this nothing?!
There were gorgeous vendors, tarot card reading, and even giant hot tubs facing the stage (we decided they looked like bowls of soup, you could stir the water around, it was weird). At night, the stars were visible and it was cold enough to wear…yep…layers.
The next day we had tacos for breakfast, tacos for lunch, and tacos for dinner. I looked in the mirror and thought, wow, I kind of look like a taco. But man, Marfa burrito is THE REASON. We’re talking hole in the wall, outdoor seating, house converted into a restaurant, free coffee, multiple pictures of Matthew McConaughey on the wall, just a few charming abuelas slangin’ burritos in their kitchen. There is also Marfa Museum Thrift Store where the picking is plenty. And then there are the streets, the walls, the trees, the cacti, the flowers, that vast sky- an artist’s haven.
One night, there was a sunset that had everyone staring. Every 20 seconds the sky changed, and with each quarter turn I was looking at a different landscape. I couldn’t believe the volume of the clouds, the richness of the yellow, then orange, then pink, then purple, then blue.
I covered a baseball game hosted in Marfa. The players were wearing cowboy hats and drinking beer, it was amazing.
Back at El Cosmico, Erica Nix was getting her dance on. I heard someone laugh, it was St. Vincent. I took a portrait of Jenna Lyons. Singing on the stage, we witnessed the likes of Nathaniel Rateliffe, Wye Oak, Kacey Musgraves, and Neko Case. All wildly successful, all passionate, and all filled to the brim with humility.
It rained the last morning at El Cosmico. A huge, delicious breakfast was provided courtesy of Frank’s. We’re talking pancakes, eggs, sausage, fruit, coffee and yes, Bloody Mary’s. Katherine and I ran into a new friend we had met one evening. As we were saying our goodbyes he got a serious look on his face and said, “Hey, tell everyone you didn’t like it here, tell them it was boring, tell them not to go to Transpecos.”
As I drove away from Marfa, I got that feeling- you know, the one of belonging.
Don’t go to Transpecos.