I had never been to Marfa, TX, but I heard magical things. I wanted to go to this festival called Marfa Myths put on by one of my favorite labels, Mexican Summer.
Marfa Myths is a music, art, and film festival in Marfa, TX and curated by the NYC-based record label Mexican Summer and Ballroom Marfa. It started as a one-day event in 2014 with a few artists signed to Mexican Summer performing in various venues around the small Texas town. In its third year it has evolved into a three-day long festival and attracts more than 600 festival-goers from across the country.
Marfa looked like a faraway place to me, a place almost foreign to a girl from Memphis, TN, born in east Texas – gulf and delta humidity – that’s what I know. The vast desert and arid air, well that was something else entirely. I felt like the protagonist, Karinh, in the new novel by François Schuiten and Benoît Peeters, called Revoir Paris. In this sci-fi graphic novel Karinh lives on a space station far from Earth in the 22nd century. She reads books about this place on Earth called Paris. She creates a reality in her mind of what she thinks Paris is, a magical and beautiful faraway place. She leads a “tube,” a ship to Earth to go to this mythical place called Paris. The reader wonders if what she sees there – the real Paris – matches up with her dreams and the reality she created in her mind.
That is what I wondered about Marfa.
The photos of Prada Marfa, the stories of the great Donald Judd – the way he recreated old spaces like the former Fort D.A. Russell that is now an installation space and part of the Chinati Foundation grounds; also the site where William Basinki played his ambient drones to a sitting crowd absorbing the sounds bouncing around the Arena. And the Judd Foundation’s The Block where Maria Chavez’s site specific work challenged our ears and thoughts about music and sound experimentation with vinyl. It also marked the first musical performance at The Block.
Donald Judd went to live in Marfa to escape from the hectic art world of NYC. Is this what inspired Mexican Summer? To bring their artists out of the hectic music world of NYC and into a desert town that holds mysteries and magic in hopes to inspire and rejuvenate? I hope so, I wanted to be inspired myself.
The founder of Mexican Summer and Anthology recordings, Keith Abrahamsson said Marfa Myths 2016 is “a dream realized.” The Lost Horse Saloon and the local artists performing there inspired Abrahamsson to bring Fred Cole and Toody (Dead Moon) to the Lost Horse – a magical experience indeed.
Ballroom Marfa’s Executive Director, Susan Sutton, said Marfa Myths is “the embodiment of the Ballroom’s mission to produce exhibitions… that are site-inspired; to enable happenings and connections; and to share the creative landscape of the Big Bend…” She cited the interdisciplinary spirit of Mexican Summer’s artists’ residencies like Connan Mockasin and Dev Hynes last year. Weyes Blood and Ariel Pink will be this year’s artists in residence. These collaborations through music and design are examples of this kindred spirit between the label and Ballroom.
So was it what I pictured?
First of all the sky was huge and the clouds made me claustrophobic on the first day as they hung so low I thought I could touch them. The winds ruled our clothes and hair, leaving us running for shelter though it was 70 and sunny. As Marfan Ryan Bosetti put it, “you are not the boss of your hair… The Wind, The Dust, The Hard Water, The Arid Climate, and the Sun,” he lists are the bosses. Bosetti hopes visitors “notice how collectively symbiotic our aesthetic and the aesthetic of our Wind, Sun, et. al have come to be,” and he’s right. Everyone has a glow – a windblown, sunny glow. Is it magic or is it the dust? Magic dust?
Pill and Dead Moon opened the Marfa Myths schedule at the Lost Horse, Pill the newest member of Mexican Summer and Dead Moon, veteran DIY-punk rockers from Portland fit the bill well together performing side by side and in concert with each other in the end.
Friday opened up with a beautiful solo performance by harpist, Mary Lattimore at Wrong Marfa. Lattimore also sat in with Quilt’s performance Saturday night as she contributed to Quilt’s new album Plaza. Lattimore’s new album, At the Dam, is inspired by road trips and spending time in Marfa last year.
Legendary west-coast experimental/psychedelic folk artists teamed up in a super group called Heron Oblivion and played at Ballroom Marfa alongside the opening of their After Effects installation featuring works by Dan Colen, Loie Hollowell, Arturo Bandini and a film called Radio Dynamics by Oskar Fischinger.
Friday night ended with an explosive dance party with Ethiopian artist, Hailu Mergia and Awesome Tapes from Africa at El Cosmico – a campground that looks like a hipster commune. It was so cold most of us packed inside the venue or stood so close to the fire that many of us went to bed with a few extra singes on our jackets.
Saturday I was exhausted. But the Do Your Thing coffee, cookies and scones kept me going.
It was a whirlwind of performances at The Capri starting with Lower Dens (joining after the unfortunate cancellation by Emitt Rhodes due to health issues), Quilt with Mary Lattimore, Parquet Courts, Sheer Mag, Connan Mockasin’s Wet Dream, and No Age. Issues with the kickdrum aside (right Sheer Mag?) the shows flowed pretty well considering the time frame they were to fit into and the strict 1AM closing time in Texas.
Connan Mockasin conducted a variety-like show bringing up members from Quilt, Dungen, Ariel Pink and Weyes Blood, and Pill.
Sunday may have been the most magical day of all. Who knew that all those puffballs and weirdo mushrooms could dance so elegantly to local Marfans’ musical sounds as a part of David Fensters Mushroom movies? Raum with Paul Clipson lulled us into a deep trance and made us forget how bright it was outside… I snuck away for a quick margarita at the Hotel Paisano before heading into one of my favorite performances of the festival. Dungen’s live score of The Adventures of Prince Achmed at the wonderful Crowley Theater. The German animation from the 1920s featuring black outlines papered over brightly colored backgrounds told the tales of want and wonder. Dungen’s psychedelic sounds lent themselves beautifully to the animation, giving life to the angular black cut-outs. Truly an experience to remember.
Did Karinh find the Paris she dreamed about in François Schuiten and Benoît Peeters’s Revoir Paris? We don’t know, the second volume isn’t out yet.
For me? Did I find the Marfa I thought I would? After my cliche picture with Prada Marfa (not in Marfa btw), or the touristy trip to the Mysterious Marfa Lights, what about after my conversation with Toody at the bar at Lost Horse? Or my chat with Andrew from Parquet Courts over tacos from Boyz to Men (the food truck not the r&b group, but wouldn’t that be cool?) Or maybe it was the larger than life installations at the Chinati Foundation, the stars overhead outside of our trailer at the Tumble in?
Marfa is a small town with big city art and connections.
The pulse of Marfa is on the art of the northeast and west coast but the music has country western roots that show through in the best ways. Dogs roamed the saloons and show venues, cafes and art houses. Even the pizza is amazing (shout out to Pizza Foundation!) Yes, I think this place is pretty darn magical. Or maybe we were all a part of Connan Mockasin’s Wet Dream as he led us on a psychedelic trip to Crazytown (come my lady).
On the way out of town to catch a plane in El Paso we passed rows of pecan trees with Dan Deacon’s America album playing in the background. This country of west Texas makes you appreciate the American landscape and you really can feel the myths and magic of the place.
Thanks to Mary Lattimore and Maria Chavez for talking with me, Jess at Mexican Summer, Freda for the hospitality and to Benphis for the awesome photos.