Marfa, Texas represents the intersection of the raw and wide-open desert of West Texas and beautiful culture and art. Located in the middle of the Chihuahuan Desert (on land that was once Mexico), this small ranching community underwent a transition from rural ranchlands and military alcoves to an artist community with the help of New York artist Donald Judd, who settled there in the 1970s.
In 2009, Austin hospitality guru Liz Lambert developed some land by adding a handful of beautifully restored trailers and guide tents, a massive outdoor stage, and wood-fire hot tubs and called it El Cosmico. It is now one of the more popular elements of Marfa today.
Once a year Liz and the team at El Cosmico pull a beautifully curated list of musicians and fine folks together to celebrate art, music, and culture under the dark sky of Marfa, Texas called Trans-Pecos Festival. For a few years now, Madre has been lucky enough to be invited to this gathering of wanderers to dance and listen to music fueled by mezcal and good company.
This year we teamed up with Caddis and had what was supposed to be a happy hour but ended up lasting until the last note was played on a guitar. We were also fortunate to share the beauty of mezcal at our "Three-Ways Mezcal Workshop," where we poured all Madre expressions (including new and unreleased), let the patrons make their version of a Negroni, and ended with our friend Alexis from Ocotillo Botánica, who taught us the power of herbs and plants while infusing our own mezcal tinctures to take home. We are extremely grateful to Liz and the El Cosmico team for another Trans-Pecos and are so excited for what's to come.
In further celebration of Trans-Pecos Festival, we asked our friend and Marfa Public Radio DJ Michael Camacho about his involvement with El Cosmico and the festival, how it has changed over the last decade, and the future he envisions. He also curated us a Madre Radio playlist that will transport you to Trans-Pecos Festivals' past and present from wherever you are.
On the 2nd day after arriving in town, on a cold January day in 2009, a long-time friend named Paseo, told me we had to go by the Public Radio because they were just dying to have DJs. Paseo and I were a small part of a fine group that helped start a Pirate Radio Station in Austin. We knocked on the front door, then at its first studio, and were answered by then-General Manager Tom Michael. He gave us a mild guffaw and said "try volunteering."
Later that Fall, I volunteered for Fall Pledge Drive, where my being an Electrical Engineer came to light, and was hired as an Engineering Consultant. I still didn't get my own radio show until after I became the station's first on-staff Engineer, and in July 2013, I started my Thursday show, at the time called the Rock Pile.
My radio show I do every Thursday evening is called The Rock Pillow and is my best attempt at putting you to sleep with Rock and Roll, Metal, and Punk. It should be known, I am a vinyl-only DJ (vinyl only meaning 99% vinyl, the rest digital tracks that are either unavailable on record or too expensive). My show is a two-hour show, and I can admit, I can only play so much of older white male rockers (which is rock and roll, metal, and punk), so I play whatever I want.
If one has nearly 2000 records, LPs, and EPs, one has to play them. Since my wedding DJing has waned, I have infused those latin, pop, hip-hop, dance, soul, etc into my Rock Pillow set. Luckily, I still do one Oldies Show per month, on Fridays from 11am to 1pm, and I can play what I need to, to feel good. We all know, Oldies now means anything.
Having been to nearly every single Trans Pecos Festival, I decided to create a near-chronological playlist from some of my favorite shows. I could easily remember a dozen of those performances, but due to fun, life, etc., I had to look at all the old festival posters to kick start some of those memories that were buried.
I also added a few tracks that reminded of me of the aura surrounding the festival (from the first track about needing to get here first to have a good time, to finding a roof over your head due to the rain and it always rains as it's our monsoon season, to the baseball game on Saturday, to the pancake breakfast on Sunday morning). I also added a few tracks from this year's performers.
I first came to Marfa in 2000 and told myself I would never return to what seemed to be a ghost town. Alas, in late 2008, a friend named Jack Saunders asked if I wanted to move to Marfa for three to five months and help build "sustainable systems" at this place called El Cosmico.
El Cosmico wasn't officially open yet, and a few of us were brought in to build the lobby and get the property ready for that year's Trans-Pecos Festival. In that 2nd week of January, while living at and working on El Cosmico, I fell in love with the weather, the landscape, the light, and eventually the people. I then worked for El Cosmico for 4 years before taking a job as the Operations Engineer at Marfa Public Radio.
Quick Aside - I have attended every festival, save one, since 2009. It is a good question and one I haven't ever truly thought about. I love that this festival has always been a birthday party for Liz Lambert, and because of that, I think it has a core element to it.
Liz loves live music and musicians, and I believe she will always pick a few artists that are near and dear to her, but will still try to get those artists who round out a diverse playbill. I should also say, I love the size of Trans-Pecos Festival, and I hope it stays big enough to make it feasible to last for decades to come.