We were exhausted after thirteen hours of driving: first through the Atchafalaya and the wetlands of west Louisiana, then the endless chain franchises surrounding Houston and finally into the deserts and hills of Marfa. It was Friday morning. The only place to get a decent breakfast burrito was Marfa Burrito, a tiny shack on the edge of town. Two dudes sat at a table in the first room, they looked slightly familiar, but we couldn’t tell if they were locals or visitors like us.
The next day, when they took the stage, we were surprised to find they were Drugdealer and his guitarist, who we earlier agreed we were most excited to see. We ate burritos with them. And they kicked ass.
That was the beauty of Marfa Myths. The town was big enough to house several large venues, but small enough that we would often see the same people walking between the shows, parties and restaurants – and a lot of those people were the artists we came to see. The morning we left, I stood in line at the gas station next to the saxophonist of Helado Negro as she bought a taco and orange juice. I could be wrong, but that kind of thing doesn’t happen at Coachella.
The first sounds we heard as we approached “Happy Headquarters” at the Marfa Public Radio building were the celestial wanderings of Laraaji. His heavily processed dulcimer, combined with eclectic percussion and rounded off with a couple iPad synths, was the perfect opening to the our experience. Inside, they offered free printmaking lessons and complimentary bottles of Topo Chico. Outside, the wind was brutal and the dust was unrelenting but everyone seemed comfortable and contented.
We walked about a quarter mile to the Ice Block for an open exhibition of two of Donald Judd’s minimalist sculptural installations, Untitled (V Channel) and Untitled (U Channel). You can’t pass through Marfa without hearing the name Judd at least once. His work is planted all over the city, and has drawn in a wide range of artists since he settled in Marfa in the 80s.
Down the block at The Capri hotel, Ryley Walker and Jessica Pratt began their sets. I hadn’t heard any of Walker’s music before, so I was pretty comforted by his familiar voice. He’s a young Eddie Vedder, and his music was prog rock Pearl Jam meets The War on Drugs. He and Adam Granduciel do that same “WOO” trick when the song picks up.
We shared a Mexican Coke and whiskey and sat down for the Jessica Pratt show, which was astonishing. She had the same bittersweet quality of Hope Sandoval, but somehow sadder. I met her the next day after Suzanne Ciani’s set and snapped a portrait.
Later that night we got down to Innov Gnawa, a trippy call-and-response trance marching band. Four men were wearing matching hats and playing matching percussive instruments, while one man was slapping an instrument that looked like a three-stringed shoebox attached to a broomstick. They played with confidence and impeccable rhythm. The way they got the crowd dancing reminded me of an eastern Rebirth Brass Band.
Artists in Marfa are very inspired and affected by the landscape in which they live. There is a beautiful intersectionality of discipline in this place, which keeps them at the forefront of creativity and innovation. Many of the visual artists that showed work in the Hyperobjects exhibition were interdisciplinary, often collaborating with musicians, sound artists, engineers and geologists. At the artist talk on Saturday morning, one man said, “Where does the science start and the art begin? One of the lovely things about this exhibition is that you see artists becoming scientists and scientists becoming artists.” Technology, geology, psychology and art combined to create an exhibit that made every visitor feel closer to the landscape.
We saw the legendary Suzanne Ciani the same afternoon. She introduced herself and her instrument, the Boukla 400. The large warehouse venue was equipped with a quadraphonic surround sound speaker system located at each corner of the room. 200 other people in the room breathed in sync with me, listening so deeply and meditatively to the manipulated analog melody and washing white noise that we might have spontaneously combusted. At one point, I thought Ciani was communicating with me, personally, through a series of cryptic beeps and boops that would exist only in this time and space. Her performance could be compared to Vangelis’ legendary soundtrack for the original Blade Runner. It was a legendary show, her first in forty years.
Helado Negro, who could be described as a cross between Chicano Batman and Devendra Banhart, shared the stage with Tom Ze, another legend. Ze forgot his own song lyrics and flipped off the audience. Truly remarkable. In between performances, we went to a quick pool party and I fawned over the outdoor restrooms with rock walls.
Drugdealer was our favorite performance, undoubtedly. It’s rare that a piano in a rock band works well, but Michael Collins makes it work. You might know him as Run DMT, Salvia Plath or Silk Rhodes. His band sang a song about a time that he hitchhiked on the West Coast, and the man that picked them up tried to sell them some Chill-o, a THC drink. Oh, and in the middle of the set outside of the Lost Horse Saloon, a couple of dogs peed right in front of the stage. After the performance we took a tequila shot with the guitarist, and I got a photo of their bassist eating a pizza crust.
Marfa Myths was unlike any music & arts festival we’ve ever been to. Unless you’ve visited Marfa, it’s impossible to describe the mesmerizing effect the landscape creates. Until you’ve seen these acts and exhibits, photos and words can’t do them justice. Do yourself a favor and make it to Marfa Myths in 2019.