Musical Adventures In The Other West Texas

Apr 17, 2018

Many folks in the Texas Panhandle experience cognitive dissonance when hearing our homeland referred to as “West Texas”—especially those of us who’ve ever seen a map. The Panhandle is most certainly not in the western part of the state. It could be called “Northwest Texas”—and it sometimes is—but truly, the Panhandle should be classified as North Texas.

So, why are we never referred to thusly? Because the thieving no-gooders down in Dallas stole that title from us, presumably out of fear of associating themselves with the godless communists in Central Texas. So, as a Panhandler, if you find yourself wondering why you’re experiencing a crippling identity crisis, blame the Metroplex.

This is all by way of saying, I grew up in “West Texas” but had never been anywhere in the Lone Star State south or west of Odessa. So it was with great alacrity that my lady and I decamped last weekend to the Marfa Myths Festival, a yearly gathering of art-rock bands in the famous hipster enclave of Marfa, near Big Bend.

Now, it must be said, there’s West Texas and then there’s Marfa. I’ve heard Amarillo described as “a suburb of Dallas, located six hours away.” If that’s true, then Marfa is an outpost of Austin, located six hours to the west of the capital. The town is an oddball assortment of galleries, dive bars, and food trucks, with dangerously cool types wandering among the homegrown Latino population. There are conversations to be had about whether this gentrification has been good or bad for Marfa, and I honestly don’t know. I did witness one awkward exchange between a young blonde woman and an older Hispanic man at a bar. He asked her, “What are you doing here?” She answered, “Drinking beer, what are you doing here?” to which the plump fellow replied, “I was born here.” The woman was totally cool about it though, responding that she’d only come to Marfa to get away. Soon enough they were chatting like old pals. And that sort of boozy camaraderie can’t be all bad, can it?

Regardless, we were there for the music, and there was much to be heard. I’d always wanted to see Wire, an English punk band that formed in 1976, the year after I was born. Wire was one of the only bands to transition successfully into the post-punk age, and I remember spinning like a top to their music in the Austin dance clubs of the late 80s (I was 14, for those of you doing the math at home.) It was delightful to watch these old dudes blow the roof off of a cement-walled venue in the heart of the West Texas desert. My ears are still ringing.

Other notable performances included an afternoon set from Brazilian legend Tom Zé, a spooky appearance by Los Angeles-based chanteuse Jessica Pratt, and a mesmerizing Sunday afternoon performance in a former WWII officer’s club, by the hypnotic Austin quartet Thor and Friends. My favorite performance came from New York’s Amen Dunes, the most recent project from dynamic New York rocker Damon McMahon. The songs from his latest release Freedom embodied a hollowed-out power, like driving a V8 Charger through a subterranean cavern.

The Marfa Myths festival is hosted yearly by the record label Mexican Summer., and this adventurous Brooklyn-based label clearly understands the market and the location. The venue sizes and environments were ideally chosen for the acts, and the bands were perfectly selected to appeal to the displaced Austinites and Brooklynites who’d made their home in the dusty emptiness of West Texas for the weekend. The festival will be held again next April, and it’s worth the drive.

In the meantime, if you grow tired of the epic landscapes of the High Plains, Marfa isn’t going anywhere. Maybe you’ll make a new friend at the bar.