Almanac Music: Col’s USA Trip – Marfa, Texas


The road from El Paso leading to Marfa


After our flight from Austin Tx to El Paso we picked up our hire car and commenced our long journey through the desert to Marfa for the next stage of our USA trip.



On the road to Marfa



The wide open spaces



Leaving El Paso, the land is noticeably  barren with patches of  scrub and distant mountain ranges. The vista is vast and wide and the temperature outside the car is very hot. The freeway runs parallel with the Mexican border and Trump’s wall is visible at times.



The moored security blimp


State troopers, the highway patrol and immigration officials all have a high profile along the freeway. Sirens are often heard as enforcement cars, trucks and other vehicles race to areas where illegal immigrants have made a futile dash for freedom. Unfortunately, they have little hope of getting through. There is even a moored blimp with heat sensors surveying the open country to alert officials whenever illegal immigrants are discovered.


The road seems to go on forever but Brian’s playlists with many thousands of songs keep us entertained as we sing along and discuss the merits and particulars of various songs, especially Bob.



The freeway is busy with many cars rushing either direction to their destinations takes away the feeling of the desolation when one’s attention is directed back to the road rather than the passing landscape.


Throughout the long drive I try to imagine what the town of Marfa must look like. The only sign of civilisation, other than vehicles on the freeway, are the scattered and seemingly rundown farming properties. I cannot picture what a town must look like in this sparse but interesting landscape.



An entrance to Marfa



Eventually our destination of Marfa is reached.


Marfa has a population of approximately two thousand and was named after a character from Jules Verne’s novel Michael Strogoff.  The town was founded in the 1880s as a waterstop, and since the 1970s, due to the influence of artist Donald Judd, Marfa has become a cultural centre for contemporary artists and artisans as well as progressive thinkers, and those wishing to live a bohemian lifestyle is clearly reflected in the ambiance of the area.



Main road through Marfa



One of Marfa’s main streets



Another Main Street



Being in the desert it is hot but it is a heat I coped well with since it is  more of a dry heat rather than a humid heat and therefore more bearable for me at least. Not many people are out on the streets at any one time due to the heat conveys an isolated feel about the town.



The renowned Hotel Paisano



A cool spot to be on a hot day



A beautiful place to stay, Hotel Paisano



A quick look around the town then we cooled off in the courtyard at Hotel Paisano renowned for where Elizabeth Taylor, James Dean, and Rock Hudson stayed during the filming of the movie Giant  in the 50s which occurred in the surrounding district. It is a magnificent building, its interior is eye catching and pervades a feeling of affluence to it.



Junk is big in Marfa!



Originally an opera house, later a theatre but now vacant



It is amazing to see such a prominent building in Marfa



In a sense, time stands still in Marfa. This is reflected by the old buildings; many are dilapidated and in urgent need of repair or renovation while others have received some recent upgrade in an effort to return them close to their original glory. People go about lives in a slow and easy, leisurely manner.



A Mexican influenced building recently renovated



Although many of the shops may have an outward rundown look about them, those looks can be deceiving when you venture inside and discover upmarket and pricey merchandise for sale.



Clothing shop





Lost Horse Saloon



The railway passes through the town and if you are caught on the wrong side of the tracks you can have a long wait. I lost count after 160 carriages!



It is easy to be caught on the wrong side of the tracks in Marfa!



In my short time there Marfa reminded me a lot of Port Fairy, Maldon and other similar, smaller Victorian towns that have maintained their character and certain vibe that makes them appealing.





For a small town Marfa excelled itself on a number of points; it was one of the very few places I visited in the USA that had decent offerings  of vegetables on the menu; and secondly, I had the best coffee I’ve ever had the pleasure of drinking on any of my four trips to the States.



Best coffee in the USA


In recent years the ‘El Cosmico Tran-Pecos Festival of music and love’ has attracted many tourists and music lovers to the town to participate in this small but wonderful festival. Brian Wise has spoken and praised the festival many times on his radio show and in Rhythms magazine so I was looking forward to finding out for myself the pleasures and the attraction of this festival.







The festival is situated in a camping ground on the edge of town. With a single stage for music, numerous food and retail outlets to cater and tempt you, all conveniently located in a relaxing, uncrowded and appealing atmosphere. Of course, there is a bar which is well patronised. Various alternative activities are offered for consideration and participation in. No matter what people are doing, everyone is relaxed, soaking up the atmosphere and having a good time.





One of the appeals of the festival is its size. Probably no more than two or three thousand in attendance allows plenty of space to spread out and the opportunity to get up close to the performers. It is nice to be at a festival and not be crammed in!



Marty Stuart and his fantastic band



Grammy Award winner Marty Stuart and his stellar band were the highlight of the festival for me. Their close knit harmonies, superb playing and fantastic songs emphasised the fact how good these performers are. They had the audience in the palm of their hands. Andrew Bird and Iron and Wine were also very good.



Iron and Wine, and Andrew Bird



Genital Panic made a powerful statement about the rights of women and their bodies


Some of the performers were quite political in their content and performances which I found surprising as Texas is generally regarded right wing in it’s outlook to many issues but obviously Marfa has become a more progressive town with the influx of like minded liberal thinking people and are open to be confronted by the more contentious issues raised during the festival.



A cool night ahead!



Had a great time in Marfa, I hope to come back again and spend more time exploring there.



All images taken by CGR



More from Col Ritchie can be read Here


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About Colin Ritchie

Retired teacher who enjoys following the Bombers, listening to music especially Bob Dylan, reading, and swimming.


  1. Fantastic read Colin cheers

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