Somewhere between El Paso and Big Bend lies Marfa, TX. While quite a trip from Dallas and other large Texas cities, many find their way over to this quaint little town for Marfa Myths, a festival run every year by the label Mexican Summer. While only hearing of it from a former Radio UTD DJs, and from their coverage provided last year, it was time for Radio UTD to have their round two in Marfa, and this time the lineup was just as intriguing as the last. Arriving just in time for Terry Allen on Thursday, the shows started off in the Marfa Visitor Center.
Terry Allen is one of those artists that has mastered the art of accurately depicting Texas culture through the medium of Country. While maybe not being the perfect role model that you can flaunt in front of your parents (considering his performance of “Advice To Children” tells children that it’s better to be mediocre). His music holds very important messages which can be applied to many facets of life.
Terry entered the stage on Thursday night to a rather warm crowd who was absolutely excited to see him (clutching on to their free beers/wine provided by the marvelous Chinati Foundation). Terry sat right down and began with some Juarez to the delight of the crowd. Despite the rather simple setup of electronic keys paired with a fiddle and hand drum, Terry Allen and co. were able to push out some rather lush sounds which did his music more than enough justice. The crowd’s smiles quickly erupted into cheers and claps between each song, and only got even stronger as Terry moved into some songs from Lubbock (On Everything).
Terry delivered his songs with the same kind of energy that I would expect from a younger Allen, which resonated quite well within the crowd. The performance of “The Beautiful Waitress” brought a wide range of giggles as Terry delivered that it’s just fine to “with a crunch A cracker crunch”, yet most understood the message behind that track as they found themselves in Marfa. Terry understands that we only have one life to live, and many in the crowd were absolutely thankful that they got to spend a bit of it experiencing such a heartwarming set. Only one vocal mishap came from Terry that evening, which led to a quick chuckle and an “oops.” from Mr. Allen, yet the crowd cheered in response understanding that it’s just a sign that we’re all human after all.
It was also fantastic to see Terry Allen cover a David Byrne song as it’s rather known that both artists have great respect for each other’s work. The set ended with a performance of “New Delhi Freight Train”, and while I was skeptical at first that there was an absence of the magnificent harmonica that works its way through that country masterpiece, it was replaced rather well with a prominent fiddle solo. Terry Allen finished off the Thursday night right with a strong vocal performance and fantastic instrumentation. – Youssef Mahmoud
With Terry Allen still lingering in our memories, we set off for Friday in Marfa, TX, and Marfa was just ready for us by supplying some of the highest winds that they had all year. The consistent 35-45 mph gusts ensured that festival goers, and Marfa natives alike would have some fun using their bandanas for their original purpose to spare their eyes of sand. As festival goers made their way to The Capri for the first set of shows, many sat back and enjoyed the beautiful scenery that the venue had to offer before Ryley Walker kicked off the first show.
Starting off with something along the lines of “I’m Ryley Walker and we’re gonna play System of a Down covers”, Ryley Walker made damn sure that we were ready for his flavor of humor during his set. Walker delivered a set which may seem like some unassuming Folk from a distance, yet rewarded the listener with closer listening. This is where Marfa Myths really did it right, they provided seating at the Capri so listeners who made it on time could snag a seat in a row and dive right into the music.
Ryley Walker looked a bit rough which was fully understandable considering his lengthy road trip from Chicago to Marfa (putting our seemingly-lengthy Dallas trip to shame). Ryley Walker delivered some rather lush and complex folk compositions to listeners all around, from those up front admiring the works with adoring eyes, to the viewers on the patio enjoying the music from a distance as they talked to friends, old and new.
“I usually have a tech who sets this guitar stuff up for me like Bruce Springsteen, but he had to go to his sons tee ball game”. Ryley Walker held up some good banter with the crowd and established some strong rapport with a crowd who definitely held some members experiencing his music for the first time (ourselves included). The Capri was able to provide a fantastic setting for my interest in folk to re-ignite. After playing a more technical piece, Walker stated that “too much jazz improv fucked my guitar, guess that’s what happens when you go from the indie business to the avant garde business” which was met with a considerable amount of chuckles. For a rather overt and cheeky sense of humor, Walker was able to play it off seamlessly just like his music, gaining himself some fans after his performance. -Youssef Mahmoud
As we were making our way to The Capri for Jessica Pratt & Ryley Walker, the dust was picked up by the wind and practically thrown at our eyes. Although we kept our eyes safe with glasses for most of that walk to not let the sand give us cornea injuries on our way, we didn’t miss finding it because of the nice crowd built up outside coming prepared with bandanas and extra thick shades and cowboy hats. We all sat in front of her and the band she brought which consisted of a backing vocalist who harmonized with Jessica’s melody quite serenely as well as a man on the keys.
Jessica’s guitar was pleasantly simple, which set a tranquil environment in The Capri, a welcome change of pace following the Ryley Walker set. The coolness throughout the venue offered the bonus of a lot of personal space even sitting up front like Woodstock 69’. While Jessica Pratt kept the set peaceful, viewers quietly chatted amongst each other within the Capri, or sat in the stunning courtyard to enjoy some drinks with friends. By the time Jessica Pratt was halfway through her set, there was a sizeable crowd watching in awe, as couples of many kinds also found themselves enjoying the music delivered that afternoon. Although the backing vocalist didn’t stay for the full performance, Jessica Pratt was able to keep it placid with a block of some of the more beautiful arrangements of Marfa Myths. – Isaiah Chow
While we only had minor exposure to Kelsey Lu’s music through Soundcloud before heading to Marfa, we were quite excited to see some marvelous Cello work. As soon as all of us festival goers head over back to the Marfa Visitor Center, we see a square stage platform in the middle of the venue floor with a cello, modulation board, and an electric guitar ready for action. We took our seats and awaited for the great Kelsey Lu to appear.
She came out onto the stage and began to slap her cello strings with vigor while the audience whom all sat around the historical USO center listened calmly. The backtrack of her vocals came on and she began to harmonize with her voice and instrument to the melody coming from the track playing through the speakers filling the room as the smoke from the incense in her mic stand settles in the air. The room was taken on a musical journey through the lovely sounds of her cello, with the help of a little modulation from the mod board she brought out with her.
Kelsey Lu held the crowd in quite a trance as very few words if any were uttered through the crowds who sat down to enjoy the performances. The setup provided by the Marfa Visitor Center granted us viewers one of the most intimate sets that we could ever hope to experience from Kelsey Lu, and she delivered lush soundscapes with immaculate singing throughout her set. With a smile on her face, she thanked the crowd that was giving her a well-earned standing ovation for her superb performance before taking her leave. – Isaiah Chow
With the predicament of meaty gusts of wind nailing festival goers and townsfolk (which surprisingly wasn’t too bad considering the forecast predicted gusts reaching 75mph at maximum) the Ballroom Marfa showcase of Laaraji & Arji Oceananda was slightly delayed and moved to Wrong Marfa a few hours before the show. We have to give big kudos to Marfa Myths for handling this last minute change rather smoothly, and ensuring that there were enough notices everywhere to make sure that viewers didn’t miss any shows.
Upon arrival at Wrong Marfa, chatter outside the venue was reduced to a hush as Laaraji & Arji began their set. What started with almost near silence featuring occasional loops of water grew into quite a cleansing set that filled the room. The crowd sat down in a packed room and watched attentively in near silence, to the point where even taking pictures felt like a sin as a camera shutter would seemingly disturb the peace. Laaraji’s compositions with the Zither & Mbira entranced the room with lush soundscapes which were complemented quite well with Arji’s light percussion.
As the compositions pulsed in and out, Laaraji decided to pop into the mic. “I walked into the peace garden there, and the light was everywhere!” Laaraji stated into a prophetic tone before cracking out with some laughter. While not aware of the laughter training that was about to take place before me, I was instantly transported into a memory. I remembered all of the times I would say something dumb in the radio office before cracking out into false laughter, and I would always think it was something dumb for me to do. A cursory glance around the room showed that the crowd’s smiles resonated with the rather large grin that had formed on my face, I finally had confirmation that it was just fine to laugh.
Arji followed each statement that Laaraji had put out with an exact replica, only bathed in reverb to resonate within the room. As a good chunk of the ambient segments throughout the middle bordered near silence, the ending of the set creeped up on the crowd as the only sure signal of it’s completion was Laaraji breaking out into laughter and bowing with Arji. As only natural of a set of such a grand magnitude, another standing ovation was sent their way. – Youssef Mahmoud
Boyz 2 Men
Before making the trip out to Innov Gnawa, we stopped by the local Marfa “Boyz 2 Men” to enjoy some burgers and barbecue. Advertising their food as “Kind of expensive”, their advertisements absolutely checked out as we got some rather good food and portions for a rather respectable price. With an eatery of such a small size, some have shared anecdotes of noisy children inside ruining the atmosphere in this small town gem. While some may see it as a signal to grab their food and get the hell out of there before the peace of their meal gets disturbed, others may somewhat appreciate the magic that this slice of life has to offer and laugh it off just as Laaraji would. It was there that we were informed that Bradford Cox (of Deerhunter) would be covering a Hank Williams song 6 times with White Fence. A quick trip to the Lost Horse Saloon proved this to be true, and at the end of each performance, the next one would just fade right in almost as if the song had never ended. While it was a surreal sight to see, there was still Innov Gnawa to catch.
Innov Gnawa was an act I was highly anticipating when looking at the Friday lineup. With my mother hailing from Algeria, Gnawa and Raï made quite a few appearances in my mother’s CD player as a kid when she would drive me to school, so this sort of music is all too familiar.
Making the trip down to El Cosmico, we were introduced to the live rendition of Grammy-nominated Innov Gnawa right upon arrival. Led by Mâalem (Master Gnawa Musician) Hassan Ben Jaafer, Jaafer led the charge with his Sintir and powerful vocals as the other musicians pounded out rumbling-yet-steady rhythms with their Qarqabas. To great delight, the crowd in front of Innov Gnawa was dancing the night away to the religious and spiritual compositions that took place in front of them. Just about everybody in El Cosmico had a grand smile on their face, including the performers that night who stated that it was one of the most fun shows that they had put on up to that point.
As the Qarqaba rhythms sped up ramping up the intensity of the set to unfold before us, Jaafer continued to pump out magnificent solos with his Sintir. If my mother had witnessed the amount of alcohol consumed at the front lines of the crowd, she’d be quick to gasp and yell “Ya Lahwi! (Oh my God!),” yet in the case of those who didn’t indulge (including the performers themselves), there were smiles all around and just about everyone was moving in some sort of capacity. The chants ramped up in intensity until Jaafer pulled out a drum and ended his then final piece with an explosion of percussion which was followed by an eruption of cheers all around the crowd. Two more songs were performed with Mâalem Jaafer returning to stage for the final one, and the crowd was absolutely thankful to experience the magical music of Morocco. – Youssef Mahmoud
A few fellow festival goers from Detroit, Michigan made sure to speak highly about their hometown ace DJ, Omar-S. All of us already having knowledge about the poppin’ house and techno scene in the Midwest (hats off to the likes of DJ Rashad and Juan Atkins), we heard especially good things about how Omar-S turning out the party in Detroit, so that kept us anticipating his set since Thursday.
After heading to El Cosmico in Marfa to dance the night away to Innov Gnawa, my stomach became uneasy and I had to go back to the car for a moment to rest. Although that didn’t last long after Omar-S came out, because I was snatched right out of the car by my companions who came to get me because the music was too damn hot to be missing out on. While Omar-S started his set with some Deep House with people groovin’ in front of the stage, as soon as I came back I saw every soul in the venue grooving to the rhythm of Deep House on and off stage, and not long after my body was doing the same.
People had already crowded the stage made for Omar-S and danced around the DJ like a Boiler Room set-up, not long after, I decided to get in on that action. “Resurrection from the death” is what Omar-S did to me that night, because I felt no pain in his grooves. Later I find out that no one is immune to Omar-S infectious jams as we found Mâalem Jaafer and a few other members of Innov Gnawa around the DJ’s set-up playing their Qarqabas along with the beat. The house disease that night spread far enough to captivate other performers in Marfa such as Kelsey Lu and Ryley Walker to name a few, and get them moving on the floor.
Omar-S kept the crowd extremely active during his set at El Cosmico, and the whole time he was focused on crafting the finest beats for Marfa to indulge on that night. Wherever you looked, people were dancing and having a good time ranging from couples and groups conversing, to friends just getting down and enjoying the music. Omar-S let out a wide range of styles starting with Deep House and moving into harder techno and even some Acid bits tossed in here and there. What was a set that went on well over an hour felt like just a moment in that crowd, and before we knew it Omar-S had finished and wrapped up by sharing a few words with the crowd who danced the night away. “Ay I don’t remember playin’ that.” Omar told one of the people who asked about one of the songs, “You sure it wasn’t the guy before me?” he let out with a smirk. For somebody who could be regarded as a god when laying out his electronic jams, he sure had a sense of humor. -Isaiah Chow
By the time Friday night had come to an end, the level of satisfaction that we had gained from Marfa Myths was already that of a full festival, yet we all knew that there was more music to come. The acts curated by Mexican Summer proved to be quite a blend, granting us the chance to catch world-class acts in a small festival setting, and we were thoroughly impressed by how smoothly it ran. Just those shows alone would justify a music lover’s trip out to Marfa, yet as we had Saturday and Sunday coming along, we knew there would only be more sights to see, and music to enjoy. Stay tuned for coverage on Saturday & some of Sunday where Wire, Amen Dunes, Suzanne Ciani, and more made the following days a trip to remember.