MARFA – Freakout Pt. 2

Words by Jaimie Ahlquist
Photos by Jaimie Ahlquist, Polaroids by Skyler Locatelli

Marfa. For those who’ve never heard of her, the West Texas town of ~1,772 is just that, a little West Texas town you’ve never heard of. But for those that have, the two breathy syllables represent a magical desert dwelling of modern art marvels, palo santo smoke, James Dean, and endlessly more.

In the 1970’s, artist Donald Judd left the gritty confines of New York City for the expansiveness of the high Chihuahuan desert, selectively settling into the small but strong town of Marfa. Although Judd left a decades long legacy of art and ideas that have become entwined with the towns current identity, Marfa carries her own history of culture and resilience. 

The main highway and train tracks cut parallel lines right through the town, making it regular stop for water and supplies during the era of Pancho Villa. The 1957 film Giant staring James Dean and Elizabeth Taylor showcases what the original trailer passionately describes as a “land of infinite variety and violent contrasts”, a landscape that creates a sense of remoteness and gives a sense of grandeur to the forms that protrude or walk along it.

Being 6+ hours from the lively hub of Austin and 3 hours from the nearest airport, Marfa has become a belt-notch pilgrimage for many artists and curious wanderers. The town’s magic has drawn the likes of both Beyoncé and Solange, and has even just recently been the scenery of The Simpsons. But behind the Instagram hype and pass-thru tourism there is a diverse and vibrant community that weathers the desert life day in and day out, sustaining the intrinsically creative breath of the town. Cattle ranchers will attend gallery openings and meditative artists will tug on their boots to have a cold Lonestar down in the dirt at Planet Marfa. You will find both at the lush cacti garden of Capri, or two-steppin in the cinderblock watering hole better known as The Lost Horse Saloon.

After a long-haul week at SXSW, Freakout Records and hit the blacktop West for a thirsty breath of fresh desert air. For everyone in the crew, except myself, Marfa was a tiny dot on the map 6 hours closer on the tour route. With aching heads and sore limbs, it was an oasis dream when we arrived to meet some kind faces ready to show us around. Nico Bustillos, born and raised in El Paseo and now staple of Marfa, welcomed us with dusty hugs and a smile that even a king’s cape of a mustache can’t conceal.

Bustillos recently settled back in the desert after a decade of culture-making in Austin, but like many people who decide to reside in Marfa, his soul craved the sense of purposeful community that radiates from the town. When he’s not assisting at famed art studio The Wrong Store, you can find him mixing elixirs at Cochineal, hosting DIY drive in movie parties, or cruising through town on one of his legendary whips (a cream 1969 Ford LTD, a weathered and true Triumph Bonneville SE, or casually on horseback).

With Nick’s blessing were humbly welcomed to play at the famous Lost Horse to serve whoever wandered in a taste of what the Seattle, Mexico City and Bogotá crew had honed on the road. The sun had set just set over the low horizon, the pool tables were full and a few curious locals were settled at tables near the stage when The Kitsch stepped up. The first jumpy riffs from the Colombian duo electrified the stale air and got people off their barstools. It was a testament to the Marfa crowd that they got into the groove so quickly being accustomed to twang and folk.

The Carrion Kids danced onto the stage for set two, laughing in joyous bewilderment that they were playing in a saloon in West Texas and locals were swaying to the punk-rock melodies. The crowd was also blessed by Marfa born-and-bred Britt Webb, who at 95 years’ young will twirl and swing any lady in arms reach. The show was becoming something closer to a scene from a David Lynch film, with pool balls clashing and beers sippin slow under pale blue lights.

By the time Acid Tongue went on, the Lost Horse had lured the usual latenight crowd by its bar light, a literal red neon sign that simply reads “BEER”. Bonfires were blazing in the courtyard and people flowed in and out to enjoy either a smoke or party to the psych-garage jams being laid on thick by frontman Guy Keltner and the Carrion Kids. Honorable mention is due: Eric of CK played drums for ALL THREE SETS, BRAVO ERIC.

The show had melted into a swaying, tequila-happy family perfectly primed for The Smokey Brights and their Fleetwood-psych melodic spells. Britt Webb made the rounds and left just before last call. The night came to a sweaty, heroic close and a chapter in history was written in our souls.

Marfa will welcome you with a wink and a smile, and if you stroll in with an open heart, she won’t let you forget her.

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