Viva Big Bend celebrates a decade of music

Photo by Sarah M. Vasquez / The crowd dances to R&B singer Mélat at Planet Marfa at the 2019 Viva Big Bend.

BIG BEND REGION — After last year’s remote run, Viva Big Bend is back in full swing for a weekend of music, food and fun. The 10th iteration of the annual music festival kicked off on Wednesday evening with concerts from folk singer Bob Livingston and country artist Tessy Lou Williams at the Starlight Theatre in Terlingua and will continue through Sunday, with over 50 local and outside bands performing at different venues in Alpine, Marfa, Marathon and Fort Davis.

“I’m very excited about the lineup,” Stewart Ramser, director of Viva Big Bend and publisher of Texas Music magazine told The Big Bend Sentinel. “People have been willing to get back out there, and it looks like attendance will be strong. We just want people to have a good time.”

Originally from Austin, Ramser came up with the idea for a weekend of music showcasing live venues a little over a decade ago after being inspired by the region’s rich cultural landscape on one of many trips to the Big Bend. From there, he began talking to venue owners in the local cities.

“I loved the area and knew it was really supportive of music,” said Ramser. “That’s one of the great things about this area: the different art communities. They all have their different styles, and I wanted to really showcase and promote all of that.”

Though it only took place in Alpine, Marfa and Marathon when it began in 2012, the festival expanded over the next couple of years, adding additional communities, including Fort Davis and Terlingua, to its destinations. Last year, however, Ramser and festival participants were forced to go virtual due to the pandemic. Ramser said he changed the model about eight different times, ultimately opting for an all-virtual fest after ideas for a hybrid event fell through.

“At the end of the day it really helped us reach people that may have not been part of the festival or wanted to see what it’s like,” he said. “It went well, but we’re definitely glad to be back in person.”

The inclusion of a pre-recorded lineup and archival footage from prior years helped keep the spirit of the festival alive last year. Yet for the musicians involved, it just wasn’t the same.

“Being in front of people — whether it’s 10 faces, 100 faces or 1,000 faces — you feed off that, and we as musicians feed off that,” said Aaron Kinzie, a Fort Davis-based drummer who will be performing with Doodlin’ Hogwallops, Anthony Ray Wright and Doug Moreland. “It’s hard to do that when all of the room is empty and it’s real quiet except for you.”

While the excitement of in-person events is an important part of the festival’s return, there are also economic implications to come from its physical comeback. An incentive for tourism, Viva Big Bend has outsiders travelling to the region yearly to spend money on food and hospitality. Also important is exposure, said Ramser, for whom returning tourists are important in “injecting capital” into the different communities.

“It’s really about promoting the area, promoting the businesses, promoting all that there is to do out here,” he said. “That does have a very material impact — not just for Viva.”

Melissa Henderson, who is the executive director for the Big Bend Chamber of Commerce concurs.

“This event actually boosts our small businesses in town but also supports our struggling artists,” she told The Big Bend Sentinel. “They’ve definitely been struggling in the past year.”

The Big Bend Chamber of Commerce is both a sponsor for the event and a venue. They will be hosting a free day of music from 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturday at Kelly Outdoor Pavilion on Memorial Square in Fort Davis. Vendors will include food as well as artwork from local artists. Also attending is Mobile Comunidad, a nonprofit organization committed to providing social services such as food, library access, internet and electricity to rural residents in Jeff Davis County. State Rep. Tony Gonzalez will also hold a meet and greet.

Alpine venues hosting musical acts during the four-day festival include Railroad Blues, Spicewood at Quarter Circle 7 and Old Gringo, with additional shows and activities at Holland Hotel, Century Bar & Grill, Out West Feed & Supply, Printco, Murphy Street, Plaine, Transpecos Banks and the Alpine Visitor Center. Marfa will be hosting musical events at Lost Horse and Planet Marfa, as well as other shows and activities at Frama and The Sentinel. Django Waker will play a free show at Cibolo Creek Ranch, south of Marfa.

The Gage Hotel in Marathon will also host musicians Pauline Reese, Garrett T. Capps and Tessy Lou Williams on Friday.

Festival goers will be able to purchase a weekend wristband for $60, or buy them individually at each venue, with prices ranging from $7 to $20 per sale. For a full schedule and lineup, visit