Viva Big Bend sees large turnout after last year’s virtual run

Staff Photo by Ursula Muñoz-Schaefer / Viva Big Bend attendees take a spin on the dance floor at Planet Marfa during a performance by Marfa’s Grand Tourists.

TRI-COUNTY — For many area residents, last weekend was one of great diversion. The much-anticipated 10th installment of the annual Viva Big Bend music festival took place in person last week after last year’s remote run.

Celebrating a decade of music, the festival kicked off at the Starlight Theatre in Terlingua on Wednesday, with shows from artists Bob Livingston and Tessy Lou Williams. Over 50 local and outside bands performed at different venues in Alpine, Marfa, Marathon and Fort Davis over the course of four days.

However, the delta variant was on the mind of festival organizers in the days leading up to the event; Festival Director Stewart Ramser told The Big Bend Sentinel that COVID protocols were being deferred to venue owners but that they didn’t plan on having as many people packed into a single location as in previous years.

They also saw a couple of band cancellations with Bidi Bidi Banda and Shinyribs opting out of the event at the last minute due to COVID concerns. The gaps were filled by David Garza & Friends and a tribute honoring the late rockstar Dusty Hill, respectively.

Still, the event was a success with people travelling from all over the country to participate, he said. Outside acts included Austin-based indie rock artist Zach Person, who performed at the Railroad Blues locale in Alpine on Sunday.

Photo by Dana Kruth for the Big Bend Sentinel / David Garza performs at Planet Marfa last week. The show was one of many concerts during Viva Big Bend.

“I’ve always been obsessed with the desert,” Person told The Big Bend Sentinel. “I already love visiting the Big Bend area to unplug and be creative, so I was excited to be able to come perform my show in this environment.”

For local acts who look forward to regional festivals like Viva Big Bend in order to share their craft, this year’s iteration of the festival also represented a welcome return to the stage. For many, it was their first time performing after last year’s virtual fest, which relied on a pre-recorded lineup and archival footage from prior years to keep the spirit alive during difficult times.

“I’ve been happy every time I get a chance to play, after so many months of not being able to — at least in the live context,” said Scrappy Jud Newcomb, a Marfa-based guitarist who played with The Grand Tourists at Quarter 7 in Alpine and Planet Marfa in Marfa.

Newcomb, who has participated in the festival almost every year since its inception, also said  it was “as much fun” as he’s ever had at the event.

“I think the festival is great for all the music lovers that live out here,” he told The Big Bend Sentinel. “I also think it’s a perfect sized event and that the fans who attend seem to love the beauty of this area as much as they do the music.”

Ramser, who is already working on next year’s outing, told The Big Bend Sentinel he’d like to thank everybody who came out and supported the event. “Whether they bought a wristband or went to a free show, we appreciate all the support we get from the community,” he said.