Musical lineup, festivities and new COVID-19 precautions take shape for 2021 Trans-Pecos Festival

Colt Miller, Joe Cashiola, Ross Cashiola and Andy Stack perform at the Trans-Pecos Festival in 2014.

MARFA — Between the musical lineup, vendors, ticketing and safety measures, the 2021 iteration of Trans-Pecos Festival of Music + Love is incorporating local community members into its 15th annual festival, set to take place September 22 to 26. Last week, the festival announced that they will require guests to the remote desert fest to have proof of vaccination or a recent negative COVID test in order to attend.

The lineup covers a wide variety of musical genres, kicking off at the sprawling 21 acre campground south of town with performances from rockstar Rickie Lee Jones, funk singer Meshell Ndegeocello and Austin ensemble Balmorhea.

While several acts are still awaiting confirmation, coming from out of town are musical acts Paul Cauthen, Jade Bird, Ambar Lucid, Parquet Courts, Caroline Rose, Cate Le Bon, Alex Maas, The Tender Things, Sleater-Kinney, Ben Kweller, Courtney Barnett and El Cosmico Family Band.

Also making the lineup are a series of local acts including Ross Cashiola, Pat Keesey’s Loviband, local ensemble The Grand Tourists, Marfa DJ Jacqueline Del Olmo as Sweetheart of the Radio, Alpine-linked Marijuana Sweet Tooth and Rob Mazurek’s Exploding Star Orchestra.

Like previous years, the four-day event will include workshops, vendors and camping, as well as a breakfast to benefit Marfa Public Radio and the free annual Saturday sandlot baseball game where Marfa’s Los Yonke Gallos will face off against Austin’s Texas Playboys.

Hairdressers, reiki practitioners and spa services will all be available at a pop-up spa termed El Cosmetico for those seeking some relaxation –– and for those looking for the opposite, a mechanical bull will make its first appearance at the festival grounds this year.

“It’s refreshing to get back to almost normal,” El Cosmico General Manager Monika Bernstein told The Big Bend Sentinel. The festival, like many others, took a year off in 2020, and will return this year in a modified form that accounts for the continued impacts of COVID-19 in the United States.

Last week the festival announced additional COVID-19 safety measures for the event in order to protect Marfa residents and festival attendees. Organizers are following all state and city COVID-19 guidelines, which is why an extra day has been added and capacity is being limited to 50 percent of the usual festival attendance. They will also be asking for proof of vaccine or a negative test result taken within 72 hours of the fest’s start date, and masks will be required in indoor spaces.

“We are putting in place every measure to safeguard the city of Marfa –– following the lead of festivals ten to 100 times the size of the Trans-Pecos Festival,” said Liz Lambert, the owner of El Cosmico. “Capacity will be significantly reduced, rapid testing will be available, and vaccines will be highly encouraged,” Lambert said. “If I could have required 100% vaccinations with no option to provide a test I would have, but Texas law won’t allow it.”

The first day of the festival is free to all who can show ID that proves their local residency, along with their proof of vaccination or negative test. Passes for the entire festival or individual days can be bought at a reduced price for locals at the hotel’s front desk. Since tickets are running out, the event runners urged locals to come by as soon as possible to get a pass.

“It’s always a good time over there,” said Ross Cashiola, a Marfa resident who has been a part of the festival almost every year since 2007. “They always have a really great lineup of bands and musicians. Everyone who always gets booked in the festivals — it’s always a good mix.”

Cashiola moved to Marfa from Chicago in 2006, meeting and befriending El Cosmico’s owner, Lambert, over a decade ago while the hotel was still under construction. Since then, he’s always been part of the lineup, performing under his own name or making appearances with his brother Joe under the moniker Hotel Brotherhood.

The festival started as a relatively small gathering of 400 to 500 people — mostly friends of Lambert’s, as well as visitors who came from Austin and Los Angeles, Cashiola said. “I always liked the size of the festival,” he told The Big Bend Sentinel. “It was never one of these huge, 10,000-plus, 20,000-plus-people festivals that exist in other parts of the country. It’s for people who get overwhelmed in large crowds.”

The size of the festival has grown over the last couple of years, however, with 70 or 80 bands having played there since its inception, according to Cashiola. And while relatively small, the event draws big names to the lineup, including St. Vincent, Sharon Van Etten and Fiona Apple in previous years.

Still, that sense of intimacy hasn’t been lost, according to Cashiola, who said it’s “always a good gathering of friends for a lot of people, including me.” With COVID-19 still active in the area, the festival runners have scaled the event back in 2021, reviving some of that intimacy the festival provided when it began 15 years ago.

Mainly, he said, it’s just good to be back onstage. Like many artists, the pandemic became a time of deep introspection for Cashiola, who said he barely played any music while confined to his home last year.

“It’s just strange to just have that part of you cut out completely, you know? To where you’re not doing anything in public, and that’s because you can’t,” he told The Sentinel. “I’m kind of just still now trying to figure out what these songs were before, how much they’ve changed during the last year and a half.”

Cashiola describes his songwriting as “simple” with “standard structure,” but says they take on a different form when performed onstage with friends. Through the different styles and techniques of improvisation from different musicians, no two performances of a song will ever end up sounding the same. In some ways, his collaborative effort exemplifies the community-driven focus of Trans-Pecos.

“I would say Ross is a very important, critical part of the festival,” Bernstein told The Big Bend Sentinel. “We wouldn’t have it any other way. He’s family.”

To see the full lineup and read the event’s health pledge visit