Marfa Lights comes back after COVID, reuniting families near and far 

Staff photo by Maisie Crow / Genevieve Bassham, a former Marfa mayor and city council person, leads the 34th annual Marfa Lights Parade as its grand marshall. Bassham, who is a descendant of the Jumano people, was followed by a long line of parade participants, including members of the Jumano tribe during their first time participating in the event.

MARFA –– The 34th annual Marfa Lights Festival went off without a hitch over Labor Day weekend, despite some of the organizers’ worries that it might not be able to happen this year due to the delta variant of the coronavirus spiking the number of positive cases throughout the state. 

“I joined the chamber in early July and we weren’t even sure the festival was going to happen at that point. So we had a really short time to make it happen,” said Abby Boyd, the president of the Chamber of Commerce, which organized the event. 

“Of course if there had been anything that came up where we had to stop it to protect the community, we would’ve done that at any point. But at some point, we just had to go for it and hope for the best,” Boyd said, adding that if there were any theme to this year’s festival it was simply to make sure that it happened. 

Over the span of two days, there were bands and DJs playing all day long and going well after 11 p.m. in front of the county courthouse. Some of the performers were local groups like Make Up Sex, Primo Carrasco & Hector Sanchez and Marfa ISD Ballet Folklorico Aztlán.

Photo by Sarah M. Vasquez / Marfa residents Elizabeth Farrell and Zeke Raney dance during The Grand Tourists performance Saturday evening at the 34th annual Marfa Lights Festival.

On Saturday, a parade celebrating all things Marfa slowly made its way from the elementary school to kick off the day’s festivities. Those in attendance could see floats from organizations based in the area, like the Chamber of Commerce and Big Bend Community Action Committee, as well as floats –– or at least vehicles –– celebrating emergency response personnel, like the Marfa and Ft. Davis volunteer fire departments. 

Even Rod Ponton, in his role as county attorney, made an appearance, throwing candy out the back of his truck. 

“I think this event, in particular, is really about tradition. It’s about Marfa and the Marfa community so we wanted to go with what’s always worked for this festival. We stuck to the tried-and-true things which bring great bands from the area and afar in Texas that we think our Marfa residents will love so they can come about and be entertained,” Boyd said.  

Boyd, who considers Marfa Lights her favorite event in town, says that the parade in particular reflects the residents that live in Marfa. “It celebrates this town and the people who make it up –– not the Marfa that you see on Instagram.  It celebrates our place in the world. You can see that in the parade where we have Genevieve Bassham who’s been a long-time resident of Marfa, a former mayor, former city council person. She runs the Marfa Food Pantry. She’s a descendant of the Jumano people,” Boyd said. “It’s everything you hope a small town festival will be. I think it’s a lot about the real Marfa.” 

Bassham, who was this year’s grand marshal riding in a convertible at the head of the parade, said she was impressed by how many organizations participated in the celebration. “We were in front leading the parade. We were going slow but at the same time, I turned around and it was a long line,” she said. “I couldn’t even see the end of it.”

Bassham said it was nice to see the Jumano tribe, of which she is a member, have a float in the parade. “I think that was the first time they participated,” she said. 

David Chavez has been coming every year since he moved here in the 1990s to become city manager, albeit for only a short while. He said, “Of course [Marfa Lights] diminished in size a lot. It used to be quite an event. But just like everything else in Marfa, the population has declined. The opportunities for young people have declined. After they graduate, it’s a mass exodus somewhere else. You gotta go where the jobs are.”

Yet for Boyd that’s what makes Marfa Lights so special, as it serves as a homecoming for those that have left town. “I saw a lot of people’s sons, nephews and cousins reuniting. I saw people with family reunion T-shirts on,” she said. “I know a lot of the members of the chamber who’ve lived here, born and raised here, had family in town that they don’t get to see all the time. I think a lot of people make this their annual family reunion.”

Photo by Sarah M. Vasquez / As the 34th annual Marfa Lights Festival neared a close, Marfa resident PJ Serrano proposed to Sonya Murillo during La Fiebre’s set on Saturday night. She said yes.

There was even a marriage proposal at the La Fiebre show on Saturday in which PJ Serrano asked Sonya Murillo to be his wife. “We met a little over four years ago. We made plans to meet up that weekend and go to Marfa Lights. It just so happened that La Fiebre was playing that weekend and we shared our first dance together at the Marfa Lights,” Serrano said. 

“Though I was nervous I still asked without skipping a beat,” he said. “As far as I know I am the only one to get on stage in front of thousands and ask someone to marry them during Marfa Lights weekend!”

And overall, Boyd said that Marfa Lights went over about as well as she could’ve hoped for. “We weren’t sure at the beginning, because of COVID, what the turnout would be like or what the community response would be, but in the end we got a lot of positive feedback from the attendees, and we got a lot of support from the community and we are super grateful for that,” Boyd said. “I think next year, hopefully when things are a little more clear, hopefully we will have more time for strategic thinking on this next one.”