Trans-Pecos musicians rock Martin Field, inspire the next generation in special set for MISD students

Photo by Hannah Gentiles. Musicians David Garza, Tift Merritt & Robert Ellis take a break from the Trans Pecos festival to perform for the Marfa High School students.

MARFA — Marfa High School students piled into the Martin Field bleachers last Thursday, facing a modest PA system and three microphone stands lined up on the grass behind the track. For the next hour, toes tapped, knees bounced and students started clapping to the rhythm as three musicians from Trans-Pecos Festival took turns strumming out tunes and talking about following their dreams.

The morning performance at MISD has been running around five years — minus last year when Trans-Pecos took a hiatus — where a few musicians sneak away from the sprawling high-end campground to give the local students a taste of the festival.

Nearly 100 high schoolers filed into the back rows of the Martin Field stands, but when David Garza, Tift Merritt and Robert Ellis got behind the mics, the students crowded closer, filling out the front rows to get a better seat for the show.

In preparation for the set, each performer brought something special. Merritt performed “Feeling of Beauty,” picking it because it’s a song she wrote about Marfa. While at the mic, she said, “I wanted to say a little bit about making your own way in the world. A lot of work happens off stage. It’s more than an Instagram post of looking cool with your breakfast,” she said. Instead she told students to go into creativity like a science experiment, asking questions without knowing exactly what the outcome will be.

Garza picked a song he had written in his sophomore year of high school called “Fishsticks,” which has become a cult favorite among the Marfa students over the years. As the chorus rolled in, the students shouted along to the steely bop, chanting “fishsticks!” along with Garza, pumping their fists in the air.

Ahead of the performance, Ellis swore to shred, and shred he did, wailing on his acoustic guitar with backup from Garza and Merritt. Some fans in the audience even shouted song requests from his repertoire, which he obliged. “None of us have played these songs together and we’re completely winging it,” he confessed to the students. “But it’s really fun, and I think half of the fun of choosing music as a career is getting to see your friends and make stuff up together, wing it and vibe out.”

Ellis asked how many students played guitar and hands shot up around the stadium seats. Marfa ISD Superintendent Oscar Aguero had explained ahead of the performance, “We just started a guitar class this year, so I’m glad they got guitarists here so the students can see this, and that this is something that they can do.”

“It gives the kids a different venue of arts. We have so many of the minimalists here and then they bring in this concert, and it just shows them that ‘Hey, you can do this,’” Aguero said. “The kids get to see other people doing something that they love and it just gives them a break. They’re celebrating something that’s happening in their city, and they get to be a part of it.”

Maribel Meraz, a junior, said she enjoyed the songs and thought it was “pretty cool.” While she aspires to be a marine biologist rather than a musician, she saw how working hard toward a goal can lead to success. Garza was her favorite act of the morning. “He had an upbeat kind of thing,” Meraz said.

The upbeat vibe was intentional for Garza, who wanted to give students a good time. “I think music is something that we as musicians take it for granted that there’s always music around, but for people age 13, 14, 15, 16, it can really be a beautiful shot of good vibes to put your mind in a different place that it wasn’t before, and it’s that simple,” said Garza after the show.

All three of the artists hail from Texas originally, and Garza had advice for Marfa’s younger generation looking to pursue their dreams the way these musicians did. “Put your heart into it. There’s a lot of stuff you can get done these days that you don’t really need to put your heart into, but if you really literally put your heart into it, it’ll happen,” he said as he loaded into the bus heading back to the grounds of El Cosmico. “Whether it’s football or computer programming or rock ‘n’ roll. If you put your heart into it, it’ll work.”