Trans-Pecos Festival of Music + Love doubles as platform for advocacy and outreach

Heartless Bastards perform at the Transpecos Festival of Music + Love. Photo by Chad Wadsworth

MARFA — This past weekend, more than 1,700 people from Marfa, the Big Bend region, Austin, and beyond gathered on the grounds at El Cosmico to attend the 16th Annual Trans-Pecos Festival of Music + Love. They enjoyed good food, better company, and of course, live music. Tacos, gourmet grilled cheese, and numerous falafel permutations were scarfed. Dogs and children ran wild while their parents and owners attended mindfulness sessions, deconstructed whiskey tastings, and joint-rolling workshops.

As the sun set, festival-goers flocked to the central lawn in front of the main stage. There they swayed, bobbed their heads, tapped their heels, and shook their hips to the likes of Cat Power, Ben Kweller, Iron & Wine and Andrew Bird. Some particularly tranquil souls unfolded blankets in the middle of the crowd and lay down, content to let the performers score their stargazing. They did this evidently without fear of getting trampled; their faith in humanity was not unfounded. At the end of the night, as the lights dimmed, they stood, shook out their blankets, brushed the grass out of their hair, and returned with the crowd to whichever of the hundreds of tents scattered across the 21-acre grounds were theirs.

But the festival was about more than merrymaking. Several organizations took advantage of the crowds by setting up booths and hosting workshops to advocate or raise funds for their respective causes. Near the El Cosmico lobby doors, the Lumber Club Marfa was selling handmade stools to fund the Alpine Montessori School and the club members’ 529 education plans. Elsewhere, the Grand Companions Humane Society was pushing puppies. Of the four they brought, three left the festival to new homes.

And near the grounds entrance, Deeds Not Words, an Austin-based, student-led organization that stands for women’s social and economic opportunity, had set up a booth of its own. The group’s mission is best summed up by its FREE agenda: freedom from violence, reproductive autonomy, economic opportunity, and equitable representation. As the name implies, Deeds Not Words emphasizes action over speech. 

“When it comes to politics, a lot gets said but not done,” said Natasha Acevedo, the organization’s senior youth organizing manager. “We believe in action over words. We want to get people to take that step. We want to help young people bring power back to themselves so that they can bring power back to their communities.”

Meanwhile, on the other side of the grounds, similar acts of advocacy were being carried out by the Big Bend Reproductive Coalition, which was sharing a booth with the Presidio County Democrats. “We have a lot of the same values,” said Nicole Swartz, chair of the Presidio County Democrats. “We’re both advocating for reproductive rights. We’re out here supporting the same candidates and the same issues. So it just made sense for us to work together.”

With midterm elections coming up in November, and Greg Abbott and Beto O’Rourke set to square off in the gubernatorial debate that Friday night, the coalition’s mission at the festival was political. “The coalition came about because of the Dobbs decision, and that’s inherently political,” said Lisa Kettyle, the coalition’s founder. “It’s not the whole goal of our organization, it’s just one small part of what we do. But right now we’re pushing it pretty hard.” After the election, the coalition will shift its focus to the grassroots work it was created to do, like hosting workshops and educational film screenings across the Big Bend region.

Though she didn’t know Deeds Not Words was coming to the festival, Kettyle was not surprised to see them. It was the perfect opportunity for a meet-and-greet. Though there are no current plans for direct collaboration, Kettyle was excited at the prospect. “It’s an opportunity for an exchange of knowledge,” she said. “We don’t have to reinvent the wheel in that sense.”

The sharing of knowledge, experience, and resources is crucial to the success of organizations like the Big Bend Reproductive Coalition. At the end of the day, it’s people working with people. “For thousands of years that’s how this type of work has happened,” said Kettyle. “No one’s coming to save the people of Texas except the people of Texas. It’s nice to know we’re not alone in this work.”