Marfa Lights Festival brings community together for multigenerational fun

Shorthorn athletic teams and coaches rode on the back of an 18-wheeler during the Marfa Lights Festival parade last weekend. Staff photo by Mary Cantrell.

For coverage of this year’s Marfa Lights Festival, The Big Bend Sentinel hosted a competition among Marfa High School’s Journalism class, who were tasked with writing about the festival for prize money and publication. Below is the winning article by senior Samantha Martinez. To read more about the competition, click here.

MARFA — This Labor Day Weekend, the Marfa Lights Festival celebrated its 36th year with a 5K, a parade, music, food and more! The festival, which takes place every year, draws a diverse crowd: abuelas in lawn chairs, little kids running around, and then, of course, teenagers. We’re an awkward age group — too old to play with water guns on the courthouse lawn and too young to have as much fun and freedom as the grown-ups.

I decided to investigate the differences between these age groups and how each celebrates the Marfa Lights differently. One of my fellow teens told me that for him, the many food vendors around the square are the highlight of the festival.

Photo by Katana Melendez.

“I like to eat everything in sight,” said Senior Luis Solis. “The food is definitely my favorite part.” But it still doesn’t compare to the experience of the younger attendees, he said. “Little kids have the most fun at Marfa Lights,” Solis continued. “It’s so fun for them to have the Orbeez guns and stuff.”

It almost seems that for the youngest kids, all rules and bedtimes have gone out the window. This, for the kids, feels magical. A group of us teenagers were sitting around Saturday night, around 10 p.m., well after most bedtimes, and a strange child sat criss-cross applesauce in our circle. At first, I asked if he was lost. He wasn’t. He gave us his name and pointed to his parents, telling us he was from Midland before just disappearing.

The junior class fundraising for prom. Photo by Adele Powers.

When I asked another fellow MISD senior, Fernanda Rivera, what the teenagers do, she said it entails eating, walking laps around the courthouse — and lounging on the courthouse lawn. “We just walk around, sit there, look for cute guys from out of town,” she said.

Fernanda also “ran” the 5K. She came in last place of the Marfa athletes at 44 minutes with Manny Dominguez. The 5K is another event that draws all ages to the Marfa Lights festivals: it was Marfa athletes, teachers and coaches competing against folks who actually enjoy running. 

Photo by Zoey Salgado.

On Saturday, it got so crowded that it felt like you couldn’t even walk on the courthouse lawn. The grown-ups were out in their lawn chairs, vibing, not even dancing, just sitting around with coolers and food piled up from the vendors. My mom, Fabiola Martinez, sat and recorded the whole 10 minutes of a song. Not even dancing.

While I was waiting in line at Mrs. Taco for a horchata, I interviewed Stephen “Chick” Rabourn, a local architect. I wanted to get his thoughts on the festival — and on the differences in experience among age groups.

“How do you feel about this year’s festival?” I asked him.

“So far? I think they have it very well-organized. The stage is beautiful, the lights are great, and the music has been fantastic,” he said.

“How’s it different for kids and adults?”

“Usually, the kids look like they’re having the most fun because they’re playing games on the grass and throwing the balls around,” he said, before adding that adults also enjoy the festivities. “The adults get to hang out and have fun.”

Photo by Zoey Salgado.

One unifying moment for all age groups is the classic line dance. In between bands, a DJ blasted the “Wobble,” followed by the “Cupid Shuffle,” and then, finally, the “Electric Slide.” By this last dance, everyone was on the dance floor. I even got Ms. Powers, the journalism teacher, to join us when I spotted her from afar! I knew she knew the moves. Then, the band, Ricardo Castillon Y La Differenzia, rocked the crowd into the night with classic cumbias. 

The Marfa Lights draws everyone to the festival. People from Alpine, Fort Davis, Presidio and Van Horn come to our little town with their whole families. People of all ages do laps around the courthouse, eat a million different foods, and celebrate by dancing, listening to music and posting up in lawn chairs to watch kids run wild and cuddle rescue dogs. This year, like every other, brought everyone together.

Katana Melendez. Photo by Andres Solis.