Coachella, Where? Why Music Lovers Are Heading to the Chihuahuan Desert in Texas This Summer

Find a dance partner and show off your moves all night long at Viva Big Bend
Find a dance partner and show off your moves all night long at Viva Big Bend | © Sarah Vasquez
Photo of Doug ONeill
25 May 2021

Mountains, cacti, cowboys and live music – the Viva Big Bend festival, in Texas, has it all, with events in Alpine, Marfa, Marathon and Fort Davis this July and August.

What’s happening?

“Where mountains meet music,” is an apt summary of Big Bend Country, named after the biggest bend in the Rio Grande, the river that snakes the border between Texas and Mexico. Four towns and cities participate in Viva Big Bend (July 29-August 1, 2021), the region’s annual four-day music festival: peak-fringed Alpine, starry-skied Marathon, artsy Marfa and erstwhile army bastion Fort Davis – together with a resident population of fewer than 10,000 people. Music magazine publisher, Stewart Ramser, started the high-mountain music fest in 2012 (most gigs take place at an altitude of 4,500ft/1,372m or higher) to showcase the range of music genres in Texas.

At festival venue Reata Restaurant, in Alpine, you can grab a bite to eat and listen to great live music | © J Griffis Smith

Music buffs can enjoy everything from “nuevo wavo” rock’n’roll and country music to railroad blues and Americana folk. The festival venues are as alluring as the music. Performance spaces include the vAlpine Granada Theatre (set in the shell of a 1929 movie theater), the patio of the popular Reata Restaurant (famous for its cowboy cuisine – say howdy to the jalapeño and cheese grits) and a handful of sparse saloon-style watering holes, such as the Lost Horse in Marfa. In addition to the live concerts and networking events for musicians and fans, there are also instrument and song-writing workshops, and gigs for kids, too. So round ’em up, hit the road and make a weekend of it, with our summer-ready selection of hotels, available over Viva Big Bend.

Who’s there?

Alpine, the largest participating city, is the focal point of Viva Big Bend, which draws a diverse crowd of 12,000 locals, budding musicians, seasoned performers and out-of-state music buffs, curious to check out a high-alpine culture festival. “One of the best things about Alpine,” says Chris Ruggia, director of tourism for Alpine, who’s involved in organising the festival, “is its laid-back and relaxed everyday vibe.” Visitors can tap into this at one of the many outdoor evening performances, some of which are free, where you can “drink in the music and delicious temperature drop when the sun goes down”.

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Enjoy performances of all kinds at Viva Big Bend © Robert PoimbeaufThe live music line-up includes phenomenal singers © Robert GreesonThe dancefloor is always packed at Viva Big Bend © Robert Greeson

Ruggia also suggests: “If you wait until after the crowds have gone home after Viva Big Bend, you can savor the downtime, perhaps experience the solitude and silence as you step out of your car at nearby Big Bend National Park.”

Plus, there’s the local art, which Ruggia, creator of the popular comic series Jack: Adventures in Texas’ Big Bend, knows a thing or two about. In addition to the Museum of the Big Bend and a handful of local galleries, Ruggia recommends a popular alfresco art experience: “Alpine has an ever-growing collection of murals across downtown. There’s a series of historically inspired walls, painted by muralist Stylle Read, as well as a hidden mural alley right in downtown.”

There’s a neat collection of historically inspired murals in downtown Alpine worth exploring | © J Griffis Smith

Don’t miss

Getting out into nature to experience the mountain vistas is a must, says Ruggia. He recommends Big Bend National Park – which has 150mi (241km) of desert and mountain trails for hiking – as well as Big Bend Ranch State Park, known for its rugged mountains, steep canyons, dark night skies and high desert setting along the Rio Grande.

Next, hit the road, suggests Ruggia. “Every road out of town, in every direction, is a different scenic route. From a half-hour jaunt to a neighboring town to a full-day adventure, you can spend weeks exploring – with each route offering a different angle on the desert landscape.”

While you’re here, why not take off an adventure – rafting on the Rio Grande in Big Bend National Park | © RZUS_Images / Alamy Stock Photo

Each of the small towns in the Big Bend region merits a visit: Fort Davis, for the Chihuahuan Desert Nature Center and Botanical Gardens; Marfa for its abundance of cacti and the Chinati contemporary art museum, founded by minimalist artist, Donald Judd; Marathon, to experience the cowboy charm at the popular Gage Hotel; and then back to Alpine to watch the Alpine Cowboys baseball team in action at Kokernot Field, a wrought-iron replica of Chicago’s Wrigley Field. Heads-up: you’ll likely see more cowboy hats than baseball caps in the stands, so bring yours along for the ride.

Keen to make a weekend of it? Browse our curated collection of hotels available over Viva Big Bend – bookable here on Culture Trip.

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