You get a strange sense of vertigo as you drive directly toward the mesas in West Texas. Their land mass seems frozen in time and they can leave you in a trance while you wind through the Chisos Mountains.
The Goat Pens, the site of the first Big Bend Songwriters Festival, is a beautifully barren stretch of desert in Terlingua just north of the National Park. The main stage sits high and stretches into the wide open sky.
The entrance to the Goat Pens in Terlingua. Photo by Andrew Blanton
“The little community we kind of made just in those four days was really strong,” Caleb Wilbourn, co-founder of the Big Bend Songwriters Festival said. The festival site sits on 640 acres of desert in the Cigar Springs Ranch. Jeff Majewski, owner of the Goat Pens, “was there running around working just as hard as any of us were to make the event work. He went above and beyond, and he was so happy to have people out at his property enjoying themselves.”
I set up camp next to Gary Blackchild, a traveling songwriter from New Mexico that had his SUV propped open with flags staked down into the dirt for shade. The high desert winds blew away the misting station on the first day and the sun can hit you hard without a gallon of sunscreen and a sombrero.
Bret Cali, Owner of the Bend General Store and co-founder of the Big Bend Songwriters Festival, brought years of festival organizational experience and was able to bring in the headliners that anchored the line up.
“It would not have happened without Bret,” Wilbourn said. “He took it to a whole other level.”
Some repairs to the main stage were done in preparation for the event as the Texas dust can cut through any structure deep in the desert. Scott Wright at Wright Hardware donated supplies to repair the main stage and complete the second stage.
“I’m just still unpacking ten million totes worth of sound equipment and every other last thing covered in sand,” Cali said as he gave a recap of the festival. Many don’t last long in these elements as your skin starts to crack and the temperature swings fifty degrees overnight.
Cali was able to bring in Ray Wylie Hubbard, Larry Joe Taylor and Thomas Michael Riley to lead the line-up along with Moses Martinez and other local acts from Terlingua, and songwriters like Dallas Burrow, Nicky Diamonds, Bear Ryan that travel the Southwest.
“Doing a music festival there presents a lot of challenges because it’s a haul to get there. There were some people that drove from North Dakota, and some people that drove out from Florida in an RV, that’s a massive drive to come out there,” Cali said. “We even had to bring in a Starlink.”
Beautiful hand-made art and jewelry from local artist Missy Walker was displayed along the main road leading into the camp along with food vendors for the attendees.
“Missy brought out her art and set up a really nice booth and they were just very supportive and made the event work,” Wilbourn said.
Pollo Llanes provided the festival t-shirts from local shop Ghost Town Apparel. Manny Gomez brought his famous La Cabra tacos and Dirty Grinderz from Midland provided hot sandwiches. Ruta Maya gave free coffee for attendees. Mark Childs from Tanks-a-lot Terlingua provided a massive water tank to keep everyone hydrated.
“There’s more buzz now even after the festival,” Cali said about the social media posts he’s seen and beautiful scenic photos uploaded after attendees hit the 5G towers along Interstate 10.
Although Cali said he “tends to jump out of a plane and look for a parachute,” the planning that went into this event cannot be understated. Cali brought in his staff from the Bend General Store to secure festival operations. Lodging presented a major challenge for the artists, and Lynn and Brandon Behrens from Croesus Canyon Camps provided a much needed sponsorship of the festival. Out West Disposal provided a monumental service of running waste disposal for the site as well as proper wash stations for attendees to rinse the dust off. Montie Mudd with the Big Bend Chamber of Commerce gave critical support for the festival and provided advertising through Visit Big Bend. Perro Largo Ranch provided necessary donations for the operational costs. Although it took weeks of logistics and labor to bring everything together, Cali said he was “just walking around in the Goat Pens going ‘this beats the s#%* out of working in an office.’”
There was an issue with the TABC permit for the opening day of the festival and Jamei Ehl, owner of Eccentric Brewing, provided several free kegs to get the party started. Melanie Phillips, owner of Mel’s Place, sponsored local Terlingua act the Moonshiners, and the Paul Logan Band headlined Thursday along with The Broussards, Chet O’Keefe and Christopher Cody Meacham.
Joyful Noise provided impeccable live sound for the event. “As they were setting up I was like ‘this is probably going to be the best sound crew that they’ve ever seen in Terlingua,’” Cali said. “They could have brought tons and tons more but that was just perfect.”
Driving out of Terlingua was bittersweet as I couldn’t say when I would see these traveling songwriters again. The cool air conditioning soothed my sunburnt skin as I headed east back to the gridlocked streets and busy lifestyle of the city.
Ray Wylie Hubbard performs at the Big Bend Songwriters Festival. Photo by Michael Hess.
“Right after spending a week out there, I’m ready to go camping again,” Cali said.
More information on the Big Bend Songwriters Festival can be found here: