‘The Rambling Boy’ is a column written by Lonn Taylor for The Big Bend Sentinel, a newspaper based in Marfa, Texas. You can find and subscribe to the Big Bend Sentinel here. This column originally ran in the Sentinel on March 28, 2019.
Marfa is facing a David-and-Goliath battle of unprecedented importance to the entire Big Bend.
C3 Presents is an Austin-based event production and artist management company. It is called C3 because it was started in 2007 by three men named Charles: Charles Attal; Charlie Jones; and Charlie Walker.
It is the largest concert production company in the world, producing not only the Austin City Limits Festival, the Voodoo Music and Arts Festival in New Orleans, the Lollapalooza Festival in Chicago and its spin-offs in Paris, Berlin, Stockholm, Argentina, Brazil, and Chile, but 1,000 concerts annually in arenas, casinos, and clubs across the United States and Canada.
C3 Presents wants to produce a music and art festival on a ranch a few miles north of Marfa, just across the highway from the airport, sometime next year, possibly over Memorial Day weekend. They estimate that 6,000 people will come the first year, with the audience growing to 17,500 within five years. Charles Attal is on the board of Ballroom Marfa. For several years the word has been out that someone at Ballroom Marfa would like to see a festival in Marfa that would rival the Burning Man festival in Nevada. In 2015 70,000 people attended Burning Man.
In order to produce their festival, C3 Presents is required by the Texas Mass Gatherings Act to obtain a permit from Presidio County Judge Cinderela Guevara. Judge Guevara may deny the permit on the grounds that the proposed gathering will present a danger to public health and safety.
The Rambling Boy does not think a festival of this size during the height of fire season at a site whose only access is from two-lane State Highway 17 is such a good idea and I have written Judge Guevara, asking her to deny the permit, pointing out that the only way to get to the festival site from an Interstate Highway is to drive 50 miles down a two-lane road, which is also the main street of Fort Davis. I think that the proposed festival clearly presents a threat to the health and safety of everyone in Jeff Davis and Presidio Counties. It is simply too big for our combined public safety infrastructures. At this writing the Jeff Davis County sheriff’s office consists of the sheriff and one deputy. The Presidio County sheriff’s office has a sheriff and five deputies. Both counties are getting by on skeleton volunteer fire departments and E.M.S. crews. The Rockhouse Fire, which started west of Marfa in April 2011 and burned 300,000 acres of grassland, required 500 firefighters from all over the country to put it out. A carelessly dropped cigarette, or a car parked in high grass with the engine running, could have the same result.
C3 Presents appears to be playing a sort of shell game with the permitting process, which is in itself a matter of concern. First they announced that their representatives would meet with the Presidio County Commissioners, the Marfa City Council, and members of the public in Marfa on April 11 to address any concerns about the festival. Then they produced a document entitled “Our Vision” which they said was intended to address those concerns, and which was published in last week’s Big Bend Sentinel. It is a collection of clichés and generalities that essentially says, “Don’t worry, we are working on plans to address all of your concerns.” It also says very loudly that C3 Presents thinks that if they feed us pabulum and tickle us on the stomach we will roll over and gurgle. At the same time they announced that they were postponing the April 11 meeting until an unspecified date in May, when they would be better able “to offer informed answers to local residents.” Their inability to offer them at this time was evident in the “Our Vision” document. Now the Presidio County Commissioners’ Court has announced that C3’s request for a permit will be discussed at their Wednesday April 3 meeting, which will be at 9:30 am in the Marfa courthouse. Do you smell a skunk? The Rambling Boy does, and I plan to be at that meeting.
What I did not say in my letter to Judge Guevara is that it seems to me that C3’s proposal is a crass attempt by a group of Austin promoters who have achieved a toehold in Marfa to exploit the town’s name and its popularity for their own profit, killing the goose that laid the golden egg in the process. Any sensible person knows that you cannot put 6,000 people in a pasture for three days, give them alcohol, and expect them to behave responsibly. Any sensible person knows that Marfa’s fragile public safety infrastructure cannot support a gathering that is more than twice the size of Marfa’s total population.
So, folks, let’s be sensible. Let’s leave the big music festivals in the big cities, where the people who want to attend them live and where there are adequate police, fire, and emergency medical services to support them, and let’s leave the countryside of Far West Texas pristine and unspoiled for those of us who enjoy it that way.
Please send Judge Guevara an e-mail (firstname.lastname@example.org) and urge her to act in the interest of the people who elected her to office and not in the interest of a group of Austin promoters. And please go to the Presidio County Commissioners meeting on April 3 and make your thoughts known.
Lonn Taylor is a writer and historian who lives in Fort Davis. Taylor reads his ‘Rambling Boy’ column on KRTS Marfa Public Radio every Friday at 11am and every Monday at 7pm.