The beginning of June is when Marfa hosts the annual Agave Festival where citizens pay homage to this traditionally used ingredient and its historic influence in every imaginable way – through art, food, spirits, film, music, science, and culture.
“It’s a festival that treats the agave as the indicator species for a region that is binational, multilingual, and has a deep historically indigenous orientation,” event organizer Tim Johnson said. “This plant, which exists here in Marfa, has been used by people here for 10,000 years.”
The event is a way of bringing people together from seemingly disparate worlds. The agave is the bridge that links their commonality, and a way of looking at history in a different light, exploring it through these different areas of interest.
The idea for the festival bloomed when Tim saw a documentary, Agave is Life, about the diminished population of the agave due to climate change. “The plant tells me where I am, and at the same time I learned the plant is in trouble,” Tim said. “Something about that is very powerful.”
As agave has provided food, drink, and clothing for indigenous peoples for centuries, it makes sense it should have its own festival. “The agave has been a centering part of their cosmology and world view of life and spirituality, frequently manifesting as a female deity,” he said. “It has all these elements simultaneously.”
Some highlights from last year’s festival include a lecture by Carolyn Boyd, who has worked with the Pecos River-style rock art in Texas and is the author of The White Shaman Mural. Agave spirituality can be found in the historical rock art. Not only is the plant depicted in the art but was used in the paint to create it.
Rodrigo Medellin previously spoke on the interrelation between ecology and tequila, more specifically the connection between the bat population and the agave plant, which have become endangered due to the tequila industry’s practice of cutting the agave plants early in order to produce more alcohol. Medellin has worked for 20 years to help convince people to allow the crops to flourish, thereby supporting the bats as well as a plethora of other animals and plants.
This year, another two dozen experts will share their insight and art, including Chicana artist Santa Barraza, whose paintings explore the historical relationship between Mayahuel, the Aztec female agave deity, and the Virgin of Guadalupe. Additionally, Cheech Marin, of the famous Cheech and Chong duo, will talk about his impressive art collection, some of which relates to the agave.
As for food and drink, the festival showcases several influential figures in the spirits world, including mezcal, tequila, and sotol. Various bars and restaurants around town plan to host tastings and special dinners in honor of the festival.
Hotel Paisano, for example, offers a dinner created by Cowboy Chef Mike Newton. Texas born and raised, this cattle rancher is well known for his stint on season eight of MasterChef. Newton is passionate about the dichotomy of cuisine and its varied cultural influences, which he expresses in his dishes, from fried chicken to French sauces.
For those looking to attend, do not delay in getting tickets and making reservations, particularly if you plan on staying in Marfa during the festival. For more information, visit agavemarfa.com.