When you imagine a town built around music, Austin and Nashville might come to mind. But in out in far West Texas, along the Rio Grande, Terlingua might make you rethink. Built as a mercury mining camp in the late 1890s, then abandoned when that market collapsed after World War II, Terlingua went nearly uninhabited for the next three decades — and was even listed as a Ghost Town in the National Register of Historic Places.
You might know it best these days for the area’s chili cookoff, but author W. Chase Peeler writes that music has breathed new life into Terlingua — in fact, it’s become something of an oasis for musicians big and small. Peeler’s new book is called “On the Porch: Life and Music in Terlingua, Texas.”
He says the Porch is actually a 100-year-old ruin dating back to the city’s mining era and “has since become a spot for informal music making — jamming.”
Growing up in Midland, Peeler was unaware the town had people who lived there year-round, much less of its musical nature. He says that though amateur musicians are really the heart of the city, there are more musicians moving to Terlingua because they found it easier to make a living than in bigger-named music cities like Austin — but that’s making it harder on local Terlingua musicians.
Peeler writes in his book:
“Living in Terlingua, where music was more prevalent than anywhere I had ever been, gave me a vision of what might be possible if Americans were encouraged to rethink the role of music in their daily lives. Terlingua is an uncommonly musical town, but its residents are no more genetically predisposed toward music than are the residents of any other town. Terlingua is musical because Terlinguans have chosen music. That choice is what I wanted to understand most of all.”
Listen to the interview above or read the transcript below to learn more about the Porch and its significance.
This transcript has been edited lightly for clarity:
Texas Standard: What is this porch exactly?
W. Chase Peeler: So the porch is a ruin that’s about 100 years old. It is the location of the old Chisos Mining Company store and has since become a hotspot for informal music making, jamming.
Porch jams are spontaneous. They do not occur at any particular time or day. Sometimes you could go days without hearing one and other times you could have 12 musicians playing music from sunup to sundown.