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2023 Billy the Kid Festival

The three-day Billy the Kid Festival was held in the Las Cruces Rio Grande Theatre February 24-26, 2023.

The Festival opened Friday night, February 24, with THE TRIAL OF BILLY THE KID, written by David G. Thomas and directed by award-winning cinema director Ross Marks. The play dramatized the trial of Billy the Kid, real name William Henry McCarty, accused of the first degree murder of Lincoln County Sheriff William Brady in Lincoln, New Mexico, on April 1, 1878. Billy the Kid’s real-life trial for that killing took place in the Doña Ana Courthouse in Mesilla, New Mexico, on April 6, 1881.

The play was written so that after the presentation of the evidence against Billy the Kid for Brady’s killing, and the closing arguments of the prosecution and defense attorneys, the entire audience decided Billy’s fate. The play had a different ending depending on whether the audience jury voted Billy guilty or not guilty.

The second day of the Festival featured original Western music by CROW AND KARLA (Dan Crow, Karla Steen, Steve Smith, and Anne Luna).

The third day offered a matinee performance of THE TRIAL OF BILLY THE KID.

The Festival was well covered by the press:

Billy the Kid Festival Brings History to Life

Innocent or guilty? Dive into the Wild West at the Billy the Kid Festival

Billy the Kid Found Not Guilty by Today’s Audience

“On Friday and Sunday, February 24 and 26, a play re-enactment of ‘The trial of Billy the Kid’ brought the past into the Rio Grande Theatre as directed by Ross Marks. While William Antrim (Billy the Kid) was found guilty at the time, April 6, 1881, the modern-day audiences at the theater found him innocent both nights.”

“‘The Trial of Billy the Kid really exceeded my expectations in terms of the tense courtroom drama and tremendous audience response,’ Marks said. ‘It really whetted my appetite to take it to other theaters (he’s already in talks with Ruidoso and Silver City) and turning it into a film. The success of the play proves what I already knew, which is that there is a ton of talent right here in Las Cruces.’”

The Festival was sponsored by the Doña Ana County Historical Society and the Friends of Pat Garrett.