Most people consider summer to be festival season. We all know that Texas is different though. Texas is hot. Festival season for us is more about spring (SXSW) and fall (ACL and Fun Fun Fun Fest). Getting the party started early each year is UTOPiAfest, going down September 12-14. The dates vary each September, as organizers coincide the festival with the lunar phase to ensure a full moon (or as close as possible). This not only proves important on late night walks to and from camp, but also contributes to the extraordinary vibe that makes UTOPiAfest special. We've had the privilege of covering UTOPiAfest the past two years and it's become part of our life.
UTOPiAfest takes place on Four Sisters Ranch, just outside the aptly named town of Utopia, Texas; 15 miles east of Garner State Park. The beautiful drive down is part of the magic. Green farms and valley ranches line the backroads. No intrusive billboards point you in the right direction, just handmade signs freshly placed along the path guide the way. Once on site, dirt ranch roads lead you in and play metaphor to the festival's lack of corporate sponsorship takeover. "The location is really the core of the entire UTOPiAfest experience for me," states festival director, Aaron Brown. "It puts the artists and audience in a different frame of mind from the second they see the festival grounds."
A 360º view of West Texas rolling hills form the backdrop for the two main stages where you'll take in the sights and sounds of this year's lineup. "We try to find bands that blow people away live," says Brown. "Every artist coming puts on a live show that I'd gladly go out of my way to see any day of the week. We also strive for an eclectic lineup."
One example of that is this year's Wu-Tang Clan's GZA backed by Austin favorites, and alter ego of Grupo Fantasma, Brownout. "UTOPiAfest has a very special relationship with Grupo Fantasma/Brownout," Brown tells us. "We've always tried to incorporate them into the fest especially for some crazy collaborations with people like Gene Ween and Bernie Worrell. It was actually their idea to see if GZA was down to join us this year with Brownout, and sometimes wishes come true."
Other notable acts this year include not only the jam stylings of Keller Williams, but also his appearance with Jeff Austin and Sam Grissim as Grateful Grass - delivering "anything-but-traditional bluegrass versions of Grateful Dead", a solo set from former Fleet Foxes drummer Father John Misty, Ghostland Observatory front man Aaron Behrens and (his new project) the Midnight Stroll, Austin perennials Wild Child and Wheeler Brothers, the poppy dance offerings of Dan Deacon, female-led Warpaint, violin-rocked Kishi Bashi, country legend Billy Joe Shaver, and indie rock headliners, Cold War Kids.
Festival directors have also told us to expect a new light and laser show, more food options, and a few new surprises this year. "We've grown the fest quite a bit from its inception, but we adhere to our two key principals - intimate and high-quality. So while the fest is much more of a spectacle these days, our goal is still to make it the easiest and most welcoming festival possible."
What's more welcoming than BYOB? That's right, UTOPiAfest allows you to bring all the food, drink, and alcohol you want. Other unique features of this festival include: no musical overlap, unreal camping, late-night silent discos, yoga, disc golf, and it's family friendly. There's also plenty of space because UTOPiAfest caps its audience to give you the most pleasurable, un-claustrophobic festival going experience. When asked how such a Utopian-like environment is achieved, Brown replied, "The bands you book create the audience you draw. We try and book bands whose audiences we think will appreciate and respect the UTOPiAfest experience." And, he's right. It works.
This year's 6th Annual UTOPiAfest is set for September 12-14. Weekend passes are priced at $132 (tax included) and includes camping. Tickets, full lineup, and all other info is available at UTOPiAfest.com