This was the sixth year for Utopia, Texas' annual music festival, UTOPiAfest, taking place about three hours southwest of Austin along a beautiful stretch of rural highway on the family-owned Four Sisters Ranch. Held at the end of (Texas) summer, the festival almost guarantees rain, but also, a damn good time. The rain came wild and heavy Friday night during Wheeler Brothers' set—the band's last performance before drummer Patrick Wheeler was to be married the next day, at a ranch in nearby Tarpley.
That's how beautiful this pocket of Texas is—its artists wed in these hills. In fact, Travis Sutherland's (the festival's founder alongside Austin-based Onion Creek Productions) family lives on the ranch where the festival is held, and his family has long been native to these West Texas hills.
The rain subsided, the music picked up where it left off, and the muddy good time commenced. Father John Misty, Keller Williams with Sam Grisman, and GZA performing with Austin's Brownout all took to the drier stage for a handful of performances that set the tone for a vibrant, loud, and well-produced festival. Wheeler Brothers were also given a second round on the dry stage to finish their performance, which included a helluva on-stage dance party by Patrick Wheeler's soon-to-be wife, Molly.
Saturday was grey, but the rain pardoned us. And I suppose we have the drought to thank for the fact much of the mud dried overnight. Saturday was another one for the books.
UTOPiAfest has a handful of very unique traditions that make it a very special and quirky escape for festival goers. It's BYOB, capped at 2000 in ticket sales, only hosts local food (including Dirt Road Cookers, the Guinness Record holder for world's largest pizza—which they whip up onsite daily), and includes camping near the stages. Perhaps my favorite of those traditions is the panty dropper—a single-engine plane that flies overhead mid-day Saturday to drop, well, multiple loads of panties on the fest's patrons. All shapes, sizes, and colors, it wasn't long before children were kickin' a hacky sack and tossing a football through the field...with panties on their heads. Because hats.
The festival is also among the movement believing in sustainability, leaving no trace, art installations, supporting local business, and workshops including daily yoga classes. Travis, along with Onion Creek Productions and the support of his family, has created an event that highlights Texas' landscape, while being soundtracked by major, local, and rising acts across all genres—hip hop, roots rock, you name it—and night-capped with an hours-long silent disco that keeps the party going till sunrise.
Saturday's lineup included Austin's Cilantro Boombox and Wild Child, along with national acts like Cold War Kids, Kishi Bashi, and closed with a wild and wonderful performance by Dan Deacon.
Before Saturday's silent disco began, the festival closing included a heartfelt thank you from all the folks behind the festival—followed by an epic firework display, rightfully celebrating another incredible festival, another incredible weekend in the utopian place of Utopia, Texas.
As are most projects infused with such passion, support, creativity, and ambition, I have no doubt the festival will continue to be a wild success year after year. I'll certainly be returning, ready to dance many nights away, clad in glitter and, next time, shoes. Because fire ants. But damn good times.
By Ashley M. Halligan