Mud in the morning, mud at night, disconnected from the rest of the world, worries sliding off your shoulders, roaming open fields to the sounds of rock, bluegrass, and hip hop, eclectic: meeting kindred people with whom you howl at the moon. This is Utopia.
Utopiafest was hosted by founder Travis Sutherland for its fifth year in its usual, nestling hill of a location – Utopia. As the name suggests, the three-day camping and music festival was nothing short of perfection.
Utopiafest presented us with the challenge of rain and mud its opening nights, but it was a challenge many, including myself, took on wholeheartedly. We trekked to our tents in boots and sneakers to have a small snack, grilled haphazardly in anticipation of the next musical act.
Groups such as The Bernie Worrell Orchestra, Brownout, Whiskey Shivers,!!! (chk chk chk), Blackalicious, Residual Kid, and countless others did not disappoint.
Utopians were a mix of famed veterans of the musical craft, like former Parliament-Funkadelic member Bernie Worrell, now playing in class-act, funky solo project Bernie Worrell Orchestra. But Utopians also included musicians on the rise like indie-rockers Holiday, who in their few, short years together, have already signed on with Township Records and have been featured in “Austin Music Minute” put on by KUT.
Friendly faces and tripped out tales joined forces to make Utopiafest unforgettable in its rock’n’roll vibe and close-knit community, ever expanding.
From the fellow Texas State bobcats that I ran into between sets, to the bands pulling in from Austin, to the San Marcos vendors selling their handmade goods, the sense of community was strong.
Whiskey Shivers, an Austin-based bluegrass, folk band, had a strong set Friday evening. But the band could be spotted later in the night strumming guitar and banjo, and bringing the bass amongst a crowd of Utopians, urging them with their energy to enlist in the seemingly spontaneous performance. The following afternoon, a few of the men of Whiskey Shivers sat under the unrelenting sun like the rest of us, bringing good vibes with a small jam session. The band was by far the most approachable and lively, with equally lively sets to seal their status as brilliant musicians.
Friends of Whiskey Shivers were present like Austin’s superb vendor Big Tex Beef Jerky, founded by Tex Thompson. Thompson was there with “Mrs.Tex” as he called her, handing out fresh samples of jerky with flavors like Habanero Garlic and Tex’s Heat. I stuck to the basics and sampled the Peppered jerky and the Original, making me a ridiculously happy Utopian indeed. Thompson spoke of being a proud Texan and the beauty of the outdoor festival. Gotta love the locals.
Austinites and Utopiafest veterans Holiday also graced the stage Saturday, drawing in more and more of a crowd with every second of their stellar performance under the midday sun. The Strokes-like band brought out the tambourine and keyboard, keying in on the folksy, Utopian feel. Holiday vibed – from guitarists Joaquin McHale and Kent Arnold playing off each other’s riffs to Maggie Leyenberger’s muse-like singing accompanying the unit’s pop-rock sound – and Utopians loved it.
Utopiafest was amazing, and I will be trekking my way back to outdoor heaven come next year.
Stay tuned to KTSW 89.9 this week to hear my exclusive interviews with some other, fantastic Utopian performers – Austin talents Grupo Fantasma and the hard rocking Residual Kid.
Much love to Utopia and fellow Utopians!
Monica Solis, KTSW-FM 89.9.