UTOPiAfest 2018: New location, same good vibes!

by Nov 19, 2018Reviews1 comment

Before Festy GoNuts was Festy GoNuts, we were lucky enough to stumble upon UTOPiAfest VII, in September of 2015. This incredibly well put-together, small and intimate festival in the heart of Texas hill-country left a lasting impression on us and was in our minds as we formed what would become Festy GoNuts. 

The family and staff running the event were overly welcoming, and the venue in Utopia, Texas showed us another side of the state that we were not yet familiar with.  And then there was the music…

While we were drawn to the festival by Leftover Salmon, who threw down for two nights of power packed music, including an incredible sit-in by Ruby Jane Smith and an all-night back-stage pick, it was the rest of the acts that really left a mark. Our first encounter with The Deer led to many, many more.  Our introduction to tUnE-yArDs opened us to a whole new realm of music, and sets by RJD2 and Explosions in the Sky blew us away.  And, of course, the late-great Charles Bradley was inspiring, to say the least.

The world has, of course, changed a bit since 2015.  Earlier this year, UTOPiAfest announced a change in venue and a new partner, as we discussed in our UTOPiAfest Preview article.  At the very last minute, however, plans were forced to change again, and UTOPiAfest found itself at another location, Reveille Peak Ranch in Burnet, TX.

We sent our newest Texas correspondent, Britt White to UTOPiAfest 2018 to bring you the full story:

10th annual utopia fest 2018

The Tenth Annual UTOPiAfest 2018

Review by Britt White, Photos by John Carrico


F or ten years UTOPiAfest has been the great secret of festival goers and musicians alike. The very description of it sounds fictional – fewer than 2,000 attendees, BYOB, camping close to the stages and not a single band overlaps!

The 10th UTOPiAfest was met with many challenges, from having to change its location of 9 years, to then having to move locations again within 3 weeks of the festival.

UTOPiAfest has always and will remain a very special place for myself, my fellow Utopians and the musicians that have played and grown with the festival. For me, it starts 8 years ago at the 3rd UTOPiAfest, with a blanket, a pillow and the kindness of strangers.

10th annual utopia fest 2018
10th annual utopia fest 2018

Thursday at UTOPiAfest

Thursday morning I awoke to the sweet sounds of dynamite from the adjacent quarry, as I stepped out of my tent and smelled the brisk hill country air.

“I love the smell of patchouli in the morning”

Per tradition, the festival begins with a smaller pre-party on Thursday, that often features killer headliners; this year’s shindig included the likes of Ley Line, Keller Williams, and Grandmaster Flash.

One of the most special things about UTOPiAfest is that every person on site, especially on Thursday, actively seeks to lend a hand from setting up each other’s campsites, hauling supplies, or building stages. The community of support, fun, and genuine kindness is a rare retreat for healing, joy, and jams in our current tumultuous times.

Ley Line, a quartet from Austin, took us on a cultural voyage across the South American cosmos with incredible harmonies, arrangements, and instrumentation. Keller Williams followed with a funky loop set that finished with a dubbed out version of Pepper by Austin’s own Butthole Surfers. The final act of the evening was none other than Grandmaster Flash, the Godfather of Hip-Hop and all modern production as we know it. His set was a powerful history lesson and journey through the boroughs of New York featuring the giants of each neighborhood. The Grandmaster Flash set at UTOPiAfest stands as a reminder of the virality and transcendental power of music that is entwined in our history and culture.

10th annual utopia fest 2018
10th annual utopia fest 2018

Friday at UTOPiAfest

Friday began at 11 am with fresh coffee and music brought to us by Ruta Maya & the Black Fret Society, an Austin-based music patronage to accelerate Austin musicians. As people started to arrive for the main event, joy poured from the faces of all as they entered the new property and were met with the same familiar faces and magic that is UTOPiAfest.

As the veil of twilight came around, The Deer hypnotized us with a type of cosmic folk that could only be created in the hill country, followed by the powerful Wild Child and an incredible set of Keller Williams Pettygrass (A Tom Petty bluegrass tribute). The final act for the evening was The Big ‘Ol Nasty Getdown that features a quite unbelievable lineup featuring Leo Nocentelli & Cyril Neville (The Meters), joined by Stephen Perkins (Jane’s Addiction), Alvin Ford Jr. (Trombone Shorty/Dumpstaphunk), Rami Jaffee (Foo Fighters), John Heintz, Derrick Johnson (Yo Mama’s Big Fat Booty Band) and many, many more.

Funk fans or not, The Big ‘Ol Nasty Getdown left everyone speechless. The rest of the evening featured a silent disco under an outdoor pavilion. The highlight of this disco was Zack Morgan’s Superjam that features the best musicians in Austin.  Their goal is simple: to melt faces and shred egos. The other portion of the late night music is Team Goodtimes, an intimate acoustic concert series between 1:00 and 5:00 am.

Every set at the Goodtimes Stage is recorded and uploaded to Archive.org,  but to maintain the vibe and efficacy of the recordings there is a strict vow of silence that is enforced with the power of group shooshing. To the new-comer, this can be jarring and even frustrating but after a few minutes, one quickly silences themselves as they start the feel the power of what a true temple of music is.

At 4:20 AM a guerilla concert popped up at the silent disco area, the band calls themselves Fecal Pickle and only plays at 4:20 in the morning…unannounced. They’re a tongue and cheek duet with a very vaudeville-meets-Tenacious D sound, and boy were they funny. For the opening song, they played Georgia by Ray Charles to the tune of Pootopia and ran down the hits like Imagine by John Lennon with the lyrics of All-Star by Smash Mouth. At one point there was a 5-piece band but after playing one song together the singer released them to never return! To say the least, this was a trip I look forward to coming across again.

10th annual utopia fest 2018
10th annual utopia fest 2018

Saturday at UTOPiAfest

Saturday morning, I woke up excited to walk over to the Goodtimes Stage, grab some coffee and see some Black Fret artists.  What I walked into is another story. As I wandered up, still hazy from the night/morning before, I spot a young bull tied to a tree, chomping on hay about 20 feet from my tent. I look over and see security gazing at the cow just as perplexed as I was. I asked them “did we get pranked or something?” Since this is Texas and the festival is on a working ranch, the poor fella just got lost and was confused. With a few hours till the music started, our camp prepared a brisket and few racks of ribs to smoke throughout the day.

As the excitement for the day began to creep up I decided to go on what we call at UTOPiAfest  “a walk-about” and see what kind of trouble/friends I can run into.  Fortunately, neither are mutually exclusive. I ran into a band of merry men that for their own sake go by Undercover Dad, Headdie Robbins, and Jose The Captain” Cuervo.  Last, but not least, is “Lil Turnt,” our lawn flamingo turned beer bong, AKA The Flabongo.  We hit the streets in search of jam sessions and fellowship, several flabongos and jams later we were ready to see Trouble in the Streets.

Trouble in the Streets hit the packed house right in the mouth with a certain soulful electric-grime and energy of Run the Jewels; A band with enough talent and grit to cover the elusive Bulls On Parade by Rage Against the Machine. I’ve said before, No one covers Rage because no-one can. For this show, when I wasn’t hitting the Flabongo or dancing, I had my foot in my mouth. After retiring to camp and overindulging on a platter of ribs, turkey legs, and brisket, I found myself at the rock opera only known as Calliope Musicals.

Calliope Musicals, just as Wild Child or Keller Williams, are cut from the same technicolor cloth that has been grown and fed at UTOPiAfest. They amongst all cornerstone acts at Utopia have consistently and epically evolved to a level that I can only envision St. Vincent and Freddy Mercury smiling upon. As their show ended with an Indian-style candlelight vigil, Sound Tribe Sector Nine loomed.

10th annual utopia fest 2018
10th annual utopia fest 2018

Before the storm hit, John Medeski’s Mad Skillet fried our giant pupils with an organ, a grand piano, a sousaphone, and a guitarist. STS9 started to play abysmally and, unfortunately, just when they started to get hot a cliché and heavy Stevie Ray Vaughn Texas flood pummeled my fare Utopians.  That put the Soundtribe in position to no longer play. I watched this under the dry and cozy pavilions of the VIP/Artist lounge, but only saw this storm as an omen for the seance that was about to ensue. To be honest, music was a blur until I stumbled back to Camp Goodtimes.

To no one’s surprise, my 2 am in reality was 4 am.  I arrived at Goodtimes to a trio that can only be described as the Witches of the Church of G.G Allin. Baskery is a trio of three denim-clad women whos pure unfettered energy left us with no option but to nail our hands to the boards in the land of self-administered silence. When they let us go (stopped playing) the roar of 200 souls howled like the finals of a world cup game; but all left baptized in the blood of bluegrass. 

10th annual utopia fest 2018

UTOPiAfest is so much more than a festival.  It is a feeling, a vibe, a movement.  What the future holds as far as the location of UTOPiAfest 2019, we will have to wait and see.  We can all rest assured that the spirit of UTOPiAfest will strongly endure, wherever it may be next year!

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