“One could disappear in these hills for months without being found” my friend Luis, lead singer of the psychedelic funk-rock band Shaws of Awe, remarked as we snaked through the beautiful central Texas Hill Country on our way to the much anticpated 9th Annual UTOPiAfest. I had heard stories of the natural awe of the Texan hill country, and have personally experienced some of that beauty, but was struck short for words at the picturesque view that was stealing my heart as it had every soul fortunate enough to find themselves in this oasis aptly named Utopia, Texas. A dreamy “fuck” is all I managed to conjure in agreement.
UTOPiAfest had made my radar for two reasons; Dr. John & The Nite Trippers and Lettuce. It will always have a place in my heart for two more reasons: the people and the land. The festival is located on the Four Sisters Ranch, a thousand acre working ranch that has been the home of UTOPiAfest since its creation in 2008 by founder Travis Sutherland. In it’s 9 years of growth UTOPiAdfest has managed to cultivate a family (child) safe culture while sticking true to the festival mindset of responsibly letting go and getting weird. This is largely in part due to not only the unending work of the festival crew and volunteers behind the scene, but to the souls that UTOPiA has managed to attract.
With glitter on my face, I found myself welcomed again and again into campsites and vendor tents alike with open arms, hugs, smiles, and stories of previous years. Like no previously attended festivals, UTOPiA was filled with a large number of returners and more than a few dedicated individuals who had been attending since the beginning. Conversationally, each discussion unique and connecting, it became evident that three common themes were at the forefront of each encounter; a profound sadness to see the festival move, an overwhelming sense of connectivity and community or family, and a deep respect for the land. One lovely couple shared their desire to have their ashes “scattered in this here field” as they had formed a lasting connection with land and community that had developed out the festival.
“Do you know why the festival is leaving?” I was continuously asked over a seemingly always empty whiskey flask (no matter how many times I filled it) and cigarette. “Not a clue, you?” I always answered back with a smile, knowing I was about to hear yet another rendition of why Utopia was moving that seemed to get more outlandish with each telling. After hours of journalistic work, drinking whiskey and bombarding kind festival goers with questions, I had heard everything from the residents of the town of Utopia having had enough to wildly creative Trump conspiracies; nothing re-occuring. I guess Texas may never know exactly why UTOPiAfest is leaving The Four Sisters Ranch, but damn, did we have fun guessing.
As I sat in my tent Sunday morning watching the rest of the world wake up, I recalled the heartfelt farewell speech the previous night. “This isn’t the end; just the beginning” he said through teary eyes and I believe him. I believe that the family of people that Utopia has brought together will follow Travis and his crew of hardworking misfits. I hold high hopes for the future of UTOPiAfest; musically, geographically, and socially. So, I pass the proverbial whiskey bottle around the campfire and invite you all to take a pull with me in celebration of UTOPiAfest.
Photos and article by: Demetrius Judkins @wolfspiritofthesun