UtopiaFest Again Beckons Southwest's Free Spirits

A scene from UtopiaFest 2013
A scene from UtopiaFest 2013
Photo by Jim Bricker

For the sixth year running, this weekend a little slice of heaven known as UtopiaFest will take over the Four Sisters Ranch in the middle of the Texas Hill Country, just outside the quaint village of Utopia and about two hours northwest of San Antonio, Nearly 2,000 kind folk will be descend on the outdoor camping festival to take in sets starting tonight and going through the wee hours of Sunday morning,

If you missed it last year, I gave you the ten reasons you should go; that's well worth a read, especially if you already plan on attending and have never been, or are on the fence and need a last-minute kick in the ass to make your decision for you.

Click image to enlarge
Click image to enlarge

UtopiaFest is a one-of-a-kind festival that features two alternating stages, so you don't have to miss one minute of any band on the lineup if you chose to rock it that way. You can also take advantage of the gorgeous, serene surroundings to take a nice hike or relax at camp with a cold IPA listening to the music down the hill.

Past the music, scenery, wonderful people and escape from work, UtopiaFest also lets you take booze to the stage areas, making it much easier to get that festival buzz that costs oh so much more at larger festivals like FPSF or Austin City Limits. But I'm here to talk to you about the music. It's hard to limit this article because the whole lineup is stacked from head to foot, but these are the five sets I'm most looking forward to.

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FATHER JOHN MISTY Less than a year after bursting on the scene, Fleet Foxes went from opening shows at places like Walter's on Washington to playing for tens of thousands on festival main stages around the country. However, that band has now been on some sort of indefinite hiatus for a few years while front man Robin Pecknold focuses on his studies. That's kind of a bummer, but one bright part about their disbanding was the emergence of Father John Misty.

A long-running solo project by Foxes drummer J. Tillman, Father John Misty put out one of the best records of the past five years with 2012's Fear Fun. Along with that record came a slew of tours, including a couple of packed stops at Fitzgerald's. While Tillman is taking on this Utopia set by himself, it should still be entertaining as he is one of the better banterers out there. Oh yeah, and he's one hell of a songwriter.

GRATEFUL GRASS Bluegrass covers of Grateful Dead songs? Sounds right up my alley. Done by some of my favorite pickers in Keller Williams and Yonder Mountain String Band's Jeff Austin? Yeah, that's exciting. While the bluegrass/Grateful Dead thing is not a new concept -- hell, they even dabbled in bluegrass themselves -- this should prove to be an energetic and exciting set, getting everyone moving.

Williams, who will also be performing a solo set during Thursday night's pre-party, is always on point and is pretty much a Dead encyclopedia. The set list could go from a super-psychedelic "Space" rendition into a simple little "Bird Song" followed by a rambunctious "Playing In the Band" all before you look up from kicking up dust on the dance floor.

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GZA (FEAT. BROWNOUT) This is definitely my most anticipated set of the weekend above all, and how could it not be? Brownout is a stellar funk band, that made it look easy playing the songs of Parliament-Funkadelic last year with legendary keyboardist Bernie Worrell sitting in. This year, they are changing from funk to hip-hop with their special guest coming from the one and only Wu-Tang Clan.

GZA, who will certainly be performing a good chunk of his famed Liquid Swords record, will join Brownout to close down the festival on Friday night. I can't see how this could go badly. Honestly. It's going to be great. What a way to finish the first full day of the event.

COLD WAR KIDS One vivid memory of my many years of festival-going is having the chance to see Cold War Kids on the side of the stage with no one else around but a photographer buddy of mine. It was late at night at a short-lived but possibly best festival ever called Rothbury. For some reason no one stopped us or said anything, so we stood there and jammed to their hour-long set in the woods in Eastern Michigan, like we were there roadies or groupies or whatever. Didn't matter. It was awesome.

By the time "Hang Me Up To Dry" came on, I was hooked. This show at UtopiaFest is somehow going to be even more intimate and unique than that one. The ability to see such a great band on such a tiny stage in the Texas hill country is worth the ticket price alone.

DAN DEACON Dan Deacon is crazy. I'm not sure if he himself is actually crazy, but he must be a little bit kooky to create his twee, squirrelly brand of electronic music; usually he sets up shop in the middle of the crowd. If you allow yourself to really get into the show, it will be one of the best times you could have.

If you stand back as a casual observer, it can be equally as entertaining to watch the crowds get deep and dirty into his music. I'm not sure how this set will go, but do yourself a favor and get as close as possible to the madness. You won't regret it.

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