Fall is upon us, and while it might not feel like it outside just yet, it is closer than you think. With the onset of autumn comes the Great State of Texas' busiest season for music, one that finds festival after festival hitting almost every weekend. One event that I look forward to most every year is UtopiaFest. Located in the heart of the Texas Hill Country, this small gathering of like-minded music lovers has been very successful in its short life as a festival.
Now in its fifth year of existence, and third pulling national touring acts, UtopiaFest takes place on a gorgeous plot of land located just a few hours northwest of San Antonio in a tiny, no-stoplight town called Utopia. With a 2013 lineup consisting of headliners Galactic, !!!, Aaron Freeman (Gene Ween) and Blackalicious, among others, this is assuredly going to be the best year yet.
While it's always tough committing to something so far away, I assure you that the road trip is well worth it. This is one of the best places you could and should spend a late-September weekend, and if the following ten reasons aren't enough to get you to this one-of-a-kind event, than I guess nothing will.
10. The Lineup Utopia continues to impress year to year with a list of bands that can't be matched. The fellows who put on this event are true lovers of live music, which shows in the choices they make when putting their lineups together.
This year features a Thursday pre-party that is highlighted by experimental improvisors EOTO, which consists of both the drummer and percussionist from famed jam kings The String Cheese Incident. They should make for one remarkable dance party.
Friday is going to be fun from when the music starts at four in the afternoon until the final notes on the main stage ring out sometime after two in the morning. Featured are New Orleans funksters Galactic, hip-hop legends Blackalicious, former P-Funk keyboardist Bernie Worrell & Brownout, He's My Brother She's My Sister, Orgone and a reunion set from '60s Texas psych-rockers Bubble Puppy. Robert Ellis, who you've most likely heard of if you've paid any attention to Houston music at all in the past five years, will also be making a late-evening appearance.
Saturday will feature a much bigger day of music, kicking off around 11:30 a.m. and going all day with the likes of indie dance group !!! (chk chk chk), Ween's Aaron Freeman, famed bluegrass picker Peter Rowan, Brooklyn indie darlings Lucius and a heaping helping of Austin bands including The Wheeler Brothers, UME, Grupo Fantasma and Max Frost.
9. The Silent Disco After the two stages officially shut down for the night, when they need to tone down the noise, the party moves over to the back of the concert field for the Silent Disco. If you haven't been a part of a silent disco and are questioning what it might be, feel free to give it a search on YouTube (or watch the video posted above). You'll have quite a laugh, and will immediately want to take part.
Basically, a DJ spins his beats to a group of people dancing away listening to the music only on a set of headphones. If you have a pair of headphones on, it's one hell of a party, but if you're a casual observer sitting outside the tent watching people dance away, it can be even more fun. This year's Silent Disco lineup includes Thievery Corporation's El John, Transcontinental Trip, Magick and Awak3n on Friday, and Magna Carda, Dumo, Dimitri's Ascent and Skylyne on Saturday.
8. No Overlapping Sets A festival lineup is only as good as the bands you can actually see while you're there, and while many an event these days packs as much talent as it can fit on a poster, Utopia focuses on bringing a smaller amount of bands so you don't have to worry about missing a single one of them.
It's a pretty novel idea that takes away all of the pre-event stress of trying to figure out your schedule that you get with bigger festivals like ACL, FPSF or Fun Fun Fun Fest. It also gives you a chance to take a load off back at your campsite if you're not necessarily feeling a band, knowing that the stage is only a few minutes' walk away when the next one comes on.
7. Camping When was the last time you went camping? It's probably been quite a while, huh? Well, let me tell you, there is nothing like sitting under the stars eating a s'more telling stories with your best friends, followed by getting cozy in your tent wrapped up in a bunch of blankets while the noise of crickets and the wind puts you to sleep. A bit different than a normal night in Houston.
Also, there is absolutely no phone or Internet service. I don't know when the last time you've gone without your smartphone but if you can answer that question, it's probably close to the answer I first posed in this blurb. Having no connection to the outside world, specifically social media, is so much more refreshing than you could ever guess.
6. The Stars I guess I could've lumped this one under camping, but I figured it deserved its own category. It deserves its own category because holy shit, have you ever seen the stars? Like, all of the stars and the Milky Way and planets and all of that? It's by far the coolest form of intelligent design out there.
Occasionally you'll get to see a star or two in Houston, but that's basically like going to a party with every single person you've ever known in the entirety of your life, but only getting to see and talk to two of them.
More reasons to love UtopiaFest on the next page.