Austin loves music. More specifically, Austin loves music festivals.
But with ACL, Fun Fun Fun Fest and SXSW growing in size and hype every year, drawing in thousands of Austinites and out-of-towners alike, it’s easy to lose touch of why these festivals started in the first place: The music.
Enter the fourth annual UTOPiAfest: A weekend-long gathering on Four Sisters Ranch, located in Utopia, Texas (between Garner State Park and Lost Maples) tucked away in the West Texas Hill Country.
What started as a Saturday of live music and friends on a family ranch has grown into a two-stage festival, bringing in 1,500 spirited music-lovers.
This year’s festival will take place September 28 - 30 and is sure to be sizzling in more ways than one. The line-up includes Dr. Dog, Ben Kweller, White Denim, Victor Wooten, Sorne, Kaki King, Dana Falconberry, The Werks, Wheeler Brothers, Ray Wylie Hubbard, Charles Bradley and plenty more.
According to founder Travis Sutherland, UTOPiAfest was “born out of love for home and of music.” After spending time in San Marcos and Austin, Sutherland became active in the live music community, attending shows and working as a stagehand and security guard, consequently befriending a number of musicians.
In 2008, he realized that his unique access to 1,000+ acres of land and connections within the music industry could come together to create something very special.
After two successful start-up years, Sutherland teamed up with Onion Creek Productions for promotion and took the festival to the next level. Last year, UTOPiAfest grew from 300 to 1,500 attendees.
Though the festival grounds are easily larger than Zilker Park, the number of available tickets for UTOPiAfest will not exceed 1,800 this year. Sutherland prefers to keep the festival “simple and small with a focus on the music.”
At UTOPiAfest, you can literally walk up next to the stage without having to elbow anybody in the face. There are no long lines or binoculars needed, no fight to the death to purchase tickets online or jacked-up drink prices. UTOPiAfest has an exclusive and intimate feel, aimed to be “comfortable and convenient for everyone involved.”
Comfortable and convenient? But we're used to dehydrated and overcrowded!
Festival-goers also get to camp onsite just a short walk away from the stages, allowing for a bit of relaxation between sets and a party that lasts long after the final band performs. If you’re a little more used to your creature comforts, there are also a number of cabins for rent nearby.
Several high-quality food and drink vendors will be available on festival grounds, but it’s also BYOB, so you're permitted to get properly snockered without going bankrupt.
Of course, Sutherland's vision of a festival in no way excludes the larger festivals in Austin. SXSW has of course made Austin the place to be for up and coming musicians, and ACL Fest gave us Stevie Wonder and Kanye in the same year.
But it’s nice to know that Austin (and its surrounding areas) still holds onto that desire for a small-town, community festival geared toward the people of the city — a festival that began as a great party among friends but became a local, vital tradition.
Sutherland says that it has been “humbling and surreal" to see how Austin and its musicians have shown up in support his idea of UTOPiAfest.
Truth be told, he reveals that he has no plans in the near future to expand. After all, his motto is: "Keep it small and keep improving the experience.”
UTOPiAfest runs Sep 28-30 at Four Sisters Ranch in Utopia, Texas. Tickets are still available but anticipated to sell out quickly.