Vibing at Utopiafest

Utopiafest_2014-2Despite some serious rain Friday evening, vibes were mellow at Utopiafest 2014.  Yes, arriving at Utopiafest on Friday night was not the smoothest ride; buses and cars were stuck in mud, shuttle service into the grounds was spotty, and it was wet.  Like, really wet. But yer team here at Pop Press International braved the elements, catching a ride on a flatbed trailer, sleeping bags, tents and a broken Coleman cooler packed with Modelos and PBRs in tow.  Over cattle guards and through puddles we drove, slowly crawling over slick terrain with hopeful aspirations and wild volunteers as our driving forces.

GZA-1We set up camp about as close to the two main stages as possible, letting us get an accessible view of the festival grounds. Campsites continued behind us and on either side, some climbing the hills for a more secluded perch above the stages while others like us had little tree or shrub coverage to serve as buffers from the elements.  After we finally laid our tarps down and finagled awkward tent poles through narrow polyester sheaths, we marched through the muck and the mire to learn what GZA could teach us about persistence and overcoming adversity while enjoying the beginning of our Utopiafest.

Utopiafest_2014-1It’s the festival’s isolation that offers this challenging reward. Three hours outside Austin into backcountry lacking reliable cell-phone service, the Four Sisters Ranch offers an escape from the urban festivals that dominate the greater Austin music festivals. Gone are the crowded, puke-strewn streets of SXSW, the dusty plains of Psych Fest, the reliable demographic of ACL. In its stead are West Texas hills and mountains, illuminated pecans and oaks, and enough doses of *ahem* free spirits to keep you in yer own private utopia. Though the rain put a literal damper on the grounds, Saturday avoided the precipitous forecast for precipitation and maintained a highly unseasonable and highly desirable average temperature that floated around 70. What a treat for those who planned on the fall-like temperatures!

Utopiafest_2014-3Waking Saturday to a hot cup of coffee, I stumbled dewy-eyed out of my cheap Kmart tent and into my boots, plopping down on a camp chair to watch as kids climbed into a massive inflatable ball not unlike the kind Wayne Coyne has made famous at festivals and rolling along the grounds as other kids chased and climbed on the spheres.  Further in the distance, hula hoops swirled around the bellies of bedazzled girls in one-of-a-kind garb.  A Frisbee coursed the skies in front of me from outstretched hand to outstretched hand.  A game of kickball started by festival co-founder Travis Sutherland was in the middle of an inning; maybe they were done (everyone won).

Hikes-1The accessibility of the stages within the grounds offered festival-goers the opportunity to participate on their own terms.  Maybe you want to just camp out from afar and get a lower-volume dose of local Austin band Hikes’ set, like I did. I had the pleasure of sitting and drinking a cold one while continuing mild conversations with my cohort, stopping to take in the hooks and the looks.

Warpaint-2High-traffic areas were considerably muddy, though that only tended to be near the fronts of the two stages and by one set of toilets.  The hard-working volunteers covered those spots with hay so as to combat the moisture.  The two stages also supported a staggered schedule so all the music could be seen by everyone present with minimal pauses between sets.  Further impressive was the diverse and eclectic lineup: rap, indie rock, electronic, local, country.  Though we missed Father John Misty’s solo set Friday night, Saturday boasted a full lineup of talented folks new and old.  Most impressive to yer PPI correspondent was Warpaint.  First time seeing them and I was hooked.  Their sound draws on punky elements of Sandinista-era Clash incorporating dancehall and dub influences, while embracing a witchy edge as if they know they’re being bad.  Confident and bold, the all-female band had the crowd begging for more.  Their songs reached hypnotic throbs of English-inspired dance rhythms influenced by a SoCal individuality that broods with swagger and talented precision.

Dan_Deacon-2Dan Deacon ended our Saturday night.  After fixing some late-nite technical difficulties, the proud Baltimore denizen took us on a journey into his mind where sounds are compressed and distorted, doubled, tripled, multiplied and manipulated into a swirl of acid-electronica.  Commanding his table of pedals and samplers, he focused intense energies often seen originating between his index and thumb fingers with which he pointed in our direction.  Taking off his signature round wire-frame glasses, he asked the crowd to follow the hive to which they easily agreed, jumping on each other’s shoulders and running in a giant circle/conga-line.

Utopiafest_2014-4We slept off the communal vibes of utopian camaraderie and awoke a second time, now Sunday. We wiped the crust from the corners of our eyes, smiled a few silent smiles at passersby, and loaded the wagon. Our ride home was cloudy but without rain, and we dined at a brunch buffet to quell our hungover heads and bellies. Utopiafest 2014 was now in the past as we looked forward to Austin and the end of the festival season with the fall festivals fast approaching. With lineups boasting the hugest acts from today and yesterday, ACL and FFF Fest mean to achieve a different result. In Utopia, one is still given the opportunity to determine his or her expectations. The result was a mellow, go-at-yer-own-pace festival that had little pressure other than to be yourself and follow your own dig.

Stay tuned for more Utopiafest content this week including a performance recap and a photo gallery by other Pop Press INTL. contributors. Below peruse a few more shots from the weekend courtesy of yours truly as well as Bryan Parker. All photos © Pop Press International; all rights reserved. Click any image to open in slideshow viewer.


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