Photographer: Alexandra Galewsky
Writer: Amy Bauerschlag
The tallest man in the crowd stands in front of me (because of course, my luck), with his arms sprawled out, his index and middle fingers of both hands forming peace signs, in what I can only interpret is his way of saying, “Hell yeah!” to Of Montreal who are performing in front of him. These peace signs envelop the feeling this whole fest gave me: a feeling of love and admiration for the bands and the 1,000 acres of the Four Sisters’ Ranch that carried the UTOPiAfest-goers this past Labor Day weekend.
It might be my 24 years of age that has jaded me (don’t worry, I realize how ridiculous this statement is) when it comes to music festivals, but my normal thoughts when it comes to fests as of late are, “the idea of trudging through a sea of people to barely even see that band up on the stage 500 yards away, standing in 100 degree Texas heat, and being on my feet all day sounds approximately the opposite of appealing right now. Thanks, but maybe I’ll check ‘em later.” Well, I can easily say UTOPiAfest fits the bill for exactly NONE of those worries that I typically have. It was spectacular, relaxing, and downright gorgeous; the music was just the cherry on top.
I couldn’t easily pick out a band that I didn’t enjoy, so I’ll go ahead and focus on the ones that really got me grooving. I started off my Saturday with The Sheepdogs, a Southern rock band hailing from the northern lands of Saskatchewan in Canada. These scruffy men, adorned in their best western wear, heavily reminded me of Lynyrd Skynrd. I got to stand in the sand and throw back a few beers (because hey! this fest is BYOB) while the guys rocked out on stage.
Later in the evening I stood in awe of Of Montreal. I’ve been a fan of the glam indie rockers for quite a while but this was the first time I got to witness their eccentricities on stage. They did not disappoint. The stage was filled with boxing poodles with visible nipples, a Spiderman-Abraham Lincoln, eyeballs, and even Donald Trump. Now, these guys have come out with approximately a million albums since their genesis, but they managed to squeeze in a few tunes I recognized like “Gronlandic Edit,” which frontman Kevin Barnes labeled as “the bass player song” and “The Party’s Crashing Us,” which inevitably got the entire crowd dancing.
After a day of alternating between lounging and traversing the festival grounds, I ended in my camp chair drifting off to the tunes of Explosions in the Sky, a post-rock band who formed in no place other than Austin, Texas. They rounded out my day in a way that can be described as nothing short of magical. I was able to look up and see the bright stars in the sky because I was finally far enough away from any surrounding big city and I kept thinking, “I get it now. This festival is amazing.”
Sunday’s music began with Calliope Musicals. I will be honest with you, I wrote this band off as ‘another random Austin band,’ but that statement could not be further from the truth. The band is comprised of adorable human beings who I witnessed being absolutely in love with life and music. They showed incredible range in their high-energy performance, keeping me completely entranced the entire time with their psychedelic-folk music, stage dancers, and, THANK GOD, confetti. Oh, and I must mention they ended their hour long set with a cacophony of sound and FIREWORKS.
Next on the docket was Man Man. The first time I saw these men was in 2008, which just so happened to be my very first music festival outing at Austin City Limits, where I thought they were certifiably insane. They really could be mistaken as a circus troupe. This set was no different; I’ve lightened up as a human being since then and decided to embrace crazy artistry rather than judge it as my 16-year-old self did. The experimental bands’ set was full of toms, trumpets, costume changes, and animated singing. And I must note that at one point the lead singer, whose moniker is Honus Honus, wore a fur coat. Kudos, good man. I’m impressed by that dedication in the heat.
The next band I stumbled upon was Les Hay Babies, who can easily be labeled as ‘best find of the fest’. These crooning babes hail from the Canadian province of New Brunswick. They sang half of their set in French, so if any band could be swoon-worthy, it was obviously these women. The ladies sing a blend of folk-rock with touches of Americana and are absolutely worth checking out live (and might I say, can I please raid their closets?).
Later in the evening, I of course had to catch Austin staple, Wild Child. I’m not going to get too deep into it, because every time I see these folks play they fill the stage with such love and genuine happiness, and really, if I keep talking about it, it just gets repetitive and obnoxious. To keep it short and sweet, these guys are lovely human beings who I would want to be friends with (and I’m pretty sure they would invite me on stage if I asked nicely).
My evening was concluded with the faint sounds of a surprise set from another Austin staple, Shakey Graves, while waiting for Merrill Garbus’ set as tUnE-yArDs to begin. Garbus and her band leave me equally mystified of the sheer musical talent they possess and of wanting to have just, you know…a little bit of that talent. With the combination of her layering vocals, ukulele, and drumming, Merrill beguiled me in such a way that I could have easily stood in front of her, front row might I add, for hours into the night. It was the perfect way to end my weekend. I could not more highly recommend the UTOPiAfest experience. It not only put the dancing moves into my bones, but gave those bones the rest they yearned for. Thank you, UTOPiA.