UtopiaFest 2011: Saturday in Review and Pictures

6:55 pm by


The second and only full day of UtopiaFest started off a little slow, as each member of our party tried to remedy their hangover in their own specific way. GWIB (Gatorade, Weed, Ibuprofen, Bacon). That’s me. We had plans to make it down the hill for the first of many bands of the day, but it took a little extra time for us to finally get moving.

Read all about Saturday at Utopia after the jump

We finally did make it down just in time for the opening notes of The Giving Tree Band, and I’m quite glad that’s how the day started. With an old-timey railroad feel to their look, and a likeness to some of my current favorites such as The Felice Brothers and Old Crow Medicine Show, I soaked up both their set and the already burning sun with joy and delight. They had the perfect balance of songs from bluegrass-y ballads to barn burners, and didn’t stop building energy until they finished their last notes of the set. Another BOThead, Cafe Con Leche, covered The Giving Tree Band once before, so I can finally agree with her sentiments on how good of a band they actually are. Can’t wait to see them again!

Next, we walked to the smaller stage to see who the special guests listed on the schedule would be. It turned out to be one of the founders of the festival, with a new band called The Bellmen, that he pulled together in time for the festival. It was their first show, which you could certainly tell, but it seemed as if they had a good formula to work with. It seemed a bit scattered at times, with a wide variety of instrumentation, but you could tell their was something really good under all of that. A few more performances, and I’m sure they’ll start to develop their sound.

We were going to head back to camp for some down time, but as soon as as Suzanna Choffel started, we couldn’t walk away. I caught her once before for a few songs at a random bar, so I was aware of her talent, but I definitely didn’t realize how great she really was. Adding a reggae tinge to her female singer-songwriter stylings, she entertained the crowd with her tunes and impressive cast of supporting musicians.

The next surprise of the day came with Afro-folk group Aciable on the small stage. Reminding me of a mix between Rusted Root and Fela Kuti, they brought the dancers out of the hills to show off their best moves. The Austin-based group, which featured a melting pot of different characters all adding their own special touch, were one of the most vivacious groups of the weekend. It was a perfect way to start the rest of the day’s non-stop dance party.

One of our most anticipated bands of the entire weekend came up next, only after a few minor technical difficulties, when Peelander-Z took the stage. Having seen them before on a few occasions over the years, I’ve always generally written them off, but after seeing them at Utopia, I’ll never miss them again. Musically, they come off as punk rock, but theatrically it’s a whole new ballgame. Two Many Mike. Let’s Go Bowling. Medium Rare. Karaoke Party. Baseball. Mad Tiger. If that doesn’t make sense to you, than you are more than missing out. Go see this group.

After a bit of a break, we headed back to the main stage where The Black and White Years where already half way through their set. Reminding me a whole lot of Cut Copy, and the current wave of indie dance rock coming on the airwaves these days, it took us no time at all to start shaking our asses off. We walked into this set without any idea of the Austin group other than the preview we put up the week before, and walked out with two new albums and a t-shirt as well as a new found fandom. They were great!

Leo Rondeu took the smaller stage next, and brought his take on country to the very locale-appropriate crowd. He reminded me a lot of Houston’s own Robert Ellis, but just didn’t have the stage presence or for that matter songwriting ability. He was good, but not great, and it seemed as if the dwindling crowd might have agreed. We stuck around for a bit, but favored a bite to eat and a seat over at the main stage to save some energy for the rest of the nights events.

I was really looking forward to Avi Buffalo‘s set, so we got a good spot for their start on the main stage. They started off a bit slow, but soon enough began to rock out. You could tell most people took this opportunity to catch dinner back at camp, so Avi turned their set into a free-wheeling fun time that featured their own tunes, as well as a host of covers including Neil Young’s “Down By The River,” Parliament/Funkadelic’s “Maggot Brain” and The Band’s “It Makes No Difference.” The Neil cover was particularly great, but all the rest of their material was pulled off quite well. It was a really good set, but I was ready for a bit more energy in my music.

That energy came in the form of Austin’s The Wheeler Brothers. I had never heard of the Wheeler’s before, but they seemed to have one of the most devoted followings of any band all weekend. After checking out their tour schedule, it seems as if they call the several venues in the surrounding areas their home on a regular basis. They were pretty damn good, definitely enjoyable. While we stood back for the first moments of the show, my whole group eventually pushed forward to enjoy the show even more. They had energy for days, and had no problem translating their songs to the rambunctious panty-tossing crowd. They definitely brought the heat, and were a perfect opener for the days headliner.

I’ve never been one for completely negative reviews, so I’m not going to review Sorne. Let’s just say that I really didn’t like them. On the other hand, several friends loved them, so who the hell am I?

A group of headed back to the main stage, where we stood at the front awaiting the headliner, and one of my all time favorite acts Keller Williams. I’ve seen Keller all around the country, and even across the pond in Amsterdam over the years, and have always been impressed by his live shows. It’s a much rarer treat these days to catch him, as his stops in Houston are few and far betweeen, so to catch him not too far away from home was one of my main draws. This set was definitely one for the older fans, as he played through his “greatest hits” for the festival crowd. “Freaker By The Speaker,” “Kidney In A Cooler,” “Breathe,” “Earl and Sheba,” “Fire On The Freakshow” and “Gate Crashers Suck” were all included for the true fans in the audience. His signature looping, and frantic acoustic guitar play eventually culminated into a headressed call and response that had the whole crowd “how”‘ing like a Native into the hills.

The final show at the small stage was basically the reincarnation of Stevie Wonder if Stevie Wonder was dead. With a blind keyboard playing frontman that specialized in the funk, this group had no problem entertaining the rather large crowd gathered around after Keller. The crowd was loving every minute of their set, up to the point where the band had to be cut off by the sound guy after too many requests for “one more song.” I wished they would’ve had the chance to play longer as well, they were funky as hell!

The final band of the night was the perfect choice to close out the main stage. Australian indie dance trio Art Vs. Science were easily the most fun band of the entire weekend. While their lyrics are borderline cheesy, the music they support it with more than makes up for it. The amount of effort in which they put out during performance is quite amazing, leaving the crowd with no other option but to follow suit. Eventually, the ladies of the audience slowly made their way to the stage for a dance-a-thon that ended the festival in fine fashion.

I was really glad to attend a festival with so many bands that I was unfamiliar with. I loved just a handful of bands walking into the event, and left with so many more to check out now that we’re back into the non-festival going mode. UtopiaFest was run great, and featured some of the best moments of my year to date. I already look forward to the time where I drive through the gate to next years event. I know they lost some money on the event, but I hope that it doesn’t deter them from putting it on again fro their 4th year. We shall see, but until then, we have plenty of memories to cherish from UtopiaFest 2011.

Check out a whole bunch of pictures below