5 Questions With An Industry Professional: UTOPiAfest Chief Experiential Architect Travis Sutherland
As a part of our ongoing 5 Questions With A Music Industry Professional interview series, we sit down with UTOPiAfest promoter / Chief Experiential Architect Travis Sutherland to discuss the origins of the music festival, its transition from Utopia, TX to this year's location at Reveille Peak Ranch in Burnet, TX, and what he's learned during the last 11 years producing the intimate, family-friendly festival that is unlike any other in the state.
TMO: How did you get into music promotion? What were you working on before you started Utopia Fest?
Travis Sutherland: "UTOPiAfest was my first promotion actually. I was a few years out of college before I had the idea, working all kinds of service industry and construction jobs."
TMO: Why did you want to start Utopia Fest? What makes the festival different within the festival landscape?
Sutherland: "I grew up on the ranch in Utopia feeling very blessed to experience that part of the world, and wanted to share it. After I moved to Austin, and got immersed in the music scene, I wanted people in the Hill Country to experience quality live music. One day I realized how many bands I knew personally, that just might make the drive out to the country to play in the pasture. Ended up with 9 bands and 200 friends and family, and it grew from there. We have established our own niche in that it is completely independent, family run, actually family friendly, BYOB with alcohol sales, and it's just a free experience. There is little need for fences and rules, because of the size and type of crowd that comes. The vast majority are very respectful, friendly, and just fun to be around. It's a more complete experience than most festivals, with a range of outdoor activities and learning opportunities complimenting the music."
TMO: What are some of the most important lessons you’ve learned over the last decade+ of producing and promoting Utopia Fest? And what are some things you wish you’d known about event promotion when you first started it (like, things you know now, but wish you’d known earlier)?
Sutherland: "Stay the course and listen to your gut. I still wish I knew more about the 'promotion' part of it, which is still as complicated and challenging as it ever was. It's been hard to convey the value and nature of the experience, and no one ever really 'gets it' until they get there. When you do arrive, it's almost an instant feeling that there is something special going on. That's why our best method of promotion has been word of mouth, and many of our camps have steadily grown over the years."
TMO: It appears this year’s Utopia Fest has a lot of added attractions and special event opportunities at this new location? What are some of the newest parts of the festival that you’re looking forward to the most?
Sutherland: "The most significant editions are the vastly expanded space, that is much more like Four Sisters Ranch in Utopia, the end of the camp shuttle program, now car camping for all, the amazing disc golf course, and the expanded mountain biking. REI and Team Trail Party will lead rides at Reveille and nearby Spider Mountain."
TMO: Who are some of the acts you are most looking forward to seeing this year?
Sutherland: "Really excited for Mikaela Davis on the main stage, as well as the late night unplugged Goodtimes Grove. Shakey Graves has been a long time coming, and will certainly be a fitting and memorable closer. Toubab Krewe is one of my all time favorites. I'm very happy with the whole lineup, which mirrors the first year, in that I just invited a lot of my friends to the pasture."