UTOPIAFEST 2018 - DRUNKLUCK MOTEL
The Budget Motel is beautiful thing: Lady Liberty’s shady underbelly – manifesting hourly through worn out carpets and broken bed springs – smothering horizons everywhere with the auspices of “Vacancy.”
Adventure and rebellion are older than recorded history. Maybe cynicism is too – but I’m only 28 – and all I know is that things have grown rigid – the freewheeling days of F. Scott reduced to a litany of Misdemeanors – and the magic of life codified - or worse yet - replaced by flavor-of-the-week digital escapism. I’m sure everyone feels it: FREEDOM GROWING AND SHRINKING AT THE SAME TIME – ALL THE TIME. Freer than our forefathers – but with fewer places to hide. The destruction of intimacy is so 21st century. Living in a now – bare and exposed – unwise and unsteady – unsure if ENLIGHTENMENT and INTERNET can ever coexist. Where do you go to feel the past? And where do you go to hide? In strange arc of modernity - things have changed so fast. And somehow - in the inconclusive aftermath - MOTELS have come to represent one of the last vestiges of 20th century privacy.
The word Motel is only one year older than my grandmother - meaning that some 93 years ago - an architect with no formal training decided to make a lodge where people could rest both cranium and car. The Milestone Mo-tel in Mid-California. A capitalist portmanteau for “motor hotel.” The idea of having guests park outside of their room immediately changed how Americans interacted with their own nation. Yes, it was as if Manifest Destiny was back from the dead. Horsepower instead of horses - and money instead of guns. Millions of Americans could now travel, experience and influence their own country. Motels made open road and open road made rock and roll.
This strange, iconic American institution – the Budget Motel - served as the source inspiration for the DRUNKLUCK MOTEL, our installation at Utopiafest’s 10th Anniversary (2018) out in Burnet, TX. Through the construction and curation of this installation, we learned valuable lessons about ourselves, our community and the countless threads that tie us all together. Yes, we built a temporary Motel in the middle of the woods (an absurdist act) – lost our minds (an absurdist act) - and became better people for it (purpose).
Stevie was the first to go out. I went with him the following trip. Then Andy came along. Sometimes all of us. Sometimes one of us. Others helped too. And we helped others. The location was incredible - Reveille Peak Ranch - a massive slice of wild Texas Hill Country: with dead live-oak trees suspended in reflective waters weeping fog like backwards gravity on the cold nights. Chainsaw by day, fire by night - endless stars - the reward for a hard day’s work. We knew the plan - to build a motel in the woods - and serve coffee every morning accompanied by acoustic jams - but it can be hard to really know without doing - to really see without having seen. Ideation + Imagination - Rationalization. We had no time to spare.
So we cleared the land - and packed in provisions - raw materials salvaged from capitalism’s last wrung - the Goodwill Outlet next to my house - trash or art - a faint distinction always on our minds. The days mixed and matched - habits good and habits bad out of the window - and phones - not until next week. Slowly it came together - the tents went up - the rooms filled out - the furniture trucked out - the rugs unfurled - the pallets transformed - the rocks collected and timber arranged. Shopping on a budget you don’t have: the American Dream.
It’s hard to say when it all came together - but by the morning of Halloween - we had definitively transformed the forest into a familiar space. I thought about Riyku and wabi sabi - the Japanese tea master and the philosophy he develop in response to the increasing materialism of the time. Rejecting gold for mud - symmetry for ruin - and man for nature - Riyku created a visual and moral belief system centered on the appreciation of the journey of all things towards nothingness. Dried flowers, pealing bark, dull farm tools - crude objects past their prime - a rejection of the all-too-familiar material culture that forces every consumable item to be standardized - efficient - and the-best-ever. Why tarnish entropy? In our own way - we too had rejected the present for a beautiful swathe of American decay - the American Budget Motel - America’s wabi sabi. We had constructed a temple of mediocrity and placed it so far out of context that it took on the realm of a sacred space. A return to privacy from the world.
By Thursday – our eavesdrops and hearsays informed us that it had entered the campground vernacular. We knew it was time for us to launch the Motel into the world like a fire-lit Chinese Lantern. So we stepped out and joined the festival.
In our days of preparation on the Ranch - we had a front-row seat in the theater of festival production. We watched as the rugged wilderness became an enchanted forest - and the enchanted forest became a functioning civilization. We watched as the civilization gained access to sanitation - navigation - and electricity. To throw a camping festival - after all - is to build a new society. And all societies have structure. It is always a delicate act determining the right level of structure - loose enough to promote freedom - rugged enough to force experience - and developed enough to allow harmony.
Once the gates opened to the public, it only took us a few hours to realize everything there is to know about the weekend that awaited us: Utopiafest was a community - not a music festival. Yes, an intricate society - a folklore world filled with legends and myths - an emotional economy - each attendee doing their part to ensure the community’s overall safety and comfort. As the neighbors moved in - traditions were exchanged - information shared - everything shared. The music kicked off at 7pm - just as promised - with the angelic voices of Ley Line. By the time Grandmaster Flash took the stage with his stirring tribute to the history of hip-hop - the festival had roared to life.
Over the days that would come - incredible performances were delivered - priceless memories captured with eyes not phones - old connections were made and new connections were inevitable. It was madness, truly - and once it started - there was no holding it back - there were too many parts moving in harmony. Sure we had put on over 120 shows in 2018 - but some of the music beautiful music that I have ever heard was the late-nite hush sets of Tank Good Times - a stage for bands like Cowboy Irie, Lisa LeBlanc and Wild Child to intimately explore the original sin of music - the quest for beauty and meaning. On the main stage - knock-out performances by Kalu James, Lukas Nelson, Hikes, The Utopia Players, Particle Kid and Baskery raged with octane - while Trouble in The Streets, Hard Proof and Rubblebucket hypnotized the grounds with groove. Each day was a tone.
Our only structure was the sunrise - quarter till seven. By eight, we would begin the process of brewing Texas Coffee Traders coffee for the Motel guests. And shortly thereafter - the musicians would come in from the range and play for the ragtag group of morningers - including some of the most sober people you have ever met - and of course - the all-nighters. Everyone was comfortable and the temperature started warning up when Pierson Saxon took a seat and played for us - delivering a soul-felt medley of Texas folk and blues. By the time Shane Cooley came on - with his winding narratives and clever refrains - the last day of the festival had truly begun.
The final performance on the main stage - STS9 - ended in a downpour. That is to say - it started raining rain thick as molasses - and STS9 played for another hour and finished their set - their speakers covered in burlap. Everyone was wet. No one cared. The night continued in the form of Tank Good Times shows and the Silent Rave. I don’t know where the night ended and the morning began - but by Sunday - the official programming had wrapped up and the attendees headed home to their respective civilizations. We stayed around a few or two to pack out the Motel and help out where we could!
It slowly dawned on us the absurdity of what we had set out to accomplish. But the more we reflected on the challenges we faced - both personal and logistical - and the creative energy we put out into the world - the more we realized that we had really just created a microcosm of the festival as a whole - an intimate community space predicated on the principles of privacy and intimacy.
It is a well publicized fact that Utopiafest went through enormous trials and tribulations in their goal to move to a new location that could accommodate more attendees. With a month until the festival, the organizers found themselves heavily invested in a new location - noted for its immense beauty - that was misrepresented by the owners. Ultimately - due to a rather by a rather unfortunate conflict with property’s neighbors - the organizers were forced to move down the road to Revielle Peek Ranch. The impact this delay had severe crippled the festival economically and organizationally. Nevertheless, the organizers remained unphased - driven by the original rock n’ roll mantra - the show must go on - and dealt about the numerous intricacies without stress or ill-will.
In the end, Utopiafest created something truly remarkable - a community-driven music festival where it is likely that even the most diehard Austin-music lovers have not heard 95% of the songs performed. We look forward to participating in next year’s festival and supporting the festival as it works tireless to return to a level of sustainability. Please read more about the trials and tribulations of the festival here and find out how you can help!