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UTOPiAfest on ‘shaky ground’ as Burnet County sheriff mulls permit for November event

Burnet County Sheriff Calvin Boyd said he plans to make his decision regarding a mass gathering permit application from UTOPiAfest Down In The Oaks on Oct. 9. Boyd addressed a full courtroom Sept. 25 at the Burnet County Commissioners Court regular meeting. Staff photo by Jared Fields

Burnet County Sheriff Calvin Boyd said he plans to make his decision regarding a mass gathering permit application from UTOPiAfest Down In The Oaks on Oct. 9. Boyd addressed a full courtroom Sept. 25 at the Burnet County Commissioners Court regular meeting. Staff photo by Jared Fields


As of Sept. 25, Burnet County Sheriff Calvin Boyd had his answer on a mass gathering permit application from UTOPiAfest Down In The Oaks.

“If I voted on it today, I wouldn’t approve it,” Boyd said to a full courtroom during the regular meeting of the Burnet County Commissioners Court.

That, however, won’t be official until Oct. 9, when, Boyd told the nearly 100 people at the meeting in Burnet, he would have his final answer.

“We need to get past this,” he said about the music festival. “This is disrupting our community quite a bit.”

Boyd spoke on the matter and shared a number of concerns from residents and himself about the festival, which is scheduled for Nov. 1-4 on land on Hidden Ranch Road off CR 200 east of Burnet.

As county sheriff, Boyd said his concerns focused on public safety, such as vehicle access on CR 200 and what effect the festival would have on opening weekend of deer season.

Burnet County Judge James Oakley, who delegated the decision to Boyd, also addressed the permit application and his decision in the process.

“I designated the authority to the sheriff, not because it’s a political hot potato and not because I’m scared of it, at all,” Oakley said. “It’s because it deals with public safety.”

Oakley also reiterated that county officials would be fair in the permit process and make a decision based on state law.

“This is on shaky ground. I don’t want anybody to think this thing is happening,” he said. “If it is denied, it will be for the specific and spelled-out reasons allowed for.”

A mass gathering permit is for an event held outside of a city with more than 2,500 people expected to attend and remain for more than five continuous hours.

The permit may be denied for one of nine reasons, as listed in the state’s statute:

• the application contains false or misleading information or omits required information;

• the promoter’s financial backing is insufficient to ensure that the mass gathering will be conducted in the manner stated in the application;

• the location selected for the mass gathering is inadequate for the purpose for which it will be used;

• the promoter has not made adequate preparations to limit the number of persons attending the mass gathering or to provide adequate supervision for minors attending the mass gathering;

• the promoter does not have assurance that scheduled performers will appear;

• the preparations for the mass gathering do not ensure that minimum standards of sanitation and health will be maintained;

• the preparations for the mass gathering do not ensure that the mass gathering will be conducted in an orderly manner and that the physical safety of persons attending will be protected;

• adequate arrangements for traffic control have not been provided; 

• or adequate medical and nursing care will not be available.

During the public hearing within the meeting Sept. 25, 12 people spoke, including Precinct 2 Commissioner Russell Graeter, himself a resident on CR 200.

“I wanted to say I’m with you. I’m beside you,” Graeter told concerned residents. “I’m not here as your commissioner. I’m here as your neighbor. I hope it will work out for all of us. I moved out there to have peace and quiet.”

Lee Winkler, who identified herself as a resident on CR 200, spoke first during the public hearing. Winkler presented the commissioners with a petition of more than 500 signatures of people against the festival.

Local attorney Eddie Shell addressed the commissioners on behalf of a group of landowners who formed a group called United Shady Grove Corridor.

Shell spoke for 19 minutes and began with a story about a case early in his career fighting against a fertilizer plant.

After reminding the judge, sheriff, and commissioners of the 500 or so voters watching their decision, Shell ended with a plea to deny the permit.

“I’m asking you not to let the Utopia people convince you that manure doesn’t stink,” he said.

Scott Davidson, public safety director for UTOPiAfest, who spoke Sept. 19 at a public meeting, was the only representative from the festival in attendance. Davidson did not speak during the public hearing.

A letter previously sent out from organizers has addressed some questions about their plans for the weekend.

Boyd said more documents will be reviewed as his decision nears.

“We don’t do this every day, so we’ve probably been a little clunky,” he said during the meeting. “We’ll be smoother next time.”

Oakley said the permit may or may not be on the commissioners court agenda Oct. 9.

“It’s not a requirement the way I see it,” he said. “Stay tuned. It’s a big job to do to evaluate all the criteria that’s either met or not met.”

17 thoughts on “UTOPiAfest on ‘shaky ground’ as Burnet County sheriff mulls permit for November event

  1. Your attack on political beliefs has nothing to do with the legality of the festival… period

    none of the other commenters have said your not allowed to have an opinion or shamed or accused anyone ..thats a baseless accusation…i personally commented to some level of “smearing” and negativity because I feel all of those speaking against the festival (including you) have put no or little effort into learning about what the festival is …and already made up their mind that its evil and they hate it…

    nobody has infringed on your rights or freedoms…they have simply given accounts of their experience at the festival and they are overwhelmingly positive !

    you hate liberals…thats your choice… i know lots of conservatives who are long time utopiafest patrons too… including myself…

    i respect your rights and freedoms sir ! Truly ! Id ask you do the same for the festival organizers and allow the legal due process to resolve the situation instead of trying to drum up hatred on the internet…

    If you have any actual public safety concerns or questions about how the festival plans to work with the community… i encourage you to contact the festival organizers…I’m sure they would happily address your concerns…there is also already a public letter available that addresses most of the communities issues pretty clearly and directly…

  2. Way too many long time residents that DO NOT want change. It’s why we got a taco stinking bell – more fast food. Looks at the above comments about “liberal fest”. That mentality is the division.

    I’m also a proud Republican and approaching 50 years old. I know small town mentality when I see/read it. And I also live in the boonies of Burnet county.

  3. I’ve been to Utopiafest in Utopia the last six years in a row. It’s a tiny festival (maybe 2000 or so attendees), and the vast majority of folks carpooled and camped on the grounds. There are plenty of aerial images of the festival you can see online. You can see how tiny the festival is and how few cars are involved–a few hundred at most.

    This size event is commonly referred to as a boutique festival–very small and with carefully curated music and activities. Utopiafest has developed a reputation as one of the best boutique festivals.

    Utopiafest is a remarkably well run event, I’ve never seen unsafe behavior, and I’ve always marvelled at how clean the grounds are AFTER the music has ended.

    I invited you to ask about the event from those of us who have attended Utopiafest over the past decade. My friends and I patronized local restaurants and businesses before and after Utopiafest and the event introduced us to a part of Texas we’d have otherwise never visited. Utopiafest is a model of how a small festival should be run and how small town Texas can host a world-class event.

  4. Almost forgot…as for their argument of helping the Burnet economy, go review thier website. They planned shuttles from North and South Austin, advise getting hotels near shuttle points, and state to make their fest sustainable ask that everyone buy from their alcohol and onsite general store. They had no intention of helping Burnet…to the contrary it’s just more convenient for thier Austin centric money grab.

  5. Burnet County Citizens,

    Please read all of these coordinated comments and learn to identify the typical Liberal attack pattern. Coordinated effort to shame, accuse, and claim they should be able to do whatever they want…but you are not allowed the same opinion. If you want something counter to their needy self absorbed demands, you are the problem. A little online research of the people posting and claiming support shows this in action. Attacks on their President and Congress. Attacks at a paint company logo because they are poisioninh the earth and just recently removed lead from paint…over 40 years ago. Just as they certainly abuse the right to protest anything and everything they choose to decide you can’t have, we have the same right to disagree, protest, and demand our values and safety be honored in our own back yards.

    Call your commissioner, call the Judge, call the Sheriff. If you do not support this liberal festival unsafely and arbitrarily plopping itself down in our backyards, then fight as hard for it as the liberals try to shame us for refusing to agree. Until we stand up and say ENOUGH, they will continue to take away our rights in favor of their demands.

    If Utopia fest is so great for all of these leftist liberal austinites then keep it in Austin.

    1. “NotJustHypocritical” As a fellow conservative, I’m ashamed by your attempt to turn this in to a partisan political issue.

      This is about what is best for our community. Not our politics.

  6. As a father and long time patron of this peaceful weekend, it has brought me and my son (now 8) countless friends and fond memories. I’m also very proud of this little festival- yes it is also tiny in comparison to any other music festival I’ve attended- at how orderly, safe, and family friendly it has always been. My son looks forward to this weekend all year and it has shaped his early life in a lot of positive ways. Last year they announced from one of the small music stages that Utopiafest was proud that in all combined years there has never been a single incident of violence or disorderly conduct. Many of us bring our little ones. This isn’t like any other music festival. Most of the weekend is spent doing arts and crafts, taking hikes, doing yoga, and just spending time together with friends and family. Yes there is music two of the evenings. Only one band at a time for a more pleasant listening experience. And yes there are people. Lots of great people who will undoubtedly respect your town and patron your stores and restaurants and gas stations for a short weekend, just like we’ve done in tiny little Utopia without incident. I would encourage anyone that has doubts to please come see what it’s about, and to please have an open mind and give it one weekend this year. From my family to yours, and from the Utopia family to your community, I wish y’all only good things and thank you for the opportunity to show you we can all get along for a couple of days.

  7. I really hope the Burnet County residents & neighbors can find a way to see the festival as a benefit, & not some invasion. It really is a family friendly event with good talent & fun activities. Opening day has nothing to do with it. Traffic safety I understand, but if the various small music events like Old Settlers & others can figure it out, I’m confident Burnet County can, too.

  8. I have been to Utopiafest. It is a family-friendly environment. Very well-managed, and the people who run the festival are very earnest in keeping people safe, and providing a uniquely peaceful music festival.

    There are many of us out here who do not hunt, and it would be ridiculous to say that everybody has to stop all other activities because it is hunting season. That makes zero sense. I don’t hunt, but if you want to, fine. You should also respect that I enjoy live music – live and let live.

    If they meet the standards, then the permit must be granted. I don’t always love what my neighbors are doing, but if they are doing something perfectly legal, then I have to recognize their freedom to do it.

  9. It has always been a well run festival . I have been to the festival before and a lot of these concerns are overblown . It is a nice event with good music . And it has always been safe .

  10. This is really sad. It would be nice to see the area residents working alongside the promoters to make sure everything is addressed. From everything I’ve seen, this is a family friendly festival. We are only talking about 4 days. I have not seen concerns about the numerous subdivisions popping up in the area. Also a hog farm. These things cause continuous traffic 365 days a year. It’s a slippery slope when you start telling people what they can and can’t do with their land. And to those folks living along CR 200 and other areas on Burnet county, look around, we are quickly slipping away from being Rural. Austin is here. And let’s not forget the economic impact on Burnet. Hotels, restaurants, groceries etc. Can’t we be good neighbors for 4 days in November?????

    1. I’m hoping to attend Utopiafest this year and I don’t appreciate your attitude. It doesn’t help our cause at all.

      Just because they don’t share our interest in these types of events doesn’t mean they’re a “miserable bunch”. This is their home and they’re entitled to their opinions.

      The people of Burnet have legitimate concerns and it is the responsibility of the organizers to make a convincing case to the Sheriff.

  11. Read the Ticket Purchasers Contract….There is no refund for any reason including lack of a permit from the County. These various tickets are quite expensive and this could end up a con mans dream between now and October 9th.

    1. Its sad to see a community blindly attack and smear a festival that was born in the texas hill country… supports texas artists and wants nothing more than to help/work with the community around it….

      Make no mistake…this would be a financial win for burnet…

      The festival is 100% responsible, safe and family friendly…in the past years ive attended ive seen people there from ages 2 – 80 all enjoying themsleves …in a safe and responsible way…

      Its not a “rave” or a bunch of drunk college kids its hardworking blue collar texans who enjoy good music and camping and Who want to protect preserve and enjoy the beautiful hill country…

      It sounds to me like a very small group with a specific agenda ( hunting season/ fear of traffic on “their” road) are making a lot of noise…based off of preconcieved and completely innacurate opinions of a gathering/event they have never attended or even bothered to research…

      Anyone opposed to this imho is basically infringing on the rights of other texans to use their land as they see fit and responsibly enjoy themselves and some good music….really sad…i guarantee if the people who signed the petition attended the fest a lot of them would quickly change their mind…and be invotong utopiafest back next year

    2. These folks are definitely not con men. It’s a bit harsh to say that about such a family friendly & popular event.

  12. I’m glad our local officials are making sure our people are protected. I hope they find another venue.

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