Adventures by day. Music by night.
That was the idea behind Fort Desolation Fest: Inviting people to unplug from the daily grind and replenish their soul’s stores over a weekend of adventure and live music. The setting would be one of our favorite spots on the planet—Cougar Ridge Resort in Torrey, Utah—nestled in a cove of red-rock ridges, just a stone’s throw from Capitol Reef National Park.
We knew starting a music festival was a huge risk. Even more so after a yearlong pandemic. Could we convince the right bands to make the trek to a remote location? Would audiences care enough to drive several hours to a fledgling event? Could we pull off the production? Would the weather hold up? And what was happening with the Delta variant? We rode a rollercoaster of emotions and doubt. But we always believed in our amazing team.
We found the ideal partners. We lined up just the right bands. We tackled production, sold tickets and made it to the week of the festival. Unfortunately, so did torrential rain and turbulent wind. Our crew made as much progress as possible under the circumstances, but our machinery got stuck in the mud and our schedule went out the window. Just when we thought our little festival might be over before it began, the sun peeked out from behind the clouds.
The Cougar Ridge crew came to our rescue Friday morning, removing water from the stage grounds so our exhausted crew could make a final push for the finish line. Miraculously, the essential elements came together just in time for the first campers to start pulling into the property. Row by row, their trucks, popup tents, vans and trailers formed little neighborhoods filled with camaraderie and cheer, just a short walk from the festival stage.
By the time the first bands arrived for sound check, we were ready to roll. Food trucks filled hungry bellies with gourmet burgers, tasty Mexican fare and homemade ice-cream sandwiches. And at 5pm sharp, Utah locals Pete Sands and the Drifters kicked off the live music with a smoking set. Jaime Wyatt and The Band of Heathens coaxed the crowd to the stage and built a crescendo of energy that The White Buffalo harnessed in a vigorous performance that involved breaking guitar strings and chugging beer from a horn.
Meanwhile, the beer garden served up some cold ones thanks to Michelob Ultra Pure Gold and mixed up our all-time favorite summer drink, the Whiskey Tango, a ginger-mint lemonade topped with Black Feather Whiskey. The Fort Desolation gear was flowing, too.
Saturday morning many of the campers headed out to find their own adventures—from hiking to fly-fishing to overlanding to mountain biking—amidst the plentiful cliffs, canyons, vistas and lakes in the area. A few created their own adventures on site with impromptu bike-jumping off of a makeshift ramp.
Saturday night we added handmade pizzas, gourmet corn dogs and fried Mars bars to the food truck mix. Esther Rose struck the first chord of the night like a match lighting a fire under the acts that followed her. Jordan Matthew Young definitively demonstrated why he made it to the finals in the latest season of NBC’s The Voice. Lilly Hiatt captivated the crowd with a soulful set and Paul Cauthen put an exclamation point on the whole night as only he can.
As the sun set on our first Fort Desolation Fest, our questions were answered and our doubts had disappeared. We were officially onto something. The magic of Cougar Ridge Resort was only amplified by two nights of amazing music, great food and drinks with wonderful teammates and new friends. For us, it was a life-changing event. And we can’t wait for the next one.
After a much-needed rest, we’re back at Fort Desolation HQ in Salt Lake City planning year two of the festival. As always, we believe adventures are best shared. So gather your crew and join us for Fort Desolation Fest 2022. Enter your email address at the bottom of this page so you don’t miss an update.