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Euphoria Festival seeks to move bodies, open minds

Deborah Sengupta

Editor’s note: This article was originally published April 23, 2014

Euphoria Music & Camping Festival, a two-day celebration of dance music that kicks off Friday at Carson Creek Ranch on the banks of the Colorado River, is back for a third year, the first to take place within the Austin city limits. The lineup, a mixture of jam bands, DJs and electronic music that festival founder Mitch Morales likes to think of as “jamtronica,” includes 30 national and international artists with local support from over 30 additional acts. Standouts include Toronto DJ duo Zed’s Dead, Oakland-based tribal fusion act Beats Antique and British musician Bonobo, who will do a DJ set.

The festival also boasts an extensive art program with a gallery space housed in a geodesic dome, live painting during shows and a fractal forest with LED light sculptures for attendees to explore at night. New this year are a variety of workshops where fest-goers can learn about everything from dj-ing to meditation, aromatherapy and nutrition. “This is the first year that we’re kind of realizing that initial dream, having a lot more of these components that we’ve been trying to implement,” Morales said recently over coffee at Dominican Joe’s.

Morales, a 29-year-old University of Texas alum with a degree in finance, discovered electronic dance music seven years ago. The year after he graduated, Morales traveled to Australia, where house music had a dominant presence in the clubs. Being abroad expanded his musical horizons. He returned to Austin a year later and put his degree to work before catching the festival bug in 2011 and setting off on a festival-hopping jaunt across the country. Through Twitter, he linked up with Chris Contreras and Patrick Locke, who were trying to start a festival in the Austin area. They had connections and he had a business background. The men joined forces and formed Vivid Sound Entertainment to build the inaugural Euphoria Fest at the Central Texas Speedway in Kyle in 2012.

That first year Morales and company booked almost anyone who would play. “We sent out emails and we were like ‘Hey, we don’t have any background in this, but if you want to have your artist play at this festival, you know, it’s kind of this small format thing,’” Morales said. It was a one-day event. White Panda and Darth & Vader headlined. Still, 2,000 people showed up, proving there was a niche for this kind of event.

The following year, they moved the fest to Whitewater Amphitheater in New Braunfels. They expanded to two days. Attendance was 3,000 a day. When Morales and his partners attended Austin Psych Fest at Carson Creek Ranch last year, they knew they had found the spot for the 2014 fest and started working immediately to secure it.

Now, with two years of production experience and a location in Austin, Euphoria Fest is hitting its stride. “The agents that we wanted to talk to from the beginning are picking up the phone,” Morales said. He’s proud of this year’s lineup, and he’s also proud of the fest’s broadened reach. He regularly monitors the festival’s social media accounts and in the first two years he observed a “six degrees of separation” phenomenon — most of the chatter about the fest could be traced to friends of friends. This year, the enthusiasm extends to strangers and Morales suspects the event will come close to hitting the capacity of 5,000 they’ve been allotted by the city.

Like most fans of electronic dance music, the Euphoria Fest crowd is young. It’s an 18 and older festival and Morales said the largest group of fans falls into the 18-24 demographic. Very few attendees are over 30. The common thread that Morales sees in his audiences, and EDM audiences in general, is that they’re searching for some kind of connection. “Maybe they’re in a small town. Maybe they have limited means, but they’re looking for something outside of themselves,” he said.

Morales thinks his audiences are trying to lose themselves in the music, and he said the widespread association of electronic dance music and hallucinogenic drugs is unfair. Euphoria Fest has a strict no tolerance policy toward drug use. Patrons are searched upon entry and signs posted throughout the fest detail the policy. Unlike raves where the music continues all night long, Euphoria Fest ends its music program at 1 a.m. nightly. “We try to create an environment where you don’t need anything,” Morales said. “We will have bars there and everything but it’s not about getting wasted and doing any of that. It’s more about the community, the experience.”

Beyond that, Morales wants to seize on what he refers to as a “global mindset” of dance music to influence his young patrons. “Because we have a young fan base I think we have a unique opportunity to do things not just for the eyes, not just for the ears, but also for the mind,” he said. Morales freely acknowledges that many Euphoria attendees are just coming for the music, to party, to have a good time, but he wants to reach those youths who are looking for something more.

“We’re trying to show them what else is out there,” he said.

Euphoria Music & Camping Festival

When: Noon to 1 a.m. Friday and Saturday.

Where: Carson Creek Ranch, 9507 Sherman Road.

Cost: General admission $54 daily, $99 2-day. VIP and limited camping passes available.