Fort Desolation Fest: Southern Utah’s Premier Overland Music Festival
For several reasons, Utah may be the perfect destination for summer travelers—not only do we offer a variety of national parks and forests packed neatly with scenic landscapes, but Utah’s selection of music festivals also seems to grow each year. Fort Desolation Festival may be the ideal event for those looking for both, offering the perfect union of live music among Utah scenery. While Northern Utah offers the Twilight Concert Series, Deer Valley Music Festival and Kilby Block Party among other events, Southern Utah has shown that it is ready to provide a home for upcoming festivals as well, with the second annual Fort Desolation Fest taking place at Cougar Ridge Resort in Torrey this Aug. 12–14, 2022.
Fort Desolation Fest was founded with the intention of creating a space for adventurers and travelers to come together, purchase quality gear, indulge in food and drink and enjoy soul-soothing music among the company of some of Utah’s finest scenery. The fest was founded by a small, Salt Lake-based team that includes one of the founders of the Nitro Circus, Jeremy Rawle, as well as the founders of The State Room Presents and Cornerstone AV.
Rawle, the founder and CEO of Fort Desolation, says, “Our goal with the festival was creating a gathering that gets people out of the city and into a world-class outdoor landscape.” The location of the festival—Torrey, Utah, which is close to Capitol Reef National Park—is carved out with red-rock canyons, pillars and arches, so it’s difficult to imagine a more beautiful setting for a music festival. Specifically, the event takes place at Cougar Ridge Resort, which is described by the festival team as “a luxury ranch nestled in a cove of alfalfa fields and surrounded by red-rock mesas.” Rawle says, “Something magical happens when you combine live music with an inspiring outdoor landscape, and this is one of the most inspiring outdoor landscapes we’ve ever seen.”
“Our goal with the festival was creating a gathering that gets people out of the city and into a world-class outdoor landscape.”
The team was initially concerned the location was a bit too remote for national artists to want to attend. However, they’ve found it to be the opposite, with many artists thrilled to perform beside the landscape and at such an evocative outdoor venue. This year, the lineup includes acts such as Amos Lee, Elle King, The Band of Heathens, Molly Tuttle & Golden Highway, Rayland Baxter, Heartless Bastards, Elizabeth Cook, Danielle Ponder, Marty O’Reilly & The Old Soul Orchestra and Jordan Matthew Young & Friends (a supergroup featuring some of Utah’s best artists). Though many of the aforementioned artists fall into the Americana genre, Fort Desolation Fest invites a wide variety of music to their festival.
Before Fort Desolation Fest could take place, the team needed to convince both the owner of the Cougar Ridge Resort and the Torrey community that their festival was something of value. “It took about a year and a half of planning and discussions to get Gary Bagley (the owner of Cougar Ridge Resort) comfortable with the vision,” says Rawle. “We also wanted to make sure locals in Torrey and the rest of Wayne County were on board with the event. So, in June 2021, even before the first Fort Desolation Fest in August 2021, we held a free, dry-run/rehearsal event featuring Utah bands for friends, family and locals so they could see we were professionals doing something beneficial for the community.”
With the support of the locals, the first year of Fort Desolation Fest meant focusing on the basics of what creates a smooth experience for guests and festival-goers. Rawle says, “We sold only general admission tickets and concentrated on making sure we nailed all the core elements of producing a world-class festival like staging, camping, delicious food vendors, dialing in our bar program, attracting the right talent and just creating an overall magical environment.”
“This is a boutique festival that we’re deliberately keeping small … to make sure this festival adds up to one of the best weekends of your life.”
Many attendees are travelers, so camping arrangements—whether that be parking your SUV/van right into the camp spot, setting up a tent or parking your trailer—can be made when purchasing tickets (though campsites are of limited availability, so best to plan ahead). Of course, you can also stay at lodging throughout the area, and a special luxury package can be purchased which includes a two-bedroom villa at Cougar Ridge Resort just a short walk from the festival.
Similar to other festivals, the music isn’t the only reason to attend. After the success of Fort Desolation Fest’s first year, new packages and experiences have been added to the mix. “This year we’ve added a third night of music and are enhancing the festival experience with VIP passes, a guest-chef dinner, a guided star party, an after-hours campfire jam with guest performers and an exhibitor area where adventure travelers can check out the latest, greatest overland products and services,” says Erik Peterson, Fort Desolation’s Director of Events. Food and drink is another reason to attend with an array of creative food trucks, plus bar areas with an abundance of craft cocktails and beer for those over 21.
The team has curated Fort Desolation Fest to emphasize what’s great about music festivals while still entertaining their originality. “This is a boutique festival that we’re deliberately keeping small,” says Rawle. “Our goal is to make sure this festival adds up to one of the best weekends of your life.” Since the festival limits attendance, you can enjoy the music close to the stage and without large crowds, avoid having to wait in long lines and appreciate a thoroughly crafted guest experience. “It’s three nights of live music and three days to find your own adventures in some of the most beautiful landscapes on earth,” says Rawle.
Be sure to set some time aside to visit Capitol Reef from Aug. 12–14 for some early morning hikes, and then plan to relax in the evening with a cold, frothy drink as you listen to the sounds of Fort Desolation Fest’s cool rock lineup. You can find more information as well as purchase tickets on their website at fortdesolation.com/fest/.