Levitation fest rises from the ashes, returns to Austin

Ruben Paquian

Back from the brink of extinction following a last-minute cancellation in 2016 and a year off in 2017, Austin’s psychedelic music festival, Levitation, will return April 26 through 29 with a whole new festival format.

Historically held at Carson Ranch, this year’s festival will feature a multiple-venue format, with shows taking place around the Red River music district. Festival organizers say the change comes as an attempt to better collaborate with the city’s music scene and as a way to minimize the financial risks associated with a traditional festival format. Many avid festival fans express their concerns with this new festival format.

Rob Fitzpatrick, Levitation’s co-founder and organizer, has been part of the festival since the beginning when it made its debut as Austin Psych Fest in 2008. Over the past ten years, Fitzpatrick and the original organizers have kept the festival independent, a decision he said made recovering from the weather-forced cancellation almost impossible.

“We just weren’t able to bounce back after that. It was a really a huge blow financially,” Fitzpatrick said. “Usually a festival at this size, you have some partners and kind of deeper pockets to draw on when stuff like this happens, but were still the same group who started it. It almost put us down for the count.”

But after taking a year off to recover and re-plan, the organizers decided to come back 2018 with the multi-venue format designed to harbor less financial risk, as well as to include more collaboration with the venues that support Austin’s live music year-round. Fitzpatrick said he would like to build on this concept for the future of the festival.

“We’re really excited about not building the festival up out at the ranch and taking away from the music venues,” Fitzpatrick said. ”The future will definitely include a lot of these venues — we see a lot of potential in the Red River district. Kind of a hybrid of what we’re doing this year and what we’ve done in the past is kind of what I would like to see.”

Shamika Kurian, public relations sophomore, attended the Levitation Fest in 2015 and said the experience was one to remember — something she fears will change with the new venue format. For Kurian, the combination of a great lineup and overall atmosphere provided by the Carson Ranch location was a huge part of the experience.

“I want to go to (an outdoor) festival. There were all these really cool (art) booths and things there,” Kurian said. “Things like that you don’t really get as much of when you just have shows downtown.”

Kurian is not alone in her sentiments. Advertising sophomore Sam Paulsen also feared Levitation would become a different festival. One of the many who planned to attend the 2016 festival, Paulsen said she intends to go to a few shows at Levitation this year, but she hopes the festival returns to its traditional format on the future.

“My hope is that they move the format back to going to the ranch every year and having it outside, but I guess if they don’t, there just needs to be a band that I really support and love to go see,” Paulsen said.

Fitzpatrick acknowledged the uncertainty surrounding Levitation, but he values having a stable platform for artists and believes the spirit of festival doesn’t depend on the location.

“What was special about (Levitation) was always there when we weren’t at the ranch,” Fitzpatrick said. “It’s the art and the music and the people who come to see it, and that’s really what makes this festival different from other festivals.”