Fort Desolation Fest is a three-day destination camping festival that hits the sweet spot between adventures by day and music by night. It takes place at Cougar Ridge Resort, a breathtaking luxury ranch located just a few miles from the Mars-like environment of Capitol Reef National Park in southern Utah. With a limited daily capacity of around 3,500 people, Fort Desolation Fest is an approachable event that allows all attendees to get close to the music.

On Thursday night, Pixie & The Partygrass Boys kicked off the festival on the Ford main stage with a fresh, playful set of jazz-infused bluegrass that got everyone on their feet. Then The White Buffalo electrified the crowd with a raucous, take-no-prisoners performance. The only break he took was to chug a tall beer out of a Viking horn that was handed to him by the festival’s founder.

Friday’s main stage music was ushered in with a rootsy, blues-based set by Parker Millsap that drew the crowd in from the campground. Then Madison Cunningham put everyone in a dream-like state with an enchanting fusion of sounds as a light sprinkle of rain cooled off the concert area. Houndmouth brought their catchy tunes and a burst of joyful energy to a performance that became the talk of the festival. To culminate the day of music, Shakey Graves delivered a crushing headline performance, beginning with his full band and then later playing by himself with his famous DIY suitcase/percussion contraption.

Saturday afternoon, The Brothers Comatose put on a rip-roaring bluegrass show that brought a huge audience to the Ford stage. Jamestown Revival delivered their heavenly harmonies in an array of beloved songs that had everyone singing along. Rising star Morgan Wade’s raw, powerhouse performance demonstrated why her tour has been sold out across the country. Then Ben Harper reminded us why he’s been an essential part of our playlists since the 1990s. He and his backing band The Innocent Criminals covered all the high-energy bangers and peppered in slower-tempo tunes for a just-right vibe.

There was plenty more to see and experience at Fort Desolation than what was on the main stage. The festival’s Expo Alley dispensed knowledge to campers, providing product demonstrations alongside real-world skills like how to fix a punctured tire while off-roading and a class in crafting campground cocktails. Between sets on the Ford main stage, Morgan Snow (Triggers & Slips) also curated a lineup of up-and-coming local and regional acts who performed on the Progressive stage to keep the music going all day long.

Another bright spot at Fort Desolation Fest each year is the small, unassuming campground stage that Goal Zero sponsored this year. Every night of the festival, select main stage artists show up after hours for special acoustic sets in a more intimate setting. Each night’s artist remains a secret until the moment they arrive. This year Pixie & The Partygrass Boys, The Brothers Comatose, and Jamestown Revival all played on the campground stage. As an added bonus to campers, Michelle Henning led yoga classes at the Goal Zero Campground Stage on both Friday and Saturday mornings at 9 a.m.

The third Fort Desolation Fest wrapped up its adventures by day and music by night on Sunday morning, June 11th. Campers packed up their gear, said farewell to their new friends, and headed off to their next journeys, leaving not a single piece of trash behind. Dates and details for Fort Desolation Fest 2024 are coming soon on the festival’s website and social media.

Check out image galleries of Fort Desolation Fest 2023 from photographers Josh Wood and Steve Olpin.