Imagine performers on stage – immaculately dressed, bringing smooth sounds of versatile tunes, from classic rock to R&B – and a dancing, happy audience. A connection between the musicians and the music fans exists, with every word and movement coming from the stage causing a positive reaction of the listeners. That’s the atmosphere at an event of Utopia Band, a Coffee County music group that’s brought delight to music lovers for decades.
“I started Utopia in 1981,” said J.T. Northcutt.
The group consisted of nine members at the beginning, with the original members being Richard Dixon, Chris Harris, Anthony Johnson, Ronnie McGee Sr., Doyle Pentecost, Kenneth Robinson, Joe Singleton and Robert Sparrow.
“I am the only one left now of the original members,” Northcutt said.
Today, Brent (Doc) Woodard, Brian Justice, John Steverson, Will Butler III, Craig Bailey, Evan Acklin join Northcutt on stage to bring joy to audiences.
“Some of our members have been with me for more than 20 years,” Northcutt said. “We are one of the few bands from that era that has existed that long. I play trumpet, and I’m a lead singer. Brian Justice is guitar player, and John Steverson is bass player and backup vocals. Doc Woodard is our keyboard player, and Craig Bailey is our drummer.”
Butler and Acklin are lead vocalists and percussionists.
“We play several genres, but we are classified primarily as old school R&B, classic rock, jazz and blues,” Northcutt said.
The group also brings contemporary music to fans.
“We do modern songs, too – everything from Bruno Mars to Frank Sinatra,” Northcutt said.
“One of my favorite things about the band is our versatility. We are able to perform for a wide range of ages – for anyone from 18 to 75. We have songs that anyone can relate to and enjoy.”
Utopia Band members stay busy.
“We average over 30 performances a year,” Northcutt said. “Basically, we perform on weekends. Every once in a while, on special occasions, we perform during the week. But about 95% of our performances are on the weekends.”
Most of the members have careers outside of music.
“Everyone works except for me,” Northcutt said.
Northcutt is now retired. He served as a quality assurance engineer at AEDC.
Success comes when you love what you do
To be successful, you must love what you do, said Northcutt.
“First of all, you have to love it,” Northcutt said. “If you’re going to be a great performer, a good performer, or good at any other profession, you have to have passion about it. Honestly, it has to be something you would do for free.”
That attitude often separates successful endeavors from failing attempts.
“If you get into music primarily for money, then probably you won’t go far,” Northcutt said. “It has to be something you really enjoy doing, even if it’s just you, practicing without an audience. You must enjoy learning and developing your art. You have to be honest with yourself. The greatest musicians are really the ones that realize they too have fallacies – there’s no perfect musician.”
Musicians improve their skills with age and practice.
“The older you get, the better you become because you just keep building on your experience,” he said. “You never learn everything about music. If you’re passionate about it, you’re always learning. That’s one thing that I enjoy.”
Seeing the positive impact their music has on audiences is another benefit for the band’s members.
“I feel like we really give something to the customers we serve that they enjoy,” Northcutt said. “They can come and see us perform, and that allows them to get away – it’s an escapism.”
It’s not just music Utopia Band delivers, but a show.
“We are also a showband,” Northcutt said. “We’re engaging the audience, we’re moving, we’re energetic. When people come to see us, they can hang up the hang-ups and just enjoy the music and the performance.”
Going above and beyond just singing has been the key to the group’s success.
“That’s something I feel we’ve done really well, and that’s why we have the longevity,” Northcutt said.
Another reason for the band’s accomplishments is the lack of a “barrier” between stage and audience.
“We are personable – every member is a personable person, and a person with good character,” Northcutt said. “People feel they could be close to us. Our fans are our friends. We are accessible. We get as much from our fans that they get from us.”
Utopia Band musicians love performing for local fans, said Northcutt.
“That’s what we enjoy most – to play for our local crowds,” he said. “We appreciate all those fans that have supported us on this journey for all these years. If it wasn’t for them, there would be no need for us. People from this area have followed us for many years and we are very appreciative.”
While the group has changed since its beginning, the passion for music and bringing joy to fans has remained the same.
“Over the years, we have changed most of the events we do,” Northcutt said. “Most of our performances now are at music festivals, wedding receptions and corporate events. We enjoy all our events, but mostly the ones that we can engage with local audiences, like the events at Beans Creek Winery in Manchester. It’s free to the public, everyone has a good time, and it’s a great atmosphere. We thoroughly enjoy performing at Daddy Billy’s and Whiskey Trail in Tullahoma because that’s home.
“Any time we can serve our area – Manchester, Winchester, Shelbyville, McMinnville – we really enjoy it. Tullahoma is our home. We are thankful to be able to do that for all these years and for all the support our fans from this community have given us.”