By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
Three years into its existence and, finally, 35 Conferette organizer Chris Flemmons is seeing his dream of a walkable music festival in downtown Denton turn into a reality.
We've seen shades of the festival shaping up this way for a few years now.
The obligatory backstory: After a drunken conversation with Slobberbone's Bent Best, Flemmons, himself of the Sub Pop-signed Baptist Generals, decided to do all he could to put Denton music on the map. The long-term plan, always, was to host a festival in the college town he and so many other North Texas musicians call home. First, in 2005, it started out as an afternoon party at Austin's South by Southwest; called North by 35, the party was Denton-exclusive in its offerings. Four years later—and, in Flemmons' mind, a brand built—NX35 moved to its rightful home. The first year, unsurprisingly, was the smallest. More than 100 bands played the Denton festival, but it felt more like a coming out party for the town than anything. Last year's second effort, though? Now that felt like a party—credit headliners The Flaming Lips and a stronger bill for that much. It came at a cost, though: City organizers feared that the Lips would draw too many people to fit in the downtown areas proposed to host stages; the Saturday night bill of the Lips, Stardeath & White Dwarfs and Denton's own Midlake was moved out of downtown and over to the North Texas Fairgrounds—still a fine event, but not the one Flemmons had envisioned.
This year, though, it appears as if all has fallen into place. City of Denton officials have given Flemmons and his seemingly ragtag team of organizers (most of whom had experience only booking house shows before joining Flemmons' cause) the OK to hoist three stages downtown—two for headline performers and a third on Denton's Courthouse-on-the-Square for locals.
Deservedly, too: The 2010 affair, which also features a name-change from NX35 to 35 Conferette, boasts the biggest bill to date, with 225 performers scheduled to play. No, there may not be a Flaming Lips in the bunch, but it's undoubtedly the deepest offering from the festival yet. With 13 stages in total, there's plenty to catch.
So, with that in mind, we present to you this preview of events—our music writers' picks for the must-see shows of the four-day affair, which launches with a 3:45 p.m. performance from Denton up-and-comers Sundress on Thursday, March 10, and runs until the bars close on Sunday night/early Monday morning. —Pete Freedman
7:15 p.m., Main Stage #2
Unabashed about mining the creative pool that is teen angst, The Pains of Being Pure at Heart sound exactly like their name implies; their songs are wistful, longing, heart-wrenching affairs. It's a simple formula, and Lord knows that this New York quartet isn't the first to discover it. Actually, there isn't much about the band that's altogether original; their self-titled 2009 full-length debut sounds more like the '80s college rock spawned in Ireland and the United Kingdom (See: Jesus and Mary Chain, My Bloody Valentine) than anything contemporary. But the familiar, reverb-heavy aesthetic is only a means to the songwriting's end: Audiences will have no problem singing and dancing along with this band. Fitting, then, that festival organizers offered the band this primo outdoor stage-slot on opening night. —Pete Freedman
8 p.m., Main Stage #1
Amazingly, it took hooking up with Wilco's Jeff Tweedy to earn gospel-soul legend Mavis Staples her first Grammy, which she received for last year's excellent You Are Not Alone. Frankly, it's an outrage. After all, this is Mavis Staples we're talking about—the same woman who killed it at Wattstax, swapped verses with Rick Danko in The Last Waltz and voiced the Civil Rights movement through Staples Singers hits like "Respect Yourself." No offense to Sarah Jaffe and the other fine acts sharing the stage with Staples this Thursday night, but they're about to get served. Or maybe even saved. —Noah W. Bailey
1 a.m., Hailey's Club
Cut Chemist (born Lucas Christian MacFadden) is a DJ and producer who is known for his legendary turntable skills—talents he's very willing to loan to others, even. Most notably, MacFadden has been a member of underground hip-hop group Jurassic 5 and the experimental Latin funk band Ozomatli. But with eight releases under his own name, too—most recently, last year's Sound of the Police, not to mention collaborations with Shorkut of Invisibl Skratch Piklz and DJ Shadow—MacFadden has been a mainstay of the West Coast underground hip-hop sound since the mid-'90s. A fitting choice as the headliner of the festival's first hip-hop bill of the week, for sure. —Rodrigo Diaz
8 p.m., Main Stage #1
Those who attended The Flaming Lips' set at last year's festival will no doubt remember the Heavy Metal Parking Lot-meets-Dazed and Confused vibe of the whole affair. Expect 2011 headliners Dr. Dog to supply the same good times on a slightly smaller scale, with plenty of roller-rink anthems and beach ball-bouncing grooves to satisfy the crowds around Denton's square. They're currently on tour taking a victory lap of sorts for last year's triumphant Shame, Shame, the band's fourth straight platter of tuneful, softly psychedelic classic rock—equal parts Beatles, Band and Philly soul. —Noah W. Bailey