By Jim Schutze
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35 Denton, the latest name for Denton's annual pre-South by Southwest music festival, now stands as a much different beast from the SXSW day parties once organized and thrown by a group of Dan's Silverleaf regulars down in Austin. Both conceptually and in practice, the festival has grown from an idealistic attempt to gain notoriety for the city as a cultural hub to a company with a core staff of 50 volunteers working year-round.
This year it will change even more: Denton moving company Little Guys Movers will step into a more formal and active role in the investment and planning of the event, using their experience as business professionals to add some structure to the proceedings.
"What Little Guys is bringing to the table is some of our business acumen and organizational skills behind the scenes," says company co-founder Chris Hawley. "And, for the love of Christ, our office."
Little Guys has indeed volunteered their office, located next door to Dan's (a venue in which they are also investors), to formally serve as a base from which festival organizers can conduct the business activities related to the event. Another thing the company is volunteering is their time.
"Yes, we're investors," says Hawley. "But we're completely available. We're investors with some skin in the game and we're playing. We're involved."
Chris Flemmons, the original organizer and founder of the festival, stands by that claim.
"These guys are my best friends," Flemmons says. "They put up money each year, which is incredibly important, and they have the ability to see things that others don't. This year will trump last year the same way the year before did. There's just better management going in."
Among the other real changes that have occurred due to the improved organization are the increased ability of funds when negotiating contracts with booking agencies, the creation of a sales force to professionally solicit sponsorship, potential technological updates such as a smartphone app aimed at helping navigate the festival, and the potential for volunteers to be paid in coming years.
"Our goal is to break even this year," says Marcus Watson, Hawley's Little Guys co-founder. "We recognize the organic aspect of it, but it's becoming more of a company. You come in and stifle the creativity with a bunch of corporate structure, and it's not going to work. We have to find a way for it to keep its identity but keep it sustainable."
According to the organizers, these changes should result in a more comfortable, fluid and organized event.
"Either way," Flemmons says, "we're way ahead of the game this year."