The Baptist Generals' Revival

Chris Flemmons spent 10 years working on his city rather than his band, The Baptist Generals. They’re both better for it.

"Preservation-wise, I think that Fry Street will keep anything else from getting torn down in this town," Flemmons says in the bar. "We needed to have a horrible thing like that happen. I mean, there's Burnett Park in Fort Worth. ... When Burnett Park was going to get torn down, all of a sudden there was this concern for preservation in Fort Worth, and now preservationists there are very active. So consequently you have this downtown area that's pretty remarkable. My concern is not having more buildings get torn down."

For Flemmons, the physical spaces of Denton are not incidental. They've shaped his life and his music, and he recognizes that they've done the same for plenty of his friends, one of whom walks in as he drinks his wine. "Hey, Johnny Mac!" Flemmons calls out as soon as he sees John McIntire, former drummer of Record Hop. "How are you, sir?"

McIntire says he is scheduled to have open-heart surgery in June. His aortic valve needs to be replaced.

The Baptist Generals perform at Wall of Sound Fest in 2006.
Jason Janik
The Baptist Generals perform at Wall of Sound Fest in 2006.
The Baptist Generals perform at Wall of Sound Fest in 2006.
Noah W. Bailey
The Baptist Generals perform at Wall of Sound Fest in 2006.

"Oh my God!" Flemmons says. McIntire tells Flemmons that it's not life-threatening and, in an effort to lighten the mood, Flemmons talks about the cool scar McIntire is going to have.

"Yeah I got a belly scar down here," Flemmons says to McIntire. "I had major plumbing reworking on my intestines.

"I'm gonna get a tattoo of a tree growing sideways, I don't know," and they both laugh at that.

Flemmons started his band in Denton and has always believed deeply in the music that his peers in the city were making. Musicians like Midlake, Will Johnson and Sarah Jaffe, he believes, are world-class artists who deserve a place in a larger discussion about rock 'n' roll. So he brought them to the place where The Baptist Generals started catching powerful ears: Austin, for SXSW.

And ultimately, the biggest impact Flemmons has had on Denton, and its musicians in particular, is not his Fry Street preservation efforts. No, that would be the music festival that sprang from those trips to SXSW: 35 Denton. Like The Baptist Generals themselves, Flemmons started the fest as a small, DIY operation. In 2005, he booked some of Denton's best bands for a day party in the best venue he could find: Big Red Sun, a flower shop. From there, the showcase grew. By its third year, it had moved to Sixth Street.

But even then there were hundreds of showcases at SXSW, enough for an established band to get lost in the noise, let alone a lesser-known Denton one. Flemmons recognized that the way to prove Denton as a music hub was to bring bands from around the world to his home city. So in 2009, the fest moved north. The first year, the biggest band they could get was Monotonix, an electrifying but then-obscure band out of Israel. The festival — he called it NX35 — netted $200.

"It was still highly rewarding," Flemmons says. "Once the first one happened, everybody realized that this was something that was going to be great for the town."

The second year brought respected bands like HEALTH and The Walkmen, and legendary musician and producer Steve Albini gave a keynote address. But it was a headlining set by The Flaming Lips that made it one of the biggest rock shows Denton had ever seen. And it almost didn't happen.

Two weeks before the festival, Flemmons and his team of volunteers were still short of the Lips' asking price. Flemmons made a last-minute drive to Oklahoma to meet with the band's representatives and try to convince them to play for less.

To Flemmons, everything was riding on this show. The way he saw it, if he couldn't bring this show to fruition while his town was in the national spotlight, it would signify that Denton was just another flaky slacker music town that couldn't get its act together.

But thanks to some major cooperation from the Flaming Lips — it's been widely speculated that they took a big pay cut to play that show — the Lips agreed to come.

On the night of the show at the North Texas Fairgrounds in north Denton, thousands of people turned out for the only free show of that year's festival. Midlake played an opening set, and the crowd grew more and more massive.

After all the doubt, all the work, it was finally happening. The band walked onto the stage, and frontman Wayne Coyne began raising his palms to the sky to pump up the crowd. The cheers reached massive decibels. The bright lights of the stage and all of the people on it listened to the cue from drummer Kliph Scurlock. He cracked his sticks together, shouting, "One! Two! Three! Four!"

And then the power went out. The lights went black; the microphones went dead. The crowd was apoplectic.

A few minutes later, the problem was identified and the show was underway. But by then, Flemmons had just about had enough anyway.

"To this day, I'm not sure it was a good idea," Flemmons says of getting the Lips to play. "It was just too much too quick. I'm still glad it happened, but it took years off of people's lives, not just me. It was a highly stressful situation."

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