35 Denton Lives to Fight Another Day After a Year on the Brink

35 Denton, which hosted a pre-party at Hailey's in the fall, hopes to stick the landing on its comeback this weekend
35 Denton, which hosted a pre-party at Hailey's in the fall, hopes to stick the landing on its comeback this weekend
Ed Steele

It's been a long and weary road for 35 Denton. They've been bludgeoned by nearly every possible obstacle that could befall a festival on the rise: they lost funding, they lost key bookers and they lost their location due to construction. For a while the future of the festival was hugely uncertain, and the chance of a revival looked bleak at best.

So when last March rolled around, the show runners decided to hit pause and regain their footing before attempting to scale their way back up to the top of the festival summit. But against some long odds, 12 months later they're back to try it again.

See also: The Revived 35 Denton Is Showing No Pulse Thin Line Fest Might Be Denton's Best Music Festival

And though the mountaintop is a little more crowded than before, 35 Denton won't be spiraling into irrelevance anytime soon. It may not boast as many big-name national acts, but between musician panels and an expansive venue list, it'll be a quintessential Denton experience.

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Wallace Campbell, the festival's director, has been a faithful Dentonite for 25 years. Originally, he was the one playing in the bands rather than booking them, and the city's music pulse was located on Fry Street rather than the square. But with the tragic shuttering of the doors to The Tomato, The Corkscrew and The Delta Lodge, the city shifted its music hub to the locations around the square -- all of which are now part of 35 Denton. Back then, J&J's was a Mr. Gatti's and Dan's Silverleaf was part of the Fry Street scene.

In 2005, 35 Denton started as a daytime showcase as part of SXSW, rounding up bands from the city to show Austin that it wasn't the only creative powerhouse in Texas. After four years, festival runners decided to take its roots back in the city itself, where it began to grow exponentially each year and started booking acts like The Flaming Lips, Solange Knowles, Killer Mike and Mac Demarco. During that first year of 35 Denton taking place within its namesake city, Campbell ran the sound at Banter Bistro and built a stage the following year.

Then the festival suffered its tough blow: losing its primary financial backer, Little Guys Movers, in 2012, as well as its programming and creative director. Little Guys wanted to focus its resources on its business, and the directors received booking jobs in bigger cities including Chicago. At the time, directors promised to develop The Hive, a venue that was formed during 35 Denton with the intention to make it a full-time venue, but that never came to fruition due to insurmountable hurdles. When '14's 35 Denton was cancelled, North Texas waited with bated breath to see what would become of the colossal festival.

During the hiatus, Campbell stepped up to be the festival director, hired Shaina Sheaff as creative director and rounded up a group of college-aged Dentonites to help make the festival happen.

Everything from stage backdrops to promotional photography has been provided by a tireless volunteer staff whose efforts are intended to ensure 35 Denton's longevity, both for themselves and the city as a whole. Sheaff said that the creative minds of Denton have been brilliant to work with, as well as the bands.

"By booking bands on the rise, both from Texas and outside of it, we want to make sure that these bands are getting the attention they deserve," Sheaff says. "And the same goes for the photographers and artists of Denton."

And she added that by booking up-and-coming bands from Texas and beyond, she hopes to give these musicians on the rise an appreciative audience to appeal to.

Hailey's, Rubber Gloves, Dan's Silverlead and J&J's are all within a 10 minute walk of each other, which was a key factor in Campbell mapping out the venues. New additions include West Oak Coffee Bar, burgeoning bar Service Industry and brand-spanking-new bar the Harvest House, which will have an outdoor stage and nearly 100 beers to drink your way through.

For Campbell, incorporating local musicians and businesses was crucial to the mantra of 35 Denton. Harvest House technically isn't even open yet, but it'll break ground with a showcase in conjunction with 35 Denton.

Outside of live music, the event will also host a bevy of panels to discuss the music atmosphere of Denton. They'll have the leading DIY minds from local venues on one panel to discuss running your own show stage, and the kickass female musicians of North Texas to talk about their trials and successes.

Through all these trials, 35 Denton persists only due to the tempered spirits of its directors and staff members. It may seem a downsize for some, but simply being here in 2015 to live to fight another day (and hopefully for years to come) is a minor miracle in and of itself. Campbell doesn't take it at all for granted, either.

"It's all managed to come together; it looks like we're even catching a break on the weather," he says, as Sheaff knocks on the wooden table for fear of tempting fate. "But we expect it to go smoothly. I think it'll go great and give us the momentum to only get better going forward."

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