35 Denton's Smaller, Mellower Festival Showed Encouraging Signs Over the Weekend

Jimme Dale Gilmore joined the Zombies as 35 Denton headliners over the weekend
Jimme Dale Gilmore joined the Zombies as 35 Denton headliners over the weekend

35 Denton Music Festival Denton Friday, March 13 to Sunday, March 15, 2015

When the organizers at 35 Denton revived the festival from a one-year hiatus and announced a lineup heavy little-known and local bands, there was some reason to be skeptical. The festival had appeared to be gaining momentum as an idyllic, DIY-minded music fest in a reputable college music town. Inevitably, perhaps, the vibe was different this weekend as the event bounced back from its year away. This was evident in the smaller, mellow crowds that gathered around the Denton square which was much sparser and less populated than before. On the surface it may have seemed like a shadow of its former self, but there were reasons to be optimistic.

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While this year's lineup didn't consist of as many big headliners as it had in previous years, like Sleep or Thee Oh See's, there were highlights that made it worth spending an overcast weekend in the city's homegrown musical atmosphere. Perhaps the most notable concert at the festival was that of classic British rock band, the Zombies, who is best known for their hits "She's Not There" and "Time of the Season." They'd been in Dallas just last year for back-to-back nights at the Kessler, but seeing them on the main stage just off the square in Denton still felt like a special occasion. They even covered songs from other bands that the members were involved with including The Alan Parson's Project and Argent.

But rather than big-name headliners, 35 Denton needed to thrive on providing surprises from some of the smaller bands in the clubs. A perfect example of this was Mydolls from Houston, Texas, who played to a group of 20 or 30 people from Rubber Gloves on Saturday night. The group's femme punk aesthetic might fall under the category of something along the lines of "proto-riot grrrl" but they really have a sound that is truly their own. In the '80s, the band played with punk rock giants such as the Butthole Surfers, Minor Threat and Big Boys. With songs like "Soldiers of Pure War" and "Politician" they variate textures using tribal rhythms, strident and raucous guitars and revolutionary lyrical content.

Unlike any other punk rock reunion bands who are often either too washed out or burnt out to play a something akin to a great set, Mydolls really triumphed in showing that they can still play a show with authenticity. Provided that they've been a band for 35 years and never officially broke up, the band proved that they still keep the fire of the punk rock movement burning after all these years.

Of course, 35 Denton wouldn't have been decent without some of the great local acts. While there are really too many to name, a few homegrown North Texas artists were the backbone of the festival. Staples like Black James Franco, Dome Dwellers and Bukkake Moms all had their respective moment of sunshine throughout the weekend. New up and comers like Moth Face and Mink Coats also had a chance to share their talent early on in the fest. By Sunday night, much of the activity was dying down but the Black Dotz played a noteworthy set at Rubber Gloves that could have been much better if there was more of a crowd.

Near the festival, there were also periphery shows happening around which were free and didn't require a wristband. New wave starlette Rat Rios played her retroactive musings at the Electro-Sobo 35 mini-fest within walking distance of the festival. The lineup there, including Tidals from Fort Worth and Cygnus from Dallas, really compensated for the shortcomings of the bigger event.

While it was a good opportunity to explore new music, there were some head-scratching organizational moments. Most notably, the festival's pamphlet didn't provide any information about a majority of the acts (filling the rest of the space with ads). For a festival lacking in "name" bands, it left festival goers to explore blindly. More cynically, it also left one wondering if the organizers had even actually listened to all of the bands.

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Crowds picked up over the course of the weekend after a bit of a slow start on Friday, which was a good sign. But perhaps some of the most encouraging signs that helped make this feel like more than just a busy weekend in Denton was some of the venue upgrades: Dan's Silverleaf, for instance, had an awesome new back patio with a new bar and outdoor stage arrangement. Not surprisingly, it was full all weekend. And the biggest buzz probably came from the new Harvest House, which might finally be that midsized venue that Denton could really use.

Ultimately, for a festival that primarily serves as a money maker for the city of Denton and some local businesses, 35 Denton was still able to deliver the goods. It certainly felt like a rebuilding year, and perhaps the first step towards finding a new identity. But it was still a premium event that showcased some great artists cementing North Texas as a place that's thriving with talent.

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