Cycle of Venue Boom and Bust Clouds Denton's Musical Future
Whereto now for Denton music, which stands on the brink of a world without Rubber Gloves?
The Denton music landscape is changing again. After 19 long years of serving Denton’s DIY crowd, Rubber Gloves Rehearsal Studios will be closing their doors on Sunday, June 5. That leaves one big question unanswered: “Where will that music go?”
Denton, with only a little more than 123,000 people, is one tenth the size of Dallas but disproportionally packed with talent. The town houses two universities, one of which is home to an internationally respected and recognized jazz studies program. The lack of venues could frustrate musicians as well as fans. This ebb and flow is not the first Denton has experienced, but the lack of establishments is worrisome.
“Clubs coming and going is nothing new,” Slobberbone frontman and longtime Denton resident Brent Best says. “When I first moved here in 1988 there were five music venues around Fry Street alone. Within a year of that there were only two, and then another one or two would pop up. That's normal. Gloves closing feels different simply because it's been a staple for so long and really helped define a big part of the scene here with all of its changes over the last 19 years.”
Gloves opened out of necessity. The Denton music scene slowly started vanishing from the Fry Street area in 1997, around the time that Rubber Gloves opened. The Argo was closing, Rick’s Place was two years from burning down and wasn’t programming as much DIY music, and on the other side of the tracks sat a slew of rehearsal studios that would soon be part of Denton music history.
In 2006, the 100 block of Fry Street was purchased by a Houston-based real estate company who would later demolish several historical buildings, thus replacing a town's culture with out-of-town business wants. During the summer of 2007 arsonists burned down the long standing Fry Street hangout, The Tomato. Shortly following that, other buildings on that block were demolished including Jim’s Diner, a food and music establishment that had been a local favorite for 29 years.
Cool Beans’ space got cut in half and they stopped programming live music on their upstairs patio due to the plethora of student housing that came in. Fry Street Fair was discontinued the same year after its 28th annual production. Retail spaces and apartment housing multiplied within months, and to our knowledge no one has been to Fry Street for music ever since (with the exception of wanting to see the Bubble Man play a flute in a van full of his smokey treats).
That's how the story goes, though. A scene develops in a part of town that musicians and artists can afford to reside, making an ideal location for dives and small clubs to open thus drawing in DIY music to fill the stages and space. The scene grows, gets noticed, money comes in, and then the scene morphs into something different - or it dies.
Musicians like Wild Bill (on the ground) and Richie Flo (far right) hopefully won't be put out on the streets.
“I saw this happen in Deep Ellum, Lower Greenville, Oak Cliff, and now Denton,” Paul Slavens says. “I don't think we have even come close to seeing how much the Square and surrounding areas are going to change.”
Music moved to downtown within the last twenty years, but by no means has it ever been booming. It was not until a couple years ago that more local businesses opened up, bringing a more open feel to the square. With the closing of Banter and Hailey’s last year, the square has seen a retreat of creative, DIY music and an influx of beautiful restaurants and businesses where music comes secondary, if at all.
“Music is beginning to be used as atmosphere more than as the main selling point,” Slavens says. “It's the sign of a scene turning into an entertainment district.”
But can we even call anywhere in Denton an entertainment district? After Rubber Gloves closes, there will only be one 18-plus club in Denton - and it is way on the other side of town, close to UNT. In fact, the only problem with Rockin’ Rodeo is it’s location. If only it were located anywhere besides a shopping strip center with a Dollar General. Going to a show at a club in a shopping center doesn’t instill a sense of community.
“That’s going to be the biggest challenge for people in Denton because everything is 21-plus,” Marcus Washington, owner of Cash & Respect says. “They are all bars, not club venues. The hip hop scene is getting the most buzz from the youth.”
“Hailey’s was a great venue because it was an actual club instead of a bar,” Washington adds. “You don't get that with Andy’s because they are 21 and up. I see why all the kids would say it's house shows, because it's all ages.”
Even with the venues that are still open downtown — Dan’s Silverleaf, Andy’s Bar, and Abbey Underground — you can go to a weekday show and sometimes catch less than 5 people in the room, not including the band on stage and staff behind the bar. The exception is Harvest House, which seems to remain busy.
“I'm sure a lot of those shows are going to happen here, and that's totally fine with me,” says Isaac Hoskin, bar manager of Dan’s Silverleaf. “We've had plenty of stuff similar to what Rubber Gloves programmed before, although we are not known for that. If we think it makes sense, we'll book it.”
J&J’s will be closing its basement during the summer and fall for renovations. That puts Oaktopia out of another venue during their fall 2016 festival, leaving LSA Burger Co., Dan’s Silverleaf, Abbey Underground, Harvest House, Andy’s Bar, and their outdoor stages.
The burden on venues like Dan's Silverleaf seems ever-growing.
“Kids are still going to go where they go, which has been house shows, until a venue that opens to replace Rubber Gloves,” says Matt Battaglia, founder of Oaktopia music festival. “[Talent buyer] Garrett [Gravley] did a great job of bringing touring acts into Rubber Gloves, so there is definitely a void to be filled.”
So where will the next place be?
“I look for something to start popping up away from the Square,” Slavens says. “I expect to hear rumbles about weird underground shows at strange locations, someplace unexpected and most likely an area that most people would consider dangerous or inhospitable.”
Underground shows and strange locations are nothing new to the DIY house show venue scene in Denton. Last November one of the longest running Denton house show venues, Macaroni Island, shut its doors after more than three years of serving the Denton music scene.
“The house show scene in this town is and has always been cyclical and right now in my opinion,” Michael Briggs, former person in charge of Macaroni Island says, “it's not at its strongest. We have Gatsby's Mansion, which is awesome and I'm so glad that it's still around, but that's about it as far as stable house venues that regularly welcome touring bands and not just all local shows that are really more of keg parties than concerts. There are a handful of other houses in town that occasionally throw shows, which is great, but that's just not enough. We need a hub like Rubber Gloves.”
Although not consistent, maintaining a rotation of house show venues is important in order for the scene to not turn stale.
“It is clearly not profitable to run a bar/venue like Rubber Gloves that caters to the audience that it does,” Briggs says, “so finding a replacement is going to be hard. We have just been so lucky that RGRS was there for us, and I think some people may take it for granted.”
Just like Fry Street, the square will grow and see new business and other places that cater to other Dentonites. Although these businesses cater to plenty of residents in town, it slowly takes away part of the magic of the town: theculture. Denton is a music and arts town. Denton is not a cover-band-during-dinner-time type of town.
Venues like J&Js keep the underground going, literally, but is it enough to sustain Denton music?
“It should be noted that Gloves isn't closing because it couldn't make it anymore anymore or was being pushed out or anything,” Best says. “But that's all the more reason to make sure we're accommodating to new places and situations that really will interface and help support the arts in Denton, and not just restaurants or bars that paint a picture of Hendrix or Willie on the walls and say they're about the music. There's a place for everything, but let's not be shortsighted.”
Denton’s music scene isn’t going away; it’s just rebuilding itself.
“Denton is losing history,” says Gravley. “I mean, we've had Modest Mouse, At the Drive-In, TV on the Radio, and a ton of others play. We almost got Fugazi to play back in 1998. Neon Indian, Parquet Courts, and Astronautalis cut their teeth here. That kind of history is not something you can easily replace.”
“The one ray of hope is that it really only takes a very few people to make a scene happen,” Slavens says. “In fact, once it grows past the core of people that created it, the expansion and entropy sets in.”
“I think Denton will always have some kind of active music scene,” Best says, “but I do think it's important to preserve and nurture, rather than simply exploit.”
Denton needs 18-plus dance clubs and music venues. Denton really needs a music coop. If you want to foster the creativity, you have to cater to it. This is what the people want.
The people who built the scene that rests on the shoulders of venues like Rubber Gloves and Dan’s Silverleaf are a different generation. It is up to the new generation to decide what they want to see and how they’ll do it. This business is not conducive to making money; this won’t be an easy task. So, what are you going to do about it?
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