Denton Needs a Bigger Venue to Keep From Flatlining

Sure, you can fill a venue like Hailey's, but what if it's the same few people always showing up?
Sure, you can fill a venue like Hailey's, but what if it's the same few people always showing up?
Ed Steele

Denton has reached critical mass. With so many local bands in its orbit, it was kind of inevitable. But as the music scene grows, it lacks a central venue to keep national artists coming through the area and giving the locals a place to work with them.

The scene isn't struggling by any means, but it's hit a glass ceiling in growth. Little D severely lacks a large-scale venue to truly tap into its 100,000 residents, to bind the city together with frequent and high-profile shows that will attract both casual and diehard local music fans. A unifying experience that will unanimously sum up that, yes, this is what Denton has to offer.

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Let's do a quick diagnosis. Denton has plenty of smaller venues that are partially in bars and several that are standalone stages. On the edges, you have the house venues that often book more acts, but are more tight-knit. Houses try and make ends meet, but the local music novice will rarely stray that way due to unfamiliarity and the daunting notion of just showing up at a someone's house.

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So the question is, where is the point of entry for the Denton music scene newbie? The UNT freshman? The wayward Dentonite? Sure, a brave soul might make a solo venture to Rubber Gloves or J&J's basement, but it will still be a local band they'll have to roll the dice with depending on their music taste.

Plenty more people just want to catch a national act they've mildly heard of on a Friday night where they would be introduced to a few local opening acts. And there've been a couple rumblings of that, with Thee Oh Sees playing Hailey's in November. Outside of 35 Denton, never in my life have I seen a Denton crowd more furiously riled up than at this show, thrashing around and just losing it. The floor was packed to the point that crowdsurfing efforts by the band weren't foolhardy — they seemed necessary. But this was an anomaly, and Hailey's was buckling against its capacity limits to contain this sweaty tsunami.

Compounding these problems is the push/pull between Denton and Deep Ellum. During Deep Ellum's darker years, Denton managed to thrive by picking up shows from the bands that would typically frequent the Dallas downtown area. But now, with Deep Ellum in full swing, Denton is losing relevance for Dallasites who are less inclined to make the hour-long trek north through hellish traffic to see a show.

However, Denton has shown that it can have a bigger draw by organizing destination events like 35 Denton. Hordes of rabid festival-goers circled around the main stages and overran the smaller venues. The deluge of out-of-towners didn't just make the festival hype more palpable, it instilled an idea of what Denton was capable of. When you're surrounded by 500-plus fellow fans, it's kind of hard not to see the possibilities.

With these temporary larger venues, bands and fans alike gladly flocked to shows because there was a clear presence of a crackling music scene. That's because outside of the patchwork collection of exceptional local bands, there were major stages for acts like Solange Knowles, Mac Demarco, and Thurston Moore.

These artists couldn't play at Rubber Gloves or Hailey's, despite their iconic venue status within the town, due to sheer physical limitations. Even a cautiously maxed-out crowd at Hailey's will cap out at 300, and that's no fault of its own. Hailey's wasn't meant to house this kind of show. But then again, no venue in Denton is designed for it.

And that isn't for lack of trying. During that last year of 35 Denton, festival coordinators tried to kickstart new venue The Hive, a 1,000 capacity, 12,000-square-foot warehouse venue across the rail tracks from Rubber Gloves. And it made perfect sense — the two could feasibly work in conjunction and have a couple small bill collaborations with a handful of bands, maybe do a few mini-festivals throughout the year. Frankly, it was a logistical slam dunk.

But due to some management relocation and liquor license lock-ups, The Hive shuttered its doors shortly after 35 Denton went kaput. We were given a whimper in the place of the big bang Denton had been building toward.

During its short life, The Hive had an unmistakable air of untapped potential. The bar was roaring and the shows were killer and the whole atmosphere was something distinctly new in a small town music hub. Sure, the acoustics needed some tweaking, but so much felt possible at this venue. Something that wasn't otherwise possible outside of an annual festival.

This was a venue where nationally touring acts could match up with local bands in the same genre. A venue that could pull in the tepid Denton music fans to catch the band they've been dying to see and catch a glimpse of their city at the same time. Local bands could even join forces with bigger acts to propel their own careers and reach new audiences.

This was an atmosphere that was brimming with excitement when paired with the right bands. An energy that extended to new and veteran local acts, igniting new fervor in them.

This was Denton's answer to Deep Ellum pilfering so many shows. Not that it necessarily has to be a competition, but it showed that it could be an even playing field. This crowd could rival the capacity and ambiance of a Club Dada or Three Links if given proper attention.

And it's not only self-serving to musicians; Denton's businesses would thrive as well. Between all the Denton institutions, there's bound to be an arrangement that would make a large-scale venue a weekly attraction. Maybe John Williams could set up 900 kinds of craft beer, maybe the city's food trucks could be corralled to the back lot after or during shows. Maybe it could feature Denton's umpteenth coffee bar or Frenchy's could announce shows.

So here's my pitch for 2016: The Hive 2.0 - "Denton's premier large-scale, locally roasted coffee bar and beer garden with food trucks sometimes and also music brought to you by Frenchy's." The name might need some work, but the idea still rules.


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