Although it's entering its third year as a full-blown four-day walkable festival, the newly re-branded 35 Conferette can trace its roots back to 2005. That year, Chris Flemmons, frontman of Denton band The Baptist Generals, organized a day show in Austin during the week of South by Southwest and booked a handful of Denton bands he thought worthy of more widespread notoriety.
Six years later, the festival has grown exponentially, incorporating big-name national acts like The Flaming Lips, Big Boi, The Walkmen and loads of others into the monster lineups it offers alongside literally hundreds of bands from around North Texas. But now that the fest is coming into its own—even garnering some national attention along the way—have Flemmons and the Conferette's other organizers lost sight of their early ambitions? Is shining light on Denton's top musicians still the festival's main objective? Above all, though, how much does participating in the festival benefit local musicians?
Or does it benefit them at all?
"Becoming nationally recognized is a long-term goal, but the point of that would still be to help the local scene," says Jesseca Bagherpour, publicist for 35 Conferette. "We would love to be in line with the likes of SXSW and CMJ, both of which are huge nationally—and internationally, really—but are also still in place to help underground acts gain attention from industry insiders and from a wider array of fans. That's what I think the Conferette can do for local artists. And having national names play is a way of legitimizing the fest and bringing it into the spotlight."
It would be hard to argue against the notion that an overwhelming crop of indie buzz bands has helped make this year's festival the most anticipated yet. But one still has to wonder if the preponderance of attention has been devoted to the national acts, and whether it's at the expense of local artists.
"Bigger acts equate to bigger crowds, and bigger crowds mean more people looking for more acts to see," says Jaime Falcon, one of the folks behind booking talent for the festival. "We try to program the fest so that our locals are in the attendees' faces as much as possible."
Beyond just being put in front of bigger crowds, though, there are other ways in which locals potentially benefit from the exposure the festival can bring.
"Whenever we bring in bigger acts, we are bringing in their agents and other industry contacts who will in turn scout out talent, i.e. local and small national acts," Bagherpour says. "This has the same desired effect as having a 35 showcase at SXSW did—except in a bigger way because we are bringing the industry to the local scene."
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So while Flemmons' original motivations may have been to spotlight Denton's abundant musical talent, his initial efforts were maybe a tad shortsighted. As it turns out, vitalizing the city of Denton as a whole just might be this most effective to way to stimulate enduring widespread impact to the North Texas music community.
"[The festival] puts a spotlight on the local music scene as well as the town itself, which in turn also helps the town's growth," Bagherpour says. "This year, it will be drawing people towards the downtown area, which I think is really the heart of Denton."
Which has kind of been the goal all along, Bagherpour says.
"[Our] goals are to enrich and foster the local music and arts scene and to improve the economics and quality of life in Denton," Bagherpour says. "We are passionate about Denton and the local music scene and we want to see both flourish."