NX35 Festival Organizer Chris Flemmons Prepares for the Bestand Maybe the Worst
In the modest, 700-square-foot headquarters of Denton's NX35 festival, an immense dry-erase board lines the length of the office's north wall. The whiteboard has been gridded off like a gigantic calendar, charting the 100-plus bands, artists and speakers scheduled to participate in nine venues near downtown Denton. Its purpose: allowing NX35's coordinators to see the whens-and-wheres of their four-day music project.
Visually, the massive schedule makes the event and the office seem, well, official. But two weeks before the NX35 Music Conferette kicks off, there remained visible gaps in the grid.
"There's still a lot of filling in the gaps and planning to do and a lot of technical, logistical stuff," the event's founder and coordinator Chris Flemmons said at the time. "But it's a first-year event, so what I'm the least concerned about is that, when we get this thing started up, that everything's gonna be firing on all pistons."
Since forming The Baptist Generals more than a decade ago, Flemmons has learned plenty about music festivals—mostly through playing them. And he says he isn't worried about the little problems or bumps in the road that could erupt while throwing a festival of this magnitude: "We've already covered our costs," Flemmons says now, heading into the weekend event. "So, I'm not worried about that." He admits, however, that there is one thing he is worried about: "My biggest fear is that, after it's over, people will leave this thing not wanting to do it again next year."
Like with the Fry Street Fair. Or Wake Up '04. Or Wall of Sound. Over the last few years, many smaller music festivals have come and gone in this music hub of a town. None has lasted.
"It's very difficult to get this kind of thing off the ground," Flemmons says. "We've all seen the failures in the past, when people have tried to do this sort of thing around here."
But lest one think that Flemmons is just another daydreaming Don Quixote preparing to take on an insurmountable windmill, it should be noted that he didn't just throw NX35 together on a lark. The idea has been percolating since 2002, when Flemmons put together an afternoon party in Austin during South by Southwest aimed to showcase Denton artists. "We did it there for four years," he says. "But, really, that was all about profile-building for the city."
For him, the end goal has always been to eventually throw an event like this year's "conferette." But when the idea first struck back in 2002, before all the attention Denton has received in the last two years from publications such as The New York Times and Paste magazine, such an endeavor seemed impractical.
"Before, it would've been fuckin' stupid," he says before pausing, chuckling and then adding, "and I don't know that it isn't now."
Last year, though, Flemmons says that, finally, the "timing felt right." Even so, bringing NX35 to Denton hasn't been a cakewalk for him or for any of the 50 volunteers he's amassed to help his cause: "Filling six hours once a year was no big deal. But doing this, this, well, this is crazy. It's unwieldy. And it's been a lot of work. "
Ask Flemmons or any of the volunteers, and they'll tell you that he's been working on NX35 20 hours a day, six (and sometimes seven) days a week, since August. Flemmons jokes that he still drops by his house to pick up the mail, but, all joking aside, there's a gray and blue moving blanket draped over the office's brownish-gray couch, and a razor rests on the sink in the bathroom. Luckily for Flemmons and his dog, Brunswick, they aren't the only ones spending most of their time at the office.
"It wasn't a lot at the beginning, but now it's a 40- to 50-hour-a-week job," says volunteer coordinator Shannon Goleman. "All of the volunteers have really rolled up their sleeves and taken a stake in making this happen."
And their efforts seem to be paying off: At press time, nearly 200 wristbands had been sold in advance of the festival—a good sign for this year's initial draw and, potentially, a positive indicator of the festival's shelf life. Indeed, at this point, Flemmons says that he's confident there will be a "next time" for NX35—though he's not sure what form it will take.
"I'm at a place where I feel that whatever happens, happens," he says. "Even if it ends up being a grand failure, at least we tried it. And, honestly, this year is just a place for us to start from. It is what it is, you know? And you try to make the best out of it. You try to ignore everyone who fucking wants or expects it to be perfect the first year."
Anticipating these naysayers, Flemmons beat them to the punch back in January by creating the "official NX35 hate thread" on the Denton Rock City message board. But is there much to hate? Not really—although Flemmons is aware that some have criticized NX35 for relying so heavily on local acts in its first year. (See page 64 for Flemmons' take on the best of the touring acts stopping by NX35.)
"Sure, the jab, the knock on us has been that it's a bunch of Denton bands, like it's gonna be a four-day-long, concentrated grab-ass session," he says. "But then, when you stand back and look at that white wall with all those great bands written on it, you remember why we were having it here to begin with. Because you wouldn't be able to do this anywhere else but in Denton."
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