Revelers attend Oaktopia in Denton.EXPAND
Revelers attend Oaktopia in Denton.
Kathy Tran

After Losing Its Primary Investor, Oaktopia Finds New Shepherds in Clint and Whitney Barlow

In March, Oaktopia co-founder Matt Battaglia revealed to the Observer that his successful music festival, which  Rae Sremmurd and Norah Jones headlined in 2016, was considering a move to Dallas.

"Even though close to 40 percent of our social media following is from Denton, we only get about one-third of ticket sales from Denton," Battaglia said. "We got about 25 percent-plus more sold out of Dallas."

Now that move is a certainty. Earlier this week, organizers announced that Oaktopia will take place Nov. 17-18 at the three Deep Ellum venues owned by Clint and Whitney Barlow: The Bomb Factory, Trees and the new Canton Hall.

“We did everything we could to stay in Denton,” Battaglia told the Observer this week.

Moving to Dallas wasn’t the original plan for the festival, but it began to seem practical once Oaktopia parted ways with its primary investor in Denton, John "Sparky" Pearson. Pearson owns a number of businesses in Denton and played a big role in Oaktopia's early success.

“We pitched it to anyone [in Denton] that would listen and just couldn’t get anyone to put up the funds to keep up the same size or grow it,” Battaglia says.

Slow Drip Shows, the talent-buying company responsible for booking Oaktopia, which Battaglia also owns, started taking meetings in Dallas. When it received an offer from the Barlows, who have been instrumental in revitalizing Deep Ellum, the move began to make sense — especially after reviewing who was buying tickets.

“It is literally a dream come true,” Battaglia says. “They are the best people to me and some of the best people in the country to work with, so it is an opportunity that we’re really excited to have.”

A few months ago, Oaktopia's future seemed very uncertain. But this year's strong lineup demonstrates that it has found sure footing in Dallas. Headliners include New York electro rock duo Phantogram and Atlanta-based rapper 21 Savage. Canadian DJ A-Trak, featured in Rolling Stone’s 50 Most Important People in EDM, will also perform with “Harlem Shake” hitmaker Baauer.

But what impact will Oaktopia's departure have on Denton and its music scene?

“I think something else will evolve to replace that particular festival expression,” says Kim Phillips, vice president of Denton’s Convention and Visitor’s Bureau. “It was a good festival, by far not the biggest festival in Denton, but it addressed a certain genre and style of music ... one that is certainly very alive in Denton and is not going away at all.”

She sympathizes with the obstacles Oaktopia faced in Denton — “Once you’ve brought in someone like Norah Jones, what else are you really going to be able to do?" she says — and hopes something similar will spring up in the future to replace it.

Although Oaktopia brought thousands of people to downtown Denton, Phillips says she doesn't think its departure will be a significant economic hit to the city.

“Most of the people [that attended Oaktopia] came from the area,” Phillips says, contradicting Battaglia. “It didn’t exactly draw much tourism.”

Oaktopia will announce dozens more artists — both national and local — in the coming weeks, Battaglia says. A limited number of advance general admission tickets are on sale today. A one-day pass is $49.50; a two-day pass is $89.50.

Oaktopia, Friday, Nov. 17, and Saturday, Nov. 18, at Bomb Factory, Trees and Canton Hall, early bird admission $49.50 or $89.50, oaktopia.com

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