Comebacks are a bitch. More often than not, they're a plain bad idea. But when we kept hearing, throughout the summer and fall of last year, that the organizers of 35 Denton were planning to bring back the festival after its one-year hiatus in 2014, we couldn't help getting excited. We wanted that hiatus to be a blip in the radar. We wanted to see it succeed. We wanted it to come back.
But with two rounds of announcements having been made now for the 2015 lineup, including a second batch revealed last week, the odds of an actual "comeback" seem more remote. Yes, 35 Denton will return in 2015. But to what ends? For the sake of not letting it die?
Time was the 35 Denton announcements were a pretty big deal. The bands would be rolled out through a series of reveals, usually starting on Black Friday and continuing through as many as a half-dozen installments. Bands like the Flaming Lips and Built to Spill were chosen to headline the biggest music festival in North Texas. Even when news of the sabbatical came along, it was clearly an event worth saving.
There's a lot less to be excited about with this revived version of the event, though. The initial round of bands announced back in December was supposed to be the big statement of intentions, the proof that 35 Denton hadn't lost any steps while it was away. Instead we got something that looked like more of a niche event, headlined by the Zombies, a 1960s legacy act who put on a damn fine show but who only played a small room like The Kessler Theater (twice, admittedly) when they last visited Dallas. That's not quite the draw you need for a legit festival. And behind them? Bands like Corner from Los Angeles, Mystery Lights from New York and Beach Bodies from Hollywood, Florida, none of whom are A-listers.
Granted, that was just the first round of bands. There were more to come. But if that wasn't enough to get your attention, last Tuesday's second round had no shot. There was indie act Cymbals Eat Guitars and ... a lot of Denton bands. Sure, 35 Denton (like NX35, 35 Conferette, etc.) has always been about showcasing local acts alongside big name artists, which is obviously great. But this is so heavy on homegrown bands (and even then short on local "names") that it's a different thing altogether. If a third round of artists is yet to come, it's liable to be an open mic.
But that's not what 35 Denton is -- or was, anyway. This was once a destination festival, an event that could pull in attendees from all around the region. This lineup, whether it has to do with a small budget or other factors, isn't going to do that. And it will face much stiffer competition than it did before its hiatus.
In the time since 35 Denton last took place in the spring of 2013, Denton has played host to two installments of Oaktopia. By most reports the first one was sparsely attended at best, but in 2014 there was no doubt that the new kids in town now have the buzz in their favor. What's more, Oaktopia has a strong identity -- and it's built on a similar model to the 35 Denton of old, with outdoor shows in the daytime mixed in with nighttime shows in the bars and clubs.
It's not the only local competition, either. While Oaktopia is several months away at the end of September, Denton plays host to another event less than a month before 35 Denton, the Thin Line Fest. It's more than just a music festival; in fact, it started out (only a couple years ago) as an indie film fest, but it's grown to include music as well as art. Even its lineup, while small, boasts some good midsize names like Devin the Dude, Joe Ely and Black Joe Lewis.
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Meanwhile, 35 Denton is looking at trying to draw from much the same crop of bands that will hit Dallas for Spillover Fest (indie bands, garage rock etc.). Last year Spillover drew the likes of Ty Segall, Dum Dum Girls, Astronautalis and the Coathangers -- all artists that had previously played 35 Denton but which now appear to be out its league. Luckily, the two events aren't on the same weekend, but if faced with a choice, how many fans are likely to make the trip through that godawful construction zone known as I-35?
"Fine," you say. "This is a Denton festival. It doesn't need Dallas." Maybe. But it's not 35 Denton. It's the bearded ghost of 35 Denton. Perhaps this second generation of the festival will turn into a successful showcase of local bands with some touring acts thrown in to headline. But that's a different event altogether.
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