Every April thousands of north Texas musicians, aficionados, artists and party-lovers from all life's walks come out of the woodwork and converge on a 20-acre historic park in Denton to enjoy seven stages of music and an arts exhibition space of 17,000 square feet. Thousands more travel from across the state for the Denton Arts & Jazz Festival, which averages 200,000 attendees and is now in its 34th year.
It's like starting summer a month early. Think of it as a walk in the park mixed with a hike through the annals of Texas music, with a side helping of local art. A glimpse of some of the best performers Texas has to offer and a giant juried art show mixed with sunburn, beer and thousands of people. It's one big party in the park you don't want to miss.
So if you've ever wondered about that strange village to the north dubbed Austin's clone in the making, with its one-off slogan, "keeping Denton beard," the Denton Arts & Jazz Fest might be the best way to get to know your freaky northern cousins--and the festival that might make the place more unique that you thought. Here's a quick shakedown of what to expect.
2,700 bands Yes, that's right. 2,700 bands. How can that many bands play in 3 days, you ask? We don't know, but somehow it happens year after year. It could have something to do with the fact that some of them are roving through the crowds playing impromptu sets and some of them are found in the full-fledged children's area, which includes bounce houses, rock climbing, instrument making, face painting and everything in-between. So bring the kiddies. Headliners for the 2014 fest include Al Jarreau (read DC9's interview with him here), a 74-year-old legacy in vocal beats, who does things with his voice you've only dreamed about.
The Quebe Sisters Band at 7 p.m. Saturday is a trio gone quintet that rocks the fiddle with a style that just might beat the devil out of any contest with charmingly re-invented Texas classics and vocal harmonies that leave a trail of honey in the air. They're followed by Asleep at the Wheel at 9 p.m., which is on a quest to keep Western swing awake and alive through four decades of touring.
Then you've got Brave Combo closing the fest at 7 p.m. Sunday. Polka? Yep, polka, but this ain't no chicken dance. The Grammy-award winning band mixes a wide array of global genres including mambo, meringue, waltz, zydeco, classical, cha cha and the blues, while also covering American artists including Jimmy Hendrix, The Rolling Stones and the Doors. It's the polka band that causes the crowd to erupt in a mosh pit every year.
Another huge attraction is the UNT Jazz showcase stage, with UNT musicians all weekend, including Lab Band Madness on Saturday from 1 p.m. to 9 p.m., each hour working its way down from the 9 O'clock Lab Band to a climax with the Grammy-nominated One O'clock Lab Band. Check out the full festival music line-up here.
What about the art? Why, thanks for asking. The juried art show takes place throughout the weekend, featuring fine arts dealers and well as craftsmen who work on their pieces at the festival. In the past, some of the canals have decorated with murals during the weekend.
Booth space in the art show is relegated to categories, such as original and handcrafted, crafts that are store bought and artistically embellished such as hand strung jewelery, commercial molds and clothing is relegated to the crafts category, lucky for us. There is also plenty of space for non-profits. What we're saying is that this is a pretty big park. It's almost impossible to find an organization in Denton that doesn't sponsor some part of the jazz fest. It's a magic weekend of solidarity.
Feed me! Hungry? There will be food courts with every kind of festival food you can imagine; turkey legs, funnel cake, German sausage, baked goods, egg rolls, shish kabobs, burgers, Asian, Cajun, Mexican, Greek and Italian, not to mention fresh squeezed lemonade, beer and wine.
Gimme the facts.
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Here are a few of the things you need to know if you plan to head north this weekend.
It happens at 321 East McKinney (Corner of McKinney and Bell). But you won't be able to park anywhere nearby unless you get there long before the headlining acts, so plan on a bit of a hike. Plan to park about a mile away and then the half mile you actually end up walking will be a cinch. The best thing is, it's free to enter. But bring money for extra funnel cake and all the beers you'll buy when you're still there 5 hours later because you're having so much damn fun.
If you want to catch the main stage bands show up early to cop a squat on the lawn. If you're staying for Brave Combo, be sure to notice when people clear out of their blanketed spots - you should do the same before a mosh pit erupts. Don't be caught lounging with a cup of wine in your hand next to your girlfriend's sweater when the middle-aged-but-still-rock-n-roll Dentonite next to you really gets excited about a particularly loud Brave Combo song.
Usually the weekend is humid and sticky. Often it rains. You will get sunburned. Freaks and jazz geeks will abound. There won't be any dogs. But you'll be glad you left fido at home and spent the weekend out north.