It doesn't really feel like festival season in North Texas until 35 Denton rolls around. Sure, there was a year in there where they went on hiatus, and sure, Thin Line Fest already happened last month with its mix of film and live music. But when 35 Denton rolls out more than 100 bands over three days you know it's time to start getting used to outdoor music again.
That's a lot of music to take in, of course, so to get ready for the festivities we've picked out some of the must-see acts this weekend, from the best of the headliners to the most intriguing of the locals.
9 p.m. Friday, at Dan's Silver Leaf
Will Johnson is a songwriter’s songwriter, arguably one of the greatest alive today — in Texas or elsewhere. His work with Centro-matic and his solo releases are evidence enough. But the guy once toured in a band that included Vic Chesnutt and Mark Eitzel. He collaborated with Jason Molina and was part of indie rock supergroup Monsters of Folk. People who want to learn how to write songs have moved to Denton because Johnson lives there. He’s one of the biggest talents in DFW and you should watch his set.
11 p.m. Friday, at Patterson-Appleton Arts Center
This band from Seattle offers a blend of punk, indie and riot grrrl music from the ‘90s. There is a great pop sensibility here that makes the punk sound catchy and fun, but Tacocat definitely rocks. The subject matter varies wildly, from pop culture references to science fiction and cultural shifts. But the attitude is sassy and the vocals sound like gossip. This will be a fun set.
Birds of Night
2 pm. Saturday, at Main Stage 2
Birds of Night play some weird rock, tossing countless influences from the last four decades into the mix. Over the last four years, they have released three great records and shared bills with some of the best touring bands to come through Dallas. Their new songs can go from a fuzzy Black Sabbath sound to cheerful indie pop-rock disarmingly quick. This band clicks and the best way to see them is live.
8 p.m. Saturday at J&J's Pizza
This is a band you absolutely need to see. Denton’s Thin Skin have released some fine recordings, including a live one, but none of them have captured the unpredictable energy of their shows. Most of these songs are about a minute long and sloppy in the best possible way. Ashley Givens’ voice is completely insane and “Trump Is a Pig” is the greatest song ever written about Donald Trump.
8:30 p.m. Saturday, at the Main Stage 1
If you have already seen him live — and especially if you haven’t — you do not want to miss Charles Bradley. The guy has soul to spare in a time when there is not enough to go around. Inspired by a James Brown performance he saw at the Apollo in 1962, Bradley brings a great deal of funk. But even after a long and difficult road to a successful career, what he has more than anything is a good heart. Not only will Bradley knock your socks off with vocals comparable to Otis Redding, he will also go out of his way to show everyone how happy he is to be there. Don’t be surprised if he gets into the crowd to start hugging people.
3 p.m. Sunday, at Main Stage 1
From Chicago, Modern Vices play a shimmering blend of throwback rock, garage and new wave with vocals bathed in reverb. The sound is surprisingly majestic with a detached demeanor and instruments that blur together. With tangled rock that's sonically comparable to the Smiths and Television, Modern Vice are moody and intense.
8:30 p.m. Sunday, at Main Stage 1
Biz Markie alone is reason enough to go to 35 Denton. “The Clown Prince of Hip-Hop” is more than just the guy who had that hit song, “Just a Friend,” in the ‘80s. The Biz has been rapping, beatboxing and DJing for well over three decades. Long before “Just a Friend” was a hit, he had wildly inventive underground hits that brought a new sense of melody and humor to hip-hop. A hero to many hip-hop artists, The Biz even appeared on a few albums from the Beastie Boys.
Helen Kelter Skelter
9 p.m. Sunday, at J&J's Pizza
This psychedelic folk rock band from Norman, Oklahoma, rocks pretty hard for being so trippy. They also sound at once nostalgic and state of the art. Drawing on a kaleidoscope of influences, Helen Kelter Skelter have surprisingly catchy songs with sonic currents that are by turns wonderfully exhilarating or a little overwhelming.
11 p.m. Sunday, at J&J's Pizza
From New York, Acid Dad’s blend of psych-punk and alternative rock is easy on the ears. This is upbeat riff-rock with dreamy psych melodies. The music is high-energy and hypnotic with echoed vocals. Acid Dad is known both for dynamic chargers and songs that psych-sway.
12 a.m. Sunday, at Abbey Underground
Denton’s electronic dream-pop duo Nite have great recordings and a sound that will give you a pretty solid ‘80s flashback. But this is not a case of style over substance. These are great songs and Nite have a great live show. They sound great at a club in Deep Ellum, but Nite even sounded OK at last year's woefully executed and tragically under-attended Dallas Music District Festival. If that event had bared any resemblance to an actual music festival, Nite would have killed it. Expect a strong set.
35 DENTON takes place Friday to Sunday, March 11 to 13, in and around downtown Denton. Find a full schedule of venues and performers at 35denton.com.