With Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros, Minus the Bear, Polyphonic Spree and more
Friday to Sunday, September 25 to 27, 2015
Oaktopia Fest has been quickly gaining traction since its debut in 2013. The three-day music/arts/beard festival centered around Denton's town square has reached its third year, and with it, even managed to get a shout out from "the enemy" themselves at Rolling Stone magazine. Fans got treated to big name artists like Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, Sarah Jaffe, Thundercat, Minus the Bear, Allan Kingdom, Eisley and more, along with over a bazillion (I counted) DFW acts such as Blue the Misfit, Sudie, Kaela Sinclair and Bad Mountain, to name a few.
This year's Oaktopia had everything concertgoers could ever possibly want - and some shit we didn't want at all. There were bands and mini-skate ramps, art, food and all of the beer. And if you didn't run into Jason Lee at some point, well, you weren't walking with your eyes open. But if previous years had been plagued by poor planning and lack of security, then it didn't seem like the festival had learned from some of those mistakes, which made for a sad footnote to the weekend.
My personal Oaktopia 2015 experience began with a Jason Lee high-five and ended with a marriage proposal during Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros "Home". It was basically an ABC Family original movie (with perpetual pot clouds and a lot of DIY spray paint projects). But with 18 different live-music spots, over 100 musical acts, countless artists and vendors, it's no surprise that the fledgling arts and entertainment extravaganza had a few hiccups. The weather was perfect, the lineup owned and the layout flowed nicely through the square and into the events two main stages. Yes, you read that right: two main stages. The Travelstead Main Stage (the main-main stage) and the Audacity Stage (the other main stage). Both of which looked nearly identical and had no identifying information like: "Welcome to the Travelstead Stage!" or any kind of signage. My point being, with so many acts, clarity and scheduling is of the utmost importance - and herein lies the problem.
There was a palpable sense of miscommunication coming from the festival and its volunteers, which caused a lot of confusion amongst fans who simply didn't know where the hell they needed to go to see a specific band. Almost none of the set times, at any of the venues, started on-time, according to Oaktopia's handy dandy informational flyers. And in some cases, the acts didn't start for well over a hour after their scheduled time, some started earlier than planned and some artists didn't even play for their full set.
Whether this was some kind of diva move by the artists in question or time mismanagement by the venues and/or festival, we may never know. But what we do know is that whoever was running Oaktopia's official App, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram only made matters worse by failing to provide timely updates and consistently referring to stages by the wrong name, sending fans in the opposite direction of an artist they wanted to see. Like with the snafu at Panhandle House (a promoted festival venue) which was suddenly cancelled with no official announcement or explanation from Oaktopia. Some of the bands originally on the lineup for Panhandle House were rescheduled to play Sunday night at Harvest House - but even then, set times were changed or adjusted almost immediately, bands were added, and fans still missed out on seeing artists they wanted to see due to shoddy planning. And then for Sunday's Israel Nash (at the Audacity Stage via Oaktopia's schedule) and Sarah Jaffe (at the Travelstead Stage via Oaktopia's schedule) sets, both were promoted by Oaktopia via Instagram and both promotions sent fans to the wrong stage.
All of that aside, this festival as a whole was awesome. The staff was super friendly, and although many were not informed, they all seemed to put in a valiant effort to ensure fans were having a kick-ass time. There were plenty of reasonably priced refreshments, lounge areas, bathrooms and access to emergency services. And the lineup brought together well established acts like ESATMZs and Minus the Bear with some newer, ultra-cool artists such as Stardeath and White Dwarves and Ruby Amanfu. Also, judging by the amount of weed in the air, if you weren't toasted when you walked into Oaktopia, you got a pretty legit contact-high from walking around in it.
At the end of the day, the music, the sound and the atmosphere was on-point. From the hip-hop explosion of Fab Deuce and -Topic at Hailey's, to the electro dream machines DJ Mom Jeans and Shlohmo, the bearded folk-rock champions Bad Mountain and Will Johnson at Harvest House and Dan's Silverleaf, respectively, the mainstream acts like Minus the Bear and the Polyphonic Spree to even the more experimental side of the DFW's music scene with The Hymens and The Faps at Rubber Gloves and Andy's (also respectively), this festival delivered a hell of a lot of different music options.
A highlight of the weekend came when Sherri Dupree Bemis (Eisley front-woman) had a bit of a lyrical slip-up during "Currents", the band's opening song. Dupree Bemis transposed a "p" with an "f", ultimately saying: "I fart the waters". She then quickly followed with: "I just said 'I fart the waters.' You don't just say "I fart the waters" and sing. I'm going to start over." Several songs later, Dupree Bemis continued to apologize for the slip up, explaining that when she gets nervous she tends to talk about inappropriate things. So, as a side note to you, Sherri: farting is never not funny. And you rolled with it beautifully.
All in all, what I took away from this experience was that, yes, Oaktopia's founders are ambitious, but that's not all they are. I mean look, what started out as a small, accidental festival, is turning into a pretty impressive beast of its own. And while to some, they may still be on the JV squad, Battaglia and Claytor have been leveling up significantly each year, proving to even the toughest critics that they are not only willing to learn from their mistakes, but that they want to exceed our expectations. For a still-young festival, sometimes the latter can outweigh the former — at least for a while.