On Sunday evening in downtown Denton, as the crowds gathered to catch Atlanta rapper and 35 Conferette headliner Big Boi perform in the Wells Fargo parking lot that had been temporarily converted into a concert space, a different personality entirely sauntered onto the stage. Rather than the final outdoor performer of the weekend, the festivalgoers were treated to an appearance from Chris Flemmons, the mastermind behind the event.
He wasn't there to share any bad news—Big Boi, he assured the audience, would emerge in just a few minutes. But, for the first time in the festival's three-year formal lifespan, Flemmons wanted to speak to the crowd and share his appreciation for their support of his and the city's endeavors. And he was greeted with something of a hero's welcome.
"It's taken us eight years to get downtown to do this," he said, his voice booming through the P.A. system and cutting through the just-turned-to-dusk sky. "You guys supporting this has meant so much to us."
The crowd, which numbered in the thousands, just as it had throughout Friday and Saturday, cheered. Flemmons continued.
"This festival might be about the music," he said, reiterating the same point he'd made so many times in the build-up to this year's event. "But we want real jobs in this town. So you don't have to move—or have a horrible commute to get to your job."
Indeed, that economic-centric mentality seemed to be the overriding theme of this year's 35 Conferette, which, for the first year in its history, was presented completely in the college town's downtown area, just as Flemmons and his fellow organizers had always envisioned it would be. It was a mantra repeated throughout the weekend, as organizers hopped onto the microphones at various stages, pleading with audiences to support the local businesses that allowed the festival to take over the neighborhood.
In the immediate aftermath of the festival, it appears as if that much panned out. Restaurants around Denton's Courthouse-on-the-Square and neighboring blocks were busy throughout the fest's four-day run; other businesses similarly benefited, including the just-opened record store on the Square, Mad World Records, which enjoyed particularly crowded scenes throughout the festival run.
No, the weekend wasn't perfect—opening day on Thursday was especially plagued by late set starts and performances being shuffled around—but conditions certainly improved as the weekend continued, with things running pretty much as planned by the time Sunday evening came around.
Or, as Flemmons put it in his last statement on stage before introducing Big Boi: "We're still figuring it out."
Surely. In this third run, the 35 Conferette was still for the most part perceived by its attendees as the little festival that could—though it likely will be greeted with less and less patience in the years to come. Flemmons, speaking the day after the festival, said as much.
"The execution went about as well as it could, considering that it was the first time we were down here," Flemmons, sitting in his office, said on Monday, acknowledging the mostly amateur backgrounds boasted by his crew of core staff volunteers and himself alike. "We had stuff that didn't work, and stuff that did."
Communication could improve, he said. Some of the production details too. But without question, he said, the behind-the-scenes operations went more smoothly this year than they had in the past. "I'm extremely happy where we were this year, as compared to last," he said. "This is the first year where I haven't been completely exhausted the day after."
That much could be seen all throughout the weekend. As opposed to early editions of the fest, when Flemmons could be seen walking around shaking his head and glaring at anyone who dared step in his path, he looked decidedly calm at this year's performances—some of which he was even able to watch and enjoy.
And why not? From a purely theoretical standpoint, this festival saw all his wishes come true. Hell, even some wishes he hadn't yet conjured came true—like the full-on support of the city, and not just its officials.
"All the comments I heard were, without question, very positive," says Denton Mayor Pro Tem Pete Kamp of the reaction she's heard from local business owners in days following the festival. "The term that was most used was 'vibe'—that it all had such a wonderful 'vibe.' Even at church—and I heard from all different walks of like—everything I heard was positive. There were no complaints that I'm aware of whatsoever. And I believe that it'll just get better and better every year. We as a city will continue to support it."
After Big Boi's Sunday night performance, Kamp even did her part to show her support. She went backstage, made a beeline to the performer's tour bus, got inside and introduced herself—just so she could thank the performer and his crew and formally welcome them to town.
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"When I did that, they all just kind of looked around at each other," Kamp recalls with a laugh. "One of them said, 'I don't know if we've ever been officially welcomed to a city before.' And I said, 'Well, this is a different city. This is Denton.'"
In the past, that small-town charm may have proved an excuse for some of the miscues, but both Kamp and Flemmons say that things will only improve in the future. Flemmons, in particular, has reason to believe so: Representatives from other festivals around the country were in attendance all week long, he said, scouting out the festival and "spending money on their business accounts" with the intention of perhaps joining the festivals' organizational fray as early as next year.
"There's definitely some outside interest now," Flemmons says, noting the scouts' particular interest in 35 Conferette's newfound South by Southwest meets traditional outdoor festival blend. "And I never, ever turn down advice. So who knows? Maybe these people from these other national festivals might come and help us figure this animal out in the years to come."
If nothing else, this much is certain: There will be years to come, Flemmons promises. And for a festival that only now is starting to realize its potential and identity, that's the only news that matters.