Earlier this month, we delved into the changing landscape of music festivals in Denton when Oaktopia may be making a move from the city after it lost its main investor. That bad news came on the heels of a February announcement that 35 Denton would not be returning in 2017. Now the reason is coming to the surface: no investors thought it would make any money.
“Somewhere somebody has to invest that money and hope they get the return,” says former director of programming Charlie Hunter. “And no one was willing to do that this year, so: no fest.”
35 Denton, which showcases local musicians alongside national acts, first sprang into the spotlight in 2009. The fest has traditionally been held in March, the week before South by Southwest, and Hunter says they were planning a move to May to help 35 Denton get out of the shadow of SXSW.
Hunter thought the move would help differentiate the lineup from SXSW, and also help boost ticket sales since more students would be out of school in May. But it was sponsor dollars — not ticket sales — that funded the fest, and the lack of them this year is ultimately what caused the fest to be cancelled.
The festival’s staff had trouble finding sponsors after 35 Denton’s ownership board refused to put up the necessary funds to book big-name acts like Charles Bradley and Biz Markie, who performed last year, Hunter says. Thus, potential sponsors were reluctant to donate money, fearing this year’s festival would be a flop.
“So really, at the end of the day, the ownership board effectively pulled the plug by taking away our startup funding,” Hunter says, adding that last year’s festival cost around $200,000 to put on.
Pete Kamp, the spokesperson and liaison for the board of investors and board of directors for 35 Denton, did not respond to the Observer's requests for comment.
Dallas Guill, the former booking director for 35 Denton, says that the news of the festival’s indefinite hiatus hit him hard.
“I hate to see the festival go,” Guill said. “I mean, I’ve got three cloth wristbands on my wrist dating back to 2012— wearing them right now. The really old one’s about to fall off.”
Lack of sponsor support isn’t new to 35 Denton. In 2013 the festival’s main local sponsor, Little Guys Movers, withdrew funding, effectively shuttering the festival for a year, Guill says.
The festival made a comeback in 2015, however, and earned mentions in The New York Times and the Huffington Post during its tenure.
Prior to the announcement of 35 Denton’s hiatus, each member of its core staff had resigned, Guill said. But he adds that they’ve been brainstorming ways to keep the “spirit of the festival” alive in new projects and events like Thin Line Film Festival, which returns from April 19-23, and Friends with Benefits, a North Texas nonprofit group that raises money for different charities each year through concerts and other events.
Though 35 Denton’s previous core staff have shifted their focus, Guill is assured that the festival will return, in some form or other, in 2018. He believes that 35 Denton’s brand, still owned by its board of investors, will live on through a new set of staff with fresh ideas and goals.
Hunter, however, has a more cynical view of the festival’s future.
“Personally, what the community has come to know of as 35 Denton I don’t think we’ll see again,” Hunter says. “At least not under that banner.”
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Though the fate of 35 Denton is unknown, it won’t quickly be forgotten.
“That festival definitely helped put Denton on the map musically,” Denton musician Zachariah Walker says. “I saw one of my friend’s bands share a stage with Portugal. The Man — now that’s cool. And helpful, you know?”
Walker also says that the festival’s inaugural festival in ’09 had an enormous impact on him personally. That year the Flaming Lips headlined and infamously caused the stage’s power generator to blow twice.
“That was like right when I was moving to Denton, and it was like … ‘I need to move here.’”