Introducing The Hive, 35 Denton's Improbable and Enormous New Music Venue

The Hive is a gaping 12,000-square-foot warehouse at the edge of the 35 Denton umbrella, situated a few feet from the train tracks on the corner of Bell and Sycamore Streets. Next weekend, it will become the largest indoor music venue in Denton -- maybe for four days, and maybe for years to come.

Thousands of festival-goers will walk through its doors to hear bands including Philadelphia weirdos Man Man, peruse a pop-up art fair and step up to one of its two full-service bars. Exactly two months ago, they'd have been standing in the middle of the still-operating Hyper-Head factory alongside massive heavy machinery churning out compressor tank valves.

"It got scary in late December," says 35 Denton creative director Kyle LaValley. "Anyone who came to the venue was like, 'You're fucking out of your mind.'"

It's safe to say that wasn't the first time LaValley has heard those words in the two years since she took over the upstart music festival. The first may have been when she agreed to take over the planning and oversight of an event featuring a couple hundred bands, for a starting salary of zero dollars. Last year's installment, the first to feature the now-permanent moniker 35 Denton, was successful enough that she and a few other core staffers now have actual salaries.

Last year's fest was so successful, in fact, that nearly every venue was at capacity and turning away patrons at the door. Along with programming director Natalie Davila, LaValley, who's 26, quickly started thinking about adding a large space for the overflow. But it wasn't until a creative mixer in the fall of 2012, hosted by Denton City Councilman Kevin Roden, that the opportunity presented itself.

They met Joe Northern, a real-estate investor who, with business partner Randy Smith, had recently bought the old Bell Street factory. His plan was to convert it into an entertainment hub with a music venue, restaurant and possibly something else -- a microbrewery, maybe. But neither had experience in the music or food business. "I'm a real estate guy," Smith says.

Enter LaValley, Davila and The Hive.

The arrangement between 35 Denton and the building's owners is, for now at least, a one-off. LaValley needed a large venue to help expand the festival, so she pitched the idea of a makeshift setup as a way of proving the space's viability to the government and citizens of Denton. (Hyper-Head moved to its new location in Valley View in early January.)

LaValley worked with the city to obtain the necessary permits to operate The Hive as a temporary event space. The festival and building owners split the costs (with Northern and Smith taking on a bit more) of the required renovations, including lighting, fire-suppression systems, emergency exits and the like.

Mick Burson painting a mural inside The Hive. Video courtesy of 35 Denton.

It's a mutually beneficial relationship: 35 Denton gets a new venue and more space, and Northern and Smith get to introduce their building to potential permanent tenants. "It has helped tremendously," Smith says. "If they weren't involved we never would have gotten to this stage this quickly."

Nearly all the infrastructure that will be in place for the festival will be temporary. Afterward, Northern and Smith will start looking for permanent tenants for the building. They also own the muffler shop that currently occupies the 5,500-odd square feet next to the venue space but will move out in the not-too-distant future.

All told, there's 18,000 square feet separated by three main walls, with a large parking lot adjacent to the building. Smith envisions a number of possibilities: a restaurant on one side, a microbrewery on the other and a venue in the center. Or someone could knock out one of the walls to create a larger space for shows. For now, it's a blank slate.

It's hardly the path of least resistance for the festival, which could have simply set up a third outdoor stage somewhere, or accept long lines and the sense of demand they create. The decision to take on the conversion of a factory into a music venue was made for the same reason many decisions are made at 35 Denton, LaValley says: "We don't have an agenda other than promoting the good things happening here."

Across the parking lot from The Hive is one of Northern and Smith's other real estate ventures -- a former bail-bonds operation turned flamboyantly decorated oyster bar called Hoochie's. On a recent afternoon, it's cloudy and the wind has some bite, but a crowd has gathered at the tables outside, eating golden-breaded catfish and waiting for the train to go by, Lone Stars selling for a dollar. Some are here on official 35 Denton business; others just happened to stop by.

That's how these things tend to happen: informally and over beer. (Most of the meetings in the festival's history have happened on the side patio of Dan's Silverleaf.) LaValley is talking to Davila and a couple members of the operations crew about some promo materials. Smith is looking over blueprints for The Hive. Watson's eating lunch.

"We want to grow and make it successful," he says. What, exactly, do they want to grow and make successful? "The festival. Our businesses. The town." And soon, maybe, The Hive, which could go from a valve factory at Denton's outskirts to the city's largest music venue, thanks in no small part to 35 Denton.

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