Oaktopia Festival With Neon Indian, Immortal Technique and more Denton Friday, September 19 and Saturday, September 20, 2014
For a line-up that didn't really move the needle much, Oaktopia sure as hell brought out the kids. Which is a fantastic thing if you were a venue who could charge people who had bought a festival pass an extra $6 so they could get in to a see a show that never happened. On Friday night the announced DJ set by ex-local Neon Indian failed to occur due to the organizers of Oaktopia neglecting to provide the proper backline for the artist. How a festival fails to do this is a mystery that boggles the mind.
When an artist is booked, backline requirements are a specific part of the contract negotiations. A technical rider is sent to the organizers of the festival, and they review the requirements before signing the contract. This is how these things work.
So, for a festival to botch meeting the agreed upon backlined equipment needed for the performance it is a sign of a larger issue within the fest. Unfortunately for Oaktopia, there were many of these signs throughout the weekend, including two venues being shut down by the police on Friday night.
It takes a cavalier spirit to take on the task of throwing a festival on the scale of Oaktopia; you have to have ambition enough to think you can make something like that happen and the work ethic to see it through. These are good things, of course. But it felt Saturday as if the Oaktopia organizers were content with just having pulled off the ambition part, as a mish-mash of dead-eyed volunteers looked lost when forced to actually do work.
This was mainly evident at Dan's Silverleaf where three volunteers failed to do anything to control the line of people who gathered for the rescheduled Neon Indian set on Saturday night. The venue's sound engineer was forced to not only accommodate an extra act, thus bumping two other acts, but to go outside to try to exercise some semblance of control over the mounting throng of humanity. At one point he had to break up a near skirmish in the line. Throughout this process the Oaktopia staff failed to capably help him.
A similar scene played out at Andy's Bar, where the sound engineer was forced to usher out an Oaktopia staffer and plead with him to exercise some semblance of control over the artists who were refusing to perform at their allotted time due to a lack of crowd size.
And yet, while these issues were hard to ignore, Oaktopia at its base is a great idea. The booking leaves something to be desired, but overall it knows its audience, and it does a fantastic job of marketing itself. The dedication of a venue solely to comics was a genius move; providing an opportunity for audiences to catch up-and-comers like Clint Werth, Josh Johnson and Christian Hughes should pay off as those performers find larger audiences.
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The heavy concentration on local acts guarantees a built-in crowd and the national acts put on the festival main stage provided a hook for anyone on the fence about attending. This might also be one of the most racially diverse events to ever occur in Denton, a noted departure from the usual lily-white Arts & Jazz fest.
All of these things mark Oaktopia as a festival on the rise, but you have to wonder if their blunders might hold them back. It'll be curious to see how the City of Denton is going to react next year when they're reminded of artists showering the crowds with blunt wraps, and the sounds of racial epithets reverberating throughout the town.
Furthermore, when you put together something like this you have a responsibility to the public when you put on an event. The responsibility is mainly to maintain a level of safety for the people attending your event. When fights are breaking out around your fenced-in area, and fights are almost starting in your lines, you have failed to live up to this responsibility.
Can Oaktopia survive and thrive? Of course it can. It's a great concept and the people behind it obviously know their audience. The growth compared to last year's inaugural event was certainly promising. Here's hoping next year's Oaktopia features some growing up and and a little of that work ethic to go with all that ambition.