Rock On, Denton

"This goes out to you, Denton!" yelled Fishboy drummer Winston Slapbracelet, leaping from his kit and stabbing one drumstick into the ground. "You! You! You!" he repeated with each thrust, pummeling the dirt into a wet, grassy clump. It was 1 p.m., and WakeUp '04 was off to a wonderfully weird-ass start.

Held on the North Texas State Fairgrounds last Saturday from noon to 10 p.m., the debut music festival was brimming with Denton bands--more than 60 acts on seven stages. Not bad for a town of 90,000 people. But this is Denton, after all, the epicenter of music study in the state, and Saturday's event was a rainbow assortment of that cool, quirky community. There were indie geeks and punk-rockers and DJs. There were Mohawks and dreads, mutton chops and baseball caps. There were stoners and tweakers and old folks and toddlers, stomping their chubby bare legs to the songs. My God, there were wrestlers! There was also free beer.

"Hello, hippies!" guitarist Matthew Barnhart greeted the crowd at 4:30 p.m. "We're Little Grizzly. And this is our second-to-last show ever." The beloved alt-country group, whose final performance is May 1 at Rubber Gloves, was my afternoon highlight (runner-up: Silver Arrows), giving a sweat-flinging, instrument-bruising performance that finally cracked the crowd's late-afternoon inertia. It had been a cloudy, blustery day, but for those 30 minutes, even the sun came out to take a peek.

On the other side of the fairgrounds, the front man of Joint Method asked the crowd, "Who likes the political-type shit?" before launching into a Rage Against the Machine-type jam. His question was rather apropos: WakeUp '04 was also a festival of activism. Political groups lined the walkways like a pocket guide to counterculturalism: Men Against Violence, Amnesty International, the Green Party, some organization whose slogan was "You can't spell CUNT without U-N-T." (It's true! I tried!) Three people asked me to sign Ralph Nader's presidential petition.

But the consciousness-raising was never a drag. A group of enterprising young women offered "rock star makeovers," with painted-on hair color for $3 and Mohawks for $2. For free, anyone with an itch could slap housepaint onto four canvases, although the activity devolved (or was it evolved?) into body-painting by late afternoon, with college kids slathering the stuff on their topless bodies and into their hair. At 5 p.m., the wrestlers took their place in the ring for a smackdown, and the electronica room got rowdy as DJ Phooka handed the mike to willing MCs. Beer spilled, wine splashed; the party had just begun.

Alas, your humble narrator--stricken with a nasty cold--had to go home. That's where our story ends, except for this: By the time Brutal Juice wrapped at 10:02 p.m., 2,500 people had come to the festival. A mere two were arrested--and they were, apparently, asking for it. One volunteer even remarked that the cops were cooler about the crowd than he was. Wait a minute: Even the cops get props? Rock on.

This is your last chance to vote in the Dallas Observer Music Awards. All ballots must be received by Monday, or they don't count. Forget it. Game over. Sayonara. OK, I'll stop that. Send in your ballots pronto or vote online at The lucky winners will be announced at the awards ceremony on April 13 at the Gypsy Tea Room, hosted by yours truly and the feisty and fabulous Zac Crain, who will cringe for a week upon seeing himself described as "feisty and fabulous." We've lined up special guests and all sorts of good times for you folks, so we hope you'll join us. The awards issue hits newsstands April 15.

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Sarah Hepola