The Rock Royalty Behind Denton's Bars

As I walk into Dan's Silverleaf fresh off a particularly difficult serving shift at a pan-Asian joint just across town in Denton, the roughly 150 people in attendance are scattered throughout the bar. It's cold this Thursday evening, but many still huddle outside, smoking, drinking and sharing fellowship, their steamy breath following where their smoke exhalations end. We are all waiting for Centro-matic to take the stage.

It's been awhile since they played an intimate show like this at Dan's. Frontman Will Johnson busied himself playing the drums for the aptly named supergroup Monsters of Folk, and Centro-matic keyboardist/violinist Scott ≠ has been busy recording and playing the keys with Sarah Jaffe. Danbom and Denton musician Robert Gomez (Jaffe's lead guitarist) flew to L.A. with her early in December to play Jimmy Kimmel Live.

But tonight, as the venerable Denton band takes the stage just short of 11 p.m., their side projects and our blue-collar jobs seem all but forgotten. Centro-matic is in fine form. No surprise for a band that has been contributing to the Denton scene, as well as the world in general, since 1995. As they sluice the muscular, slow attack of "Fountains of Fire" through the audience, the entire crowd is dead set at attention, some screaming the lyrics back at the band and others just enjoying the set, exalting the band with rhythmic head nods and carefully timed beer sips.

Standing to the left of the stage, far back by the merch table, is Brent Best, best known as the creator of Slobberbone, a Denton band that has been rocking this town, country and several other continents since 1993. He'll join the band on lead guitar toward the end of the set.

Best is an internationally recognized alt-country legend, yet he still tends bar at Rubber Gloves Rehearsal Studios just southeast of here, over the train tracks in the area of Denton that has yet to be gentrified.

In the '80s and '90s, the main place to play was the Fry Street district, but now the area east of the square in Denton is the new music and arts hot spot. You would never be able to guess that the Fry Street area used to be a dirty, gritty music hub in this town if you had never been to Denton before. The tall yuppie-starter-kit apartment complexes that now tower over the north side of the University of North Texas spit in the face of the area's geographical history, and only the more seasoned musicians who remain here will tell stories of the glory of Fry Street Fair and the Argo; the days of Rick's Place (now a vapid, flavorless meet-market at the ass end of the frat-bar district) and the Flying Tomato pizza joint (now a Chipotle restaurant).

These days in Denton, the "vital stuff," the shows and festivals that continue to make Denton one of the best little music towns in the world — the Rock Lotteries and the 35 Dentons, the Lumberjack Fests and free, mind-blowing basement shows — they're all happening starting at the square and lumbering east a quarter mile or so. This is the vital area now, all of it a quick walk from the A-train station. This is where you'll see the finest musicianship and artistry, and where the best clubs and venues live. This is where you can catch a triple feature that might start at the basement of J&J's Pizza for an 8 p.m. show and then lead to any of the fine clubs in the area, your Dan's or Rubber Gloves or Hailey's or Abbey Underground. This is where your Brent Bests and Scott Danboms and Robert Gomezes live and work and play. But why do these musicians stay in Denton and work blue-collar jobs to support their artistic efforts, even into their late 30s and early 40s?

"It definitely helps out with the rent and stuff, when I'm not touring or other things," Best says. He went on to explain that the flexibility afforded to him by bosses like Josh Baish (owner of Rubber Gloves Rehearsal Studios) allows him to take lengthy stints of time off from the bars and go out and tour if he needs to, and he will still have a job when he comes back into town.

Still, this sort of work requires sacrifices. Last year Best was talking to a customer, and then his vision sort of just altered and warped, and his heart rate increased to an alarming speed. He told other members of the crew working that night that he needed to go to the back prep area of the bar and sit down. He eventually leveled off and kept working, but two weeks later had another episode similar to the first, but way worse, and the next night, before playing a show, he spoke to a nurse friend of his who pegged him as having low blood sugar.

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Brian Rash
Contact: Brian Rash

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