Perhaps it couldn't be helped. With somewhat spring-like weather in the Denton air on Thursday afternoon, it was hard to not have festival fever. In years past around this time, when 35 Denton would be taking place, you couldn't get past Dan's Silverleaf near Hickory Street before the festival fun was palpable. Last night was the first full night of Thin Line Film and Music Festival's programming, and make no mistake, 35 Denton this is not. Not that it's supposed to be.
The organizers of this fine event haven't tried to fool anyone. In the past week or so, it's been tough to miss the mentions of this year's added music festival aspect to the original documentary programming the festival has focused on in years past. But with schedule grids and thoughts of bouncing from one venue just off Denton's square to another for various forms of frivolity, visions (delusions?) of grandeur danced about, regardless.
With the music portion of the fest not kicking into high gear until 7:00 p,m,, what better way to start a Film and Music Festival evening than to watch a documentary film about a musician? The Punk Singer: A Film About Kathleen Hanna is a tremendous movie, regardless of whether or not you are familiar with Hanna's stellar body of work with Bikini Kill, Julie Ruin or Le Tigre. Her pioneering spirit and zeal for forcing people to face sexism with serious and closer scope made for compelling subject matter, as does her bout with Lyme disease, which had, until last year, kept her from performing almost entirely since 2005. While the Campus Theatre, where the screening was held, can hold what seems to be two or three hundred people, only 25 or so were in attendance for this remarkable film.
Going from the story of a fearless woman to a performance by another seemed appropriate. The festival's main music stage, inside the so-called Denton Municipal Electric Tent (directly across the street from the Oak Street Drafthouse on Oak) was being dominated by the singing, rapping and shimmies of Sam Lao. As careful observers of North Texas' music scene will well know, Lao is a talent on the rise, and her skills can not be denied. But again, on this night Lao only had a couple of dozen attendees to tantalize and hypnotize in the cavernous tent.
Walking from the Main Stage back across the square to Sweetwater, it was impossible for anyone not holding a ticket or wearing a lanyard to know that a festival of any sort was taking place around the storied courthouse square. Certainly, there are far fewer music venues involved in Thin Line than there are 35 Denton, and without multiple outdoor stages, it's understandable that a vibrant atmosphere in the city center might be lacking, to a point, at least.
In Sweetwater's garage door enclosed patio, country rock act The Holler Time (a talented group of Gram Parsons admirers sonically resting in-between the Old 97s and 1100 Springs) and roots outfit A.M. Ramblers, a long-time Denton staple featuring the seemingly always performing Petra Kelly on fiddle, played in back-to-back time slots in front of a healthy crowd. The patio was almost full and there were a dozen or so folks smoking and chatting just outside of the open garage door looking into the patio. But it's a small space.
Another trip across the square after 10:00 p.m. landed us at Dan's Silverleaf, which could (and most likely does) act as Denton's Indie Music City Hall, given that the bar is frequented by just about anyone who plays an instrument while wearing a beard north of Lake Lewisville. As expected, there were a few local musicians chumming it up along the bar inside the venue, once Chambers (consisting of former members of Baruch the Scribe) hit the stage at 10:20 p.m. It was still a lean group watching the four-piece employ their brand of self-described "mood rock," which recalls last year's fantastic Volcano Choir LP, Repave. As with each of the sets I saw last night, Chambers' was well-done, and their blend of post-rock meets indie-folk bursts with color and verve in concert.
Who knows? It's the first night of a completely overhauled festival. If the weather stays nice, the crowds could approach that festival density by the weekend. The documentaries are well-curated and offer something for every film-lover. And the band line-up for the rest of the fest offers a fantastic cross section of north Texas' best in several realms of music (Slobberbone, A.Dd+, RTB2, -topic and The O's, among many others have yet to play), and it is really walkable, which is part of any festival's fun.
We know, we know. This isn't 35 Denton. Nor is it supposed to be.
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