As I watched a rather glowing and melodic performance by Black James Franco in the late evening at a fairly packed Hailey's, I pondered something: Why would a Dentonite attend a festival composed mostly of artists and musicians who play somewhat regularly, sometimes for free, on any other given night of the week?
The newest upstart Denton festival, Oaktopia, was created as a celebration of various culture entities in Denton: art, music ... and some food trucks. Did the proprietors succeed in their endeavor?
Considering the mass amount of preparation in such a short amount of time, the lineup that crammed as much local music into every hour for an entire day in several venues, the real estate that was occupied by various vendors and local artists, and that this was all done entirely by a young group of kids on their first festival go-around, they succeeded. This open love letter to the life that pulses in Denton's array of venues and art institutions made its impression.
Early on, the afternoon sets at Andy's Bar were the focus of my attention. After all, this festival was primarily grounded in the underground local hip-hop scene from the get-go, and as Andy's hosted all the rap talent, that was to be my hub for the evening.
G'Petto was an early performer. Daylight was still seeping in through the windows, and before a small crowd, the rapper called for a moment of silence for the victims of the Philippines. This reserved rapper, adorned in black, eventually shed his modest demeanor and his layers of shirts, and erupted into a quick-fire performance. His black hoodie quickly came off, revealing an Eazy-E shirt, which he later tore off to reveal one for Run-DMC.
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The crowds were, like the festival itself, modest in size at the beginning. Hailey's seemed to draw the youngest in attendance. Williams' Square was peppered with artists and Wu-Tang-shirted scenesters. J&J's Pizza corralled the usual Denton hardcore fans into its warm and creaky basement. The Courthouse lawn drew its fair share of festival passersby and those who simply wanted to spread out on the lawn and take in the scenery.
es it felt as though I was just cruising from Hailey's to Andy's to J&J's on any given weekend.
I caught an intimate guitar and drum duo on the Courthouse lawn, a competent rock music standard at Banter, a show teeming with intensity from the talented MCs of Brain Gang, and one of the best performances of the night, the erratic and unpredictable hardcore noise from Bukkake Moms at J&J's. It wasn't until She Banshee took time out of their set at Hailey's to pour themselves a shot of brown-colored alcohol and thank Oaktopia for having them that I remembered where I was.
At the heart of the festival, Williams' Square hosted a moderate amount of the usual festival fixtures: a few food trucks, including the deliciously enticing Shitake Swerve, vendors, and live art. The painters and printers drew a fair amount of interested onlookers, as they tended to their brush strokes and intricate line drawings in the unusually fair November afternoon weather. Still, the occasional strong wind was an unforeseen setback.
Larger canvases made perfect sails, and each forceful gust of wind would send them crashing to the ground, a constant battle for Denton artist Caroline Gates. She wrestled with an enormous painting of a surreal horse figure.
As frustrating as the outdoor arena can be in its unpredictability, that is the nature of the festival.
The festival headliner and a darling of alternative hip-hop, Del the Funky Homosapien ran into some technical difficulties before his scheduled time. His was (predictably) the most attended show of the night. And as I approached the crowd of some 200 or more people, half of said crowd was the beer line. This beer line was some sort of DMV phenomena, stretching across the entire parking lot. It's a common festival problem, admittedly.
Instead of hanging around or waiting until forever to get a drink, I made my way back to Andy's for D. Smiley's entertaining and energetic set. After his performance, he commented on how good it was to see all the local MCs getting this kind of exposure all at once.
"But everybody has their time," Smiley said, "and this is one of those moments where we get to experience something new for the first time. There's a lot of people out here enjoying this, it's a great experience, and it will get bigger and better each year this shit happens."
Everyone did have his or her time, and eventually Del had his, after a 40-minute delay. As cool and reserved as ever, his inventory of songs went back and forth between his solo work and his back catalog with Deltron 3030. Fists pumped and hands clapped at the height of the festival's first headlining performance. Del took various surveys of the crowd's interests: what style of music they preferred and whether they were into skateboarding. He also launched into a somewhat long-winded rundown of the new gaming systems from PlayStation and Xbox.
It was big-name sets like these that were the obvious crowning achievements for this inaugural Oaktopia festival. But the best parts may have been the unplanned little moments, such as an impromptu freestyle rap battle between hip-hop artists outside of Andy's.
Any festival at its most basic level is all about fun. And as far as I can tell, that's what these youthful hip-hop and general Denton culture enthusiasts set out to find.
Astronautalis, in the dim-lit square under the full moon, took time out of his fiery performance to share his experience about the "kids" who threw this whole festival together.
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"You know, all things considered, it is no more or less disorganized than any of the gigantic festivals we've ever been on," he says to a shoulder-to-shoulder crowd in Williams Square. "So props to you guys. That's like the fucking ideal, when a bunch of people are just like 'Fuck it, let's just make a music festival. Cool.'"
Give it time, and in the next year or so, these kids will take this snowballed venture of festival engineering to one of the more interesting events in North Texas music, giving Dentonites a generous helping of what they get in small portions on any other given night.