Music Cities

Texas has its own brand of March Madness

In his Sunday night Motel 6 hotel room, Flemmons powers up his laptop to start writing an open-ended press release — one either confirming the show's occurrence or bemoaning its demise — that will go up soon after the meeting with Scott Booker, the Lips' manager.

Three options seemed likely. The first would be to cancel The Flaming Lips. The second would be to renegotiate a pricier deal with The Lips, which would allow NX35 to charge admission to the show in an effort to cover the mounting costs of hosting an event estimated to attract up to 15,000 fans. In the third, miracle option, some sort of agreement could be reached in which the Lips came to town for less money, which would mean NX35 would have enough to cover its expenses, and the show would stay free.

"If all the wristbands sell," Flemmons says. "Then we'll have enough money to cover our costs, but there's no way for us to bank on the fact that it will be a sellout." (While admission to The Flaming Lips/Midlake portion of NX35 was always planned to be free, to attend the remainder of NX35's programming and concerts, fans must purchase wristbands. And those with a wristband would have priority access at the concert venues over walkups.)

Allen Hill says that gigs like this one — on the sidewalk in front of Rue's Antiques on South Congress — are rare instances in which Austin lives up to its self-proclaimed title as Live Music Capital of the World.
Courtesy of Allen Hill Entertainment
Allen Hill says that gigs like this one — on the sidewalk in front of Rue's Antiques on South Congress — are rare instances in which Austin lives up to its self-proclaimed title as Live Music Capital of the World.

During the meeting, Booker tells Flemmons to send the Lips' camp the NX35 financials. After that, Booker would talk with Flaming Lips front man Wayne Coyne. Flemmons drives back to Denton after the meeting, knowing he's inching closer to a public-relations disaster. If Flemmons fails now, he fails big. And he knows it.

"Denton is in a good place, right now," he says after arriving back in town that afternoon. "So, it's not a good time to make it look like we're a bunch of fuckups."

NX35 had been percolating in Flemmons's mind since 2002. In 2005, Flemmons organized an afternoon party in Austin during the week of SXSW. The idea was that the party would feature six to ten Denton acts who Flemmons thought deserved to be seen by a wider audience. Pointing people in the direction of Denton, located on Interstate 35, seemed to be a good idea, thus the name North by 35.

"It seemed overambitious and daunting at the time to try to pull it off here," Flemmons says. "So, we started the afternoon parties in Austin to try and build the name a little bit. But the plan was always to eventually have North by 35 be in Denton."

Flemmons thought it would take two years. It ended up taking four. And, last year, it took Flemmons close to six months of working 20-hour days, six (and sometimes seven) days a week to pull it off. He enlisted nearly 50 volunteers from within Denton's music community to help with everything from ad sales and promotion to planning and organizing. Volunteers drop by the office to help out for a few hours after their full-time jobs.

"It does feel self-abusive at points," Flemmons says. "We're really just trying to do something to better the town. That's the big thing. And, really, we're hoping to draw some attention to Denton from outside of the area."

Flemmons learned the ins and outs of the music festival circuit, both stateside and overseas, as founder and front man of The Baptist Generals, who've been performing and touring for more than a decade.

When Flemmons says last year's move to Denton was rewarding, he doesn't mean money. The inaugural show turned a $200 profit. "I was just glad to end up with the shirt on my back," he says. "When it was all over, I was still driving my car around with the brakes metal-on-metal."

Flemmons says he started pawning instruments and recording equipment to pay the bills before landing a gig helping to put together some local shows. But it wasn't long before he had to shift his focus back to NX35.

This year, from the moment organizers announced The Flaming Lips show (due in June in Houston to headline Summer Fest), Flemmons says it was like jumping off a cliff. "Once you announce a show like the Lips, there's no going back," he says.

Nearly every wall of NX35's apartment-size headquarters has been taken over by floor-to-ceiling whiteboards, and The Flaming Lips show gets its own section. The north wall holds a gigantic calendar charting the 200-plus bands scheduled to participate in more than a dozen venues near downtown Denton. That's a substantial increase from last year's 124 bands in nine venues, making this year's event a few bands larger than the first SXSW back in 1987. This year, Pitchfork referred to NX35 as SXSW's "baby cousin." Last year's SXSW featured more than 1,900 artists on more than 80 stages, and while NX35 is put together by nearly 100 volunteers, SXSW employs a crew of 70 full-time staffers.

Denton Mayor Mark Burroughs and many in the city's government have been behind the idea of NX35 from the get-go — at least on paper. Burroughs says that for two out of the last three years, Denton has been one of the top ten fastest-growing cities in the country with more than 100,000 in population.

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