Music Cities

Texas has its own brand of March Madness

"Denton is exploding," Burroughs says. "And it's time for Denton to be exploding in another way — in the music scene. Because I think that the music scene will help solidify Denton's identity as it grows, because that's important too. You need to maintain your identity, your uniqueness, and the music scene is just part and parcel of what makes Denton a wonderful place to be. By and large only people from the region and some music circles have really known that up to now. And I think NX35 will get the rest of the world to sit up and take notice."

It's not exactly a secret in indie genre circles that Denton has a thriving music scene. And the city has taken to branding itself as a music mecca with an image of musical notes floating over the downtown's historic ­Courthouse-on-the-Square Museum on the city's Web page. Denton is home to the University of North Texas's College of Music. Then there's the Denton Arts & Jazz Festival, which celebrates its 30th anniversary this year.

Mike and Jenny Seman moved to Denton in December 2003 after living in Los Angeles for eight years. "We were looking for a change," Mike says. Mike Seman is a research associate at the Institute of Urban Studies at the University of Texas at Arlington and a NX35 volunteer. He's working on his Ph.D. in urban planning and public policy, focusing on the intersection of music and urban redevelopment.

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.

"I couldn't say that NX35 is the biggest thing that has ever happened to Denton music, because I don't have a crystal ball," Seman says. "But it is a significant event in its progression towards its future as a creative economy. We are four hours north of Austin, and when you think of music and you think of urban areas, you think of Austin. And NX35 and the city's involvement could help Denton to go in that direction."

In August 2009, Chris Flemmons and Midlake's Eric Pulido were at Dan's Silver Leaf bar in Denton when Pulido suggested to Flemmons that NX35 should try to get The Flaming Lips to play there. That conversation went on for about six weeks and negotiations with the band started in September.

But NX35 couldn't start promoting the show until it had official word from the Lips' camp confirming the concert.

The official announcement came on December 17 and finally, the NX35 crew could start trying to attract bands and sponsors to the show with The Flaming Lips as part of the appeal.

At 41, Flemmons knew they needed to bring in national acts in addition to The Flaming Lips. He tapped Matthew Gray of Matthew and the Arrogant Sea (who book shows for Dan's Silver Leaf) to help out, as well as reaching out for help from local music blogs, like DayBowBow and WeeklyTapeDeck.

"I had a blast last year," Gray says. "But I felt that this year we needed to pick up where Chris left off by bringing in some higher-profile acts. And Chris knew that he didn't know who the fuck to try to bring in."

Take, for example, Jaime Paul Falcon, who launched DayBowBow a little over a year ago. Living in Dallas, but originally from Houston, Falcon says that NX35 helped him learn more about the local music scene. Falcon says he had caught some occasional shows in Denton, but last year's festival helped a lot of people, himself included, to see what Denton had to offer by way of musicians and the city itself.

Just two months after last year's North by, Falcon booked his first show at J & J's Pizza in Denton. For NX35, he nabbed HEALTH and Houston band Indian Jewelry for starts, but he admits that it's an intimidating task. "I wake up every morning, and I freak out, and I'm like, 'Oh my God! Why am I a part of this? How did this happen?' he says. "It's scary some days, and other days it's like, well, I guess somebody decided that I could handle it."

By mid-February, The Flaming Lips show, while only one part of the event, had taken on a life of its own. But the dream started to unravel as the city started looking into how many people might actually show up for such an event. After Denton's city officials started calling their Oklahoma counterparts and inquiring about free shows and large festivals, based on past The Flaming Lips events, the projected turnout jumped from 6,000 to 9,000 to between 15,000 and 20,000. Denton's police and fire officials took one look at aerial photos of the area downtown where East Hickory Street was to be closed off and determined that the space wouldn't hold that many show-goers.

On February 19, the NX35 blog announced that the free show would have to be moved nearly a mile and a half away from downtown to the North Texas Fairgrounds.

The following Tuesday in Denton's City Hall East, Flemmons and the NX35 operations team met around a wooden conference table with nearly a dozen Denton officials ranging from fire and police to parks. The North by 35 crew found out that a Camel cigarettes tent that was going to be set up in a city parking lot might be an issue.

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