Is Denton ready to elbow aside the flashier, bigger Texas cities of Fort Worth, Dallas, Houston and, yes, Austin, to take its place atop the Texas-music food chain?
Could it be a town on the verge? Is the next Seattle or Omaha (home of Bright Eyes and the whole Saddle Creek label scene) brewing up Interstate 35?
It’s a knotty question and one that gives many people pause. Most observers familiar with the scene speak of a special, specific intangible “something” they feel in Denton, a vibe that’s readily apparent to anyone who lives there or merely pays a visit.
“(Denton) reminded me, in a funny way, of Brighton here in England, which is a small, seaside town and they have … their own thing going on,” says Simon Raymonde, former Cocteau Twin and founder of London-based Bella Union Records, home to several Denton-based acts. “Everyone is playing in a load of different bands, and I liked the vibe of what everyone was doing.”
There are some who would say that Denton, home to an estimated 104,000 people and three universities, including the well-regarded University of North Texas with its acclaimed music department, already enjoys a national reputation as a music mecca. Certainly the considerable roster of past and present Denton residents lends credence to the notion. Artists such as Roy Orbison, Norah Jones and Don Henley have spent time in classrooms on the UNT campus.
“The (UNT) music school is a major influence, and with that type of influence, so many people are attracted to our community—not just students but professional musicians,” says Kim Phillips, vice president of the Denton Convention & Visitors Bureau. “Yes, it’s a college town, but you have a very significant artistic and intellectual ambience that really permeates the community as a whole, and that’s what attracts so many people to stay here and come back here.”
Former Denton resident Will Johnson, the brains behind acclaimed indie country-rock outfit Centro-matic, moved to Austin five years ago but holds fast to the music and the magic conjured by Denton’s myriad artistic outlets.
“I’m still very much invigorated and inspired by its cultural offerings,” Johnson says. “It’s definitely something that’s been a huge part of my soul for the last … 18 years. Denton has maintained this really productive and diverse output … it seems like it’s a hydra or something—you can’t kill it. It’s a really beautiful thing.”
Johnson’s not alone in his admiration of the creativity that flows freely in Denton—the municipal powers that be are also proud, particularly the Convention & Visitors Bureau, which runs a Web site (www.dentonlive.com) devoted to concert listings and information about arts-related events.
“Our tag line for tourism is `Denton and all that jazz,’” Phillips says. “It’s a part of everything we talk about. The bulk of what people are asking about may include some element of music. They want to know what special events are coming up, and almost without exception, the special events incorporate music.”
Nearly everyone agrees that Denton’s unshakable artistic integrity and unique aesthetic will remain intact, should bright lights and big names come calling. The reliably hyperbolic music press is fickle, easily swayed by the promise of the new and exciting and just as easily disenchanted and bored.
“Attention is arbitrary—it will come and go,” Raymonde says. “There are waves and cycles, and people say Denton is the next Omaha or whatever it is, and the next year it will be on to something else.”
Whether the next-big-thing-obsessed music scribes will descend upon Denton in droves remains to be seen. If nothing else, it remains a town free from just one “sound”—its music ranges from polka-playing Grammy winners Brave Combo to hard rockers Faktion. VH1 reality-show stars Flickerstick, award-winning jazz pianist Lyle Mays, and “Schoolhouse Rock!” composer Bob Dorough have all called Denton home.
As for those who think that new development along Fry Street, where so many UNT students hang out and which gave birth to the legendary Fry Street Fair, will stifle the music, Phillips says nonsense. “It’s stronger than a piece of geography,” she explains. “It will survive. … The music scene has been alive and well for 100 years. It’s not going anywhere.”
–Preceding article from Illinois based website, popmatters.com