Chris Flemmons, Kyle La Valley and Natalie Dávila Talk About 35 Denton's Sea Change
In early January, 35 Denton festival founder Chris Flemmons addressed about 30 folks who showed up for the opening party for 35 Denton's new office. The spot is in a renovated old Gulf Oil service station on the corner of N. Locust and W. McKinney, less than a minute walk from Denton's historic town square. In the freshly repainted office, Flemmons "officially" announced he had passed the title of Creative Director on to Kyle La Valley.
The 35 Denton breakfast, one of the fest's Instagram contest entries
His announcement came as a shock for some friends, fans and future volunteers of the four-day walkable festival, but top brass and core staff of 35 Denton already knew that La Valley, who first joined the festival as photo editor for last year's 35 Conferette, had been passed the torch.
The restructuring at the top, paired with Little Guys Movers' bigger role, represents a major sea change for this year's festival and the future of the brand. The 35 Denton camp is really firing on all pistons this year. It's beginning to look a helluva lot more official.
In his current role as "founder," Flemmons says he's still "very interested in the developmental side of things." But when it comes to the day-to-day operations of putting the festival together, meetings are very optional. Instead of being up to his neck in a dizzying array of festival duties like the past few years, he and the rest of the Baptist Generals spent last week in Oak Cliff with Stuart Sikes, recording the Generals' follow-up to 2003's No Silver/No Gold.
"When I started this, I didn't want to be a Creative Director, I just wanted to get it going, and kind of see it through the hardest parts of it, and see it get to a place where it could kind of stand on its own," Flemmons said while sitting on the patio of Dan's Silverleaf a few weeks ago. "And I think we're here. I mean, we've got a lot of work to do, and every year has its own set of struggles. But it's a pretty big year for us, and I just felt like it was time."
The festival continues to grow in both scope and appeal. This year more than 150 bands will perform in 11 venues and two main outdoor stages. According to organizers, nearly 500 bands applied to play through Sonic Bids this year, up from about 250 in 2011.
"This year we only had 100 spots," La Valley tells me, after wrapping up an early February volunteer meeting on the patio of The Labb (one of the 11 participating venues). The first time through the vetting process, based on listening alone, more than 300 bands made the cut. "That was the hardest thing," she says. "We had to turn away a lot of bands who are incredibly talented."
Natalie Dávila joins our conversation. Dávila, former booker for DIY venue The Majestic Dwelling of Doom and current Director of Programming for 35 Denton, echoes La Valley's sentiments: "There were a lot of bands who may not have been selected this year who were last year, but we have to make room for new bands. It's not a personal thing, it's literally a space issue."
At meetings over the summer, organizers established a structure based on five departments - press, content, programming, ops and social media - with a director over each responsible for planning and executing ideas, as well as overseeing the volunteer staff. Directors have met with volunteers nearly every Sunday since the summer. "We discuss what's happening in our realms of production and debrief each other," La Valley says. "It's certainly helped things move forward at a better pace."