The Bands Who Have Played Every 35 Denton Talk About the Festival

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Bill Ellison
Petra Kelly of Spooky Folk

The festival now known as 35 Denton first set up its permanent residence in the city five years ago. More than 20 musicians from the area have played all four previous incarnations and will be back again this year. We asked a few of them to share their thoughts on the festival and its growth.

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Michael Briggs

Daniel Folmer of Danny Rush and the Designated Drivers

What has 35 Denton (and all of its past incarnations) meant to you as a local musician?
35 Denton is an incredible opportunity to showcase the quality of local music alongside national touring acts. It is also a place where I have seen local bands outperform said big-name, critically acclaimed Pitchfork-hand-job bands.
In some ways, the city has worked itself into seasonal affective disorder. This time is like Christmas for performing artists. We are allowed to showcase the talent that floods this city. The other 361 days of the year pale in comparison.

Describe a favorite set or moment from one of the past four festivals.
Singing alongside John Vanderslice last year was an ethereal moment for me. He was one of the first touring musicians to actually listen to a CD I gave him and respond. This was around 2003. Also, getting thrown out of The Labb on Thursday and playing Saturday, throwing water in someone's face, drinking gin in the street, watching Jason Lytle sing with Midlake.

What are you planning this year for your set? Anything unique or interesting up your sleeve?
We are planning on using it to release our next album. It seems like every year we stress everyone from our label man to our producer, attempting to shoot out a record as a very slick baby from a womb. We are also looking into matching tracksuits. We are having some shirts made, to sell, not to wear.

Approaching its fifth year, in what ways does 35 Denton seem different to you than its previous years?
Well, we are going to have to avoid running over more loft trash than in years past, what with all the HIP URBAN, MODERN EAT-PLAY-GUITAR-BETWEEN-CLASSES-AND-LAY-IN-THE-POOL-ALL-DAY LIVING encroaching on our low-rent wasteland. Motherfuckers. I am super psyched for Roky Erickson. I am super psyched to be playing right before Wayne the Train, a hero, and after George Neal, an icon of the city. I am excited to watch Deep Throat at Gloves. I am excited to be a part of the Baptist Generals listening party, where I believe they will showcase a video for "Fly Candy Harvest," in which I play a drunken businessman alongside real businessmen. I am excited for the Fabulous Badasses reunion.

How do you feel about the growth of the festival?
I think it is a great thing, as long as it doesn't turn into a SXSW-type environment where local artists are just another applicant. What I have experienced and most folks who have performed or attended SXSW more than once in the past 10 years have experienced, is that it is a hassle, through and through. Is it fun? Yeah. Can you drink a lot of free beer and see a lot of free music and eat a lot of free barbecue, and get some free Ray Bans that say VICE Magazine, and a free Le Tigre shirt, and a free ride in a pedicab when the cops cuff you and almost arrest you for public intoxication, but instead write you a jaywalking ticket and force a pedicab to take you to your hotel? Yeah.

But man, what a hassle.

The 35 Denton schedule appears to be about half local, half national. As I said earlier, I am more looking forward to watching some of the local acts. There is energy in the performances my colleagues put forward for throngs of people who are largely ignorant to their music. It pushes many of them to higher levels of performance.

Corporate sponsors are nice because they allow the festival some financial leeway. That being said, the food tickets are all good for local food trucks and drink tickets are for Oak Street Drafthouse.

It is using regional/national recognition to promote local goodness.

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Bill Ellison
Petra Kelly of Spooky Folk

Petra Kelly of Spooky Folk

What has 35 Denton (and all of its past incarnations) meant to you as a local musician?
As naive as it may seem, the first NX35 in Denton in 2009 was my first real exposure to the Denton music scene. This was also my first show ever with Spooky Folk. After four days of local music, I was so sad for the festival to be over and then realized that living in Denton meant that it didn't have to be. There's a show almost every night of the week anyway. The festival was my first introduction to local music, which has now taken over my life.

Describe a favorite set or moment from one of the past four festivals.
Monotonix at Hailey's in 2009 was absolutely wild. I'll never forget that show. That same festival I saw Possessed By Paul James for the first time at RGRS, and I am still in love with his music. Spooky Folk was asked to play the main stage in 2011, which was incredible. That is the biggest stage that we have ever been on. And honestly, last year's performance at Dan's was probably our best performance ever. We've had a lot of important moments at 35.

What are you planning this year for your set? Anything unique or interesting up your sleeve?
I'll be performing with at least Spooky Folk and Hares on the Mountain this year, and I'm not aware of any surprises in the making. But that shit usually happens at the last minute.

Approaching its fifth year, in what ways does 35 Denton seem different to you than its previous years?
I'm seeing a lot more advertising. I guess I noticed that last year as well. I'm excited that Thurston Moore will be in Denton. That's different.

How do you feel about the growth of the festival?
I both love and loathe the growth of the festival. It's nice to share the things you love with more people, and it's great that some of these bigger acts are coming through our town. However, too many people in any capacity is always a problem. At least for me. I dunno. I like smaller and more intimate crowds. No year will ever compare to the first year I went to NX35 and just fell in love.

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Christi LaViolette

Ryan Thomas Becker of RTB2

What has 35 Denton (and all of its past incarnations) meant to you as a local musician?
It has meant representing myself, my bands, our friends and this town on a larger level than most of us experience throughout the rest of the year. When 35 was still an "Off Broadway" Austin showcase, Chris Flemmons made it clear what and who we were representing. If you forgot, all you had to do was look back at the "Music From Denton, Texas" banner on the stage.

Describe a favorite set or moment from one of the past four festivals.
I was scheduled to close the Words and Music panel in 2011 at Dan's with a solo set. George Neal was scheduled a couple of spots before me. He was going through some mysterious health issues which had us all worried. The illness had led to the cancellation of our band's performance (The Slow Burners) the night before, so he was only going to read from his recent collection of poems and short stories. Since he wasn't really in a condition to play guitar, I came up to him with the idea of backing him up for a couple of songs.

George was already trembling by the time we started the first song, and the trembling only increased as the song went on. George almost bounced out of his seat as he threw up a seizing arm singing the word "body." He was displaying his symptoms for the crowd. George's entire body started to violently vibrate when he began screaming the outro of the song. I was looking down at the ground trying not to completely lose it. He waved for me to stop playing while he screamed the words "day after day" over and over again with the most unsettling silence between the lines. I was still averting my eyes and just waiting for George to finish the song. One final scream and a good 10 seconds later, the crowd cheered. I immediately put my guitar down, hurried off stage, and cried for a good five minutes.

What are you planning this year for your set? Anything unique or interesting up your sleeve?
RTB2 released a new album at the end of last year, so we'll be armed with some new material. We can plan as much as we want, but the energy that is felt at these 35 shows opens up the possibility of anything happening. Oh, and I'm going to propose to Grady [Sandlin, Becker's RTB2 band mate]. I'm through with living in sin.

Approaching its fifth year, in what ways does 35 Denton seem different to you than its previous years?
With each passing year, the organizers seem to present a more well oiled machine, so to speak. They also secure more bands about which I know nothing -- kids these days. ...

I assume that they keep their fingers on the pulse of hip and exciting music, which they bring to the festival each year. I have also noticed a bit more animosity from the fans of 35 and some of the bands that were booked and were not booked this year. Chalk it up to the growing pains of a still-fledgling festival. I wonder if "festival years" are similar to "dog years"?

How do you feel about the growth of the festival?
I think it has been growing exponentially, and the 35 people have to keep that in mind when organizing in a smaller town. I'm sure we all hope that the future of this festival stays true to a "small town" feel. Warnings aside, I see the growth of the festival contributing to the growth of Denton, both artistic and economical.

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Jennifer Seman from Shiny Around the Edges

What has 35 Denton (and all of its past incarnations) meant to you as a local musician?
Gorilla. *

Describe a favorite set or moment from one of the past four festivals.
Gorilla. *

What are you planning this year for your set? Anything unique or interesting up your sleeve?
Gorilla. *

Approaching its fifth year, in what all ways does 35 Denton seem different to you than its previous years?
Gorilla. *

How do you feel about the growth of the festival?
Gorilla. *

* "Gorilla" refers to a series of DIY house shows that Nick Foreman, lead singer of Dust Congress, used to host under Denton's local label Paperstain Records' brand, during the festival. In 2012, an actual inflatable gorilla was made and positioned in front of his house. Gorilla came to represent the reckless, subversive, chaotic approach that Paperstain embraced.

Chris Welch of Pinebox Serenade

What has 35 Denton (and all of its past incarnations) meant to you as a local musician?
Well, it has meant a lot to me, mainly because it allows musicians like myself to play in front an enthusiastic crowd that just wants to hear more. You very rarely get that at any regular show.

Describe a favorite set or moment from one of the past four festivals.
Probably the first year, when Pinebox played at J&J's. It was just packed, with people dancing and just going crazy. It was a great time. Last years Old Warhorse set at Sweet Water would be a close second. Same type thing where it was packed and everyone was going crazy.

What are you planning this year for your set? Anything unique or interesting up your sleeve?
Nothing super unique for this years shows, just trying to make people have a good time.

Approaching its fifth year, in what all ways does 35 Denton seem different to you than its previous years?

If feels like there is quite a bit anticipation about it this year from the rest of DFW, just something in the air. I know there are several acts that I'm super stoked to go see, Like Reigning Sound and Killer Mike!!

How do you feel about the growth of the festival?

I think the growth is great, you just want to make sure there is always room for the local bands. That's what this should always be about.

Grady Sandlin of RTB2

What has 35 Denton (and all of its past incarnations) meant to you as a local musician?
I get overworked and underpaid. It's easily my lowest-grossing weekend of the year. Even I get sick of seeing Ryan everywhere.

Describe a favorite set or moment from one of the past four festivals.
Going to sleep on Sunday, knowing I won't have to do this all again for another 361 days.

What are you planning this year for your set? Anything unique or interesting up your sleeve?
Funny you should mention it, I'm wearing only sleeveless shirts this year.

Approaching its fifth year, in what all ways does 35 Denton seem different to you than its previous years?
Why you gotta trick up a burger?

How do you feel about the growth of the festival?
I am horrified and plan to apply topical cream to the area. I would suggest that all affected do the same.

Kelly Upshaw of The Hope Trust

What has 35 Denton (and all of its past incarnations) meant to you as a local musician?
Denton has a lot of musicians, which inherently means Denton has a lot of lazy people. The festival has been a sort of wake up call for Denton's art community to start extending beyond itself, with the local talent that it highlights and the international talent that it attracts. It's a great thing to have been lucky enough to be a part of every year. It's like rock 'n roll summer camp. It puts a little fire under your butt.

Describe a favorite set or moment from one of the past four festivals.
Last year's set was my favorite. We played the KXT Showcase at Dan's Silverleaf with Danny Folmer, Doug Burr and John Vanderslice, all of whom are great songwriters. There was a line of folks out the door, and the audience was amazingly attentive. It certainly felt like the right place to be.

What are you planning this year for your set? Anything unique or interesting up your sleeve?
This year we'll be playing the new stuff from our forthcoming EP Silver & Lead, and Jeremy Buller and I have been working feverishly over these winter months on what we will call "some choreography." We are always interesting; you should come see for yourself.

Approaching its fifth year, in what all ways does 35 Denton seem different to you than its previous years?
It seems like every year it has taken a more professional direction. There are a million considerations for a festival of this magnitude to work successfully, and that it does comes from year-round work by a lot of people that don't get as much direction recognition as they deserve (Kyle LaValley, Natalie Dávila and all of the hard-working volunteers).

How do you feel about the growth of the festival?
It's great. We live in the DIY age. The Music Industry as "a thing" is up for grabs. This festival wasn't created by Clear Channel or Live Nation or any dark overlords. It has grown out of a local vision that values art and culture, and celebrates human expression without selling you a pack of gum or new pair of shoes. It's real. What's not to like?


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