The Short List

Published on: Thu, Dec 28, 2017

“Sometimes, I just sit and watch people enjoying the festival.”

Carol Short walks around the brightly lit office of the Denton Festival Foundation, recalling her favorite musical acts from the annual Denton Arts and Jazz Festival by peering at the patchwork of colorful posters that adorn the walls, jogging her memory of 38 years of music and arts.

Carol founded the festival, previously named Spring Fling, in 1991 after she became president of the Denton Festival Foundation, the entity behind Denton’s most popular annual event.

But outside of her professional capacity in planning the event, she is a huge fan of what locals call “Jazzfest.” Each year, Carol chooses jazz and rhythm and blues performers for the festival’s musical offerings with the help of American Federation of Musicians President Ray Hair.

Carl Finch of Brave Combo performs during the 2017 Denton Arts & Jazz Festival. Brave Combo is traditionally the Sunday night headliner. (Photo courtesy Denton CVB)

Pointing at individual posters, she describes the talents of the year’s headliners, their voices still resonating in her memory. The vibrant artwork, actually a collection of framed copies of the covers of the annual festival tabloid published in the Denton Record-Chronicle, remind Carol of some stellar moments, such as the performance from all five Neville brothers in 2008, despite the fact that only four were signed to appear. It was a rare happening, and one of her favorite performances.

Carol’s home is so full of artwork from the festival’s artists and craftsmen that for the past couple years she has vowed not to buy any more paintings since there is no wall space left to hang them.

Paintings are just one kind of art Carol’s collected from the festival. The huge range of arts and crafts included in Jazzfest’s offerings include handmade jewelry, artisan soaps, stained glass ensembles, pottery and woodwork, pressed botanical art, individually molded sculptures and more.

Carol’s favorite piece of jewelry from the festival is a fused glass dragonfly necklace with matching earrings. She says the blues and greens and aquas in the glass catch the light just right. The artisans who created her necklace come down from Colorado every year for the festival. They are among hundreds of artists and craftsmen from around the country selected by jury to bring their artwork to the festival.

Planning and deciding who participates in the festival is just part of Carol’s responsibility – the other integral part of putting on Arts and Jazz is ensuring it goes off without a hitch.

And there’s always a glitch, Carol says.

She and Kevin Lechler, assistant director of the Denton Festival Foundation, take care of last minute problems and make sure guests of the festival have an experience as smooth as the music emanating from the festival’s seven stages.

Though they say the festival has had good luck with the weather during its dates in late April, the two have vivid memories of the years when Mother Nature wasn’t cooperative. In 2015, Denton received more than triple its average rainfall for the month, with most of it falling just before the festival.

“I lost a shoe that year,” Kevin says.

A burst of laughter escapes Carol, who can clearly relate.

“In the mud,” she finishes for him. “People were sloshing through the mud that year, but they came.”

And they do. Each year, more than 225,000 people visit Denton Arts and Jazz Festival in Denton’s Quakertown Park, from those to whom the event is an annual tradition to tourists who travel to Denton for the defining cultural event of this uniquely artistic city.

One essential festival characteristic instrumental to attendance?

Free admission.

Guests of the Denton Arts and Jazz Festival peruse arts and crafts booths inside the Denton Civic Center. (Photo courtesy Denton CVB)

Keeping admission free is one of the main goals of the festival, but it’s a struggle. The main driving force behind free entry are the festival’s sponsors.

“We are proud to support this great event that offers free access to live music and the opportunity to enjoy the work of many local artists and small businesses alike,” said Meleia Waschka, district manager for Wells Fargo in Denton.

The Top Hands are key as well. These members of the Denton Festival Foundation volunteer more than 2,000 total hours at the festival every year. Watching the Top Hands have fun while they work is one of Carol’s favorite festival outcomes.

So is seeing exuberant children perform to what is often the largest audience they’ll experience.

Coming from elementary, middle and high schools, these young performers showcase their talents on the community stages, and are chosen by application. And alongside the senior center building, the internationally ranked University of North Texas jazz program, comprised of nine bands, merits its own stage for the weekend.

In 2018, the festival’s headliners will be Randy Brecker, Los Lobos and Brave Combo for Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights, respectively. The event is rain or shine, and visitors will be festing no matter what.