Story by Olivia Sylvain Denton Live Spring-Summer 2015
The sounds of saxophones, trumpets and drums resonate through Quakertown Park and electrify the city. Crowds gather on the grass to see all-day music. Nightly concerts feature world-renown headliners, this year Randy Brecker, Dr. John the Night Tripper and Denton’s own Grammy winners Brave Combo. An array of cold beer combines with aromas of everything from succulent pulled pork to fresh, crisp eggrolls and sweet strawberry crepes, sending taste buds whirling. At the north side of the park, kids play instruments in the percussion tent, climb a rock wall, bungee fly and enjoy jugglers and clowns. Everyone is here for a one-of-a-kind festival only Denton delivers.
For 35 years music lovers have flocked to Denton every April for the sights, sounds and tastes of the Denton Arts & Jazz Festival. The free, three-day event showcases Denton’s amazing musicians of all genres alongside international superstar talent on seven different stages. More than 250 fine artists and local artisans are added to the mix attracting more than 200,000 people each year.
When it began, the festival was known as the Spring Fling, brought to the community by the Denton Festival Foundation. It was similar then, only smaller and without a specific musical focus. When Carol Short, Denton Festival Foundation director, took over in 1990 her vision was jazzy and grand. She moved the event to Quakertown Park in the heart of Denton from which the city’s cool vibe emanates. And she focused on incorporating jazz, identified with Denton around the globe, thanks to the jazz music school at the University of North Texas. Finally, she determined to grow Arts & Jazz while keeping it free to the public.
“I wanted it to be an arts festival with a focus on jazz. We wanted it to be available to everybody regardless of their economic situation,” Short says, including the Festival Foundation Board’s commitment to the community.
Foo McBubba, the jazz band of Denton First United Methodist Church, has been featured at the festival since the band formed in 2003. Trumpet player Joe Roy looks forward to the festival as a way to celebrate jazz and its uniqueness.
“If you are a jazz group, it’s the place to be,” Roy says. “It’s a collection of regional and sometimes national bands, and you want to be part of it.”
Foo McBubba is invited back to the festival every year. It’s become a gateway for the band to show its love for jazz music while expressing band members’ individuality.
“Jazz is what we do, and the jazz fest is where we can do it. A lot of times we have to tone down our music, but at the jazz fest we can let it all hang out,” Roy says.
The festival’s art focus is as centric to the event as is music. Artists and crafters come from around the globe to showcase and sell their work. And true to Denton’s original, independent spirit of creativity, festival-goers even have opportunities to create their own pieces.
For instance, this year kids have a special innovative space courtesy of SCRAP, a local creative re-use center. Owner and Denton native Heather Gregory is excited about bringing a new hands-on creative experience to the festival.
“SCRAP has a pretty unique mission. People are used to the idea of a thrift store, but we’re kind of rare,” Gregory says. “We are all about inspiring people to think of possibilities for these re-usable materials.”
Children will get to create instruments like guitars made of tissue boxes and rubber bands and rain sticks from paper towel rolls and beads. For everyone, Gregory and SCRAP staff will be featuring a community art project, inviting anyone and everyone to contribute to a giant mural.
Gregory believes community is a key aspect of what makes the Denton Arts and Jazz Festival significant, bringing people together year after year to share in a unique, collective experience.
“It’s fun, and I appreciate the diversity of the community that comes to the festival. It’s not just Denton. There are people from all over,” Gregory says. “It’s a celebration of creativity.”
Denton Festival Foundation president Lisa Miller and her family have been involved with the festival for more than 20 years, starting as volunteers in the early ’90s. For Miller, the festival is a place where families come together to spend quality time.
“We have fun. We love being together and meeting other people,” Miller says. “Denton is such a unique place with many opportunities to help out, especially with the arts.”
Denton Arts and Jazz Festival will take place April 24, 25, and 26, 2015 at Quakertown Park just a short distance from the square. Attendees can park for free anywhere downtown and around the festival grounds.