Story by Tyler Murphy Photo by Christen Dennis Denton Live Fall-Winter 2015

Dentonites are used to seeing the road work. The Hickory Street improvement is a massive project turning this familiar favorite district into a symbol of Denton’s refreshing independent spirit. After a year of work, the end is in sight. Paving is finished, sidewalks widened, and Hickory Street is more beautiful than it’s ever been.

Part of the project’s goal is to make way for new businesses, such as Harvest House. Denton’s newest beer garden, coffee shop and live music venue is the latest newcomer to the city’s rich tradition of classic music venues like Dan’s Silverleaf and Hailey’s. Harvest House adds an undeniably new flavor to the Hickory Street scene.

“I started throwing this party 11 years ago.” says Matt Arnold, one of Harvest House’s founders. “It was the first cold night of the year. We carved some pumpkins, drank some whiskey, and we called it Harvest Fest. Every year we threw the party, it kept getting bigger.”

Matt’s annual Harvest Fest parties evolved from a few friends at his home, dubbed “Harvest House,” to one of the key musical events of the year with hundreds, then thousands, in attendance. Matt, with his partners Ian and John Lenz, saw it was time to make Harvest House a business, with one requirement: “We wanted to create a place that felt like home.” Matt says.

The Hickory Street Project has had a profound effect on established businesses that have been mainstays for some time. Take Hickory Street Lounge. Ken Fallin, one of the founders, is tending bar. He is dexterous and energetic, often catering to the needs of new customers and regulars alike before they need to ask for what they want. He does it all with the effortless ease that comes from experience. The street construction, though, knocked him off balance.

“At first it was a mere inconvenience, but then sales really dipped,” he says.

For Ken and many of the businesses on Hickory Street, the construction has been problematic. It often limited pedestrian and driver access alike, sending revenue the wrong way: down. Some businesses were virtually cut off from sidewalk access. This forced customers to circumnavigate buildings to find a different entrance. That’s if they didn’t just assume the business was closed and go somewhere else. Despite the problems, Ken is jubilant about the project and thrilled to see it finished.

“We can already tell the difference,” he said. “We’re excited about people coming down to see what’s new.”

Perhaps because of their fledgling status, the people at Harvest House faced a different challenge.

“We thought that our business was going to open months ago.” Matt said. “And [construction] thought they were going to finish months ago. We’ve been on the same time table and had the same delays. We basically opened the day after the street was finished so the timing could not have been more perfect.”

Now that the Hickory Street Project is complete, this storied entertainment district is even more vibrant and dynamic, emanating the Denton vibe.

 And Around Oak Street...

Denton is no stranger to cultural touchstones, like the Denton Arts & Jazz Festival, that demonstrate just how strongly our music culture resonates with residents. Named for the street on which it originally took place, the Oaktopia music festival is the latest on Denton’s music festival calendar, with a character as unique as the city that it celebrates.

According to Matt Battaglia, co-founder of Oaktopia, the original Oaktopia was a grassroots effort, funded with the crew’s assembled life savings and loans from relatives. Now Oaktopia has hit the proverbial big time.

Although Oaktopia was inspired by the massive Denton Arts & Jazz Fest, a visible and obvious influence, Matt and his colleagues intended that the festival become something distinctly different. “We always wanted to transform Downtown Denton into a living piece of art,” he says.

Matt also has plans to make Oaktopia a more interactive experience. “We’re going to have more artists – more things for the attendees to do and touch. We’re going to have artistic activities for the attendees to engage in.”

This year’s lineup includes Aesop Rock, Immortal Technique, Denton’s own Brave Combo and many, many more. Oaktopia 2015 will begin at 5:00 p.m. Friday, September 25th, and run until 2:00 a.m. on the 27th.