On November 26th Denton played host to Oaktopia, and I HAD to write about this one! Oaktopia was a grassroots festival featuring more than 60 artists in one day. Denton’s stages were full to the brim with incredible music! But there was something very special about Oaktopia that has made me into a freak fan; Oaktopia’s mass majority of bands were all from Denton!
I am a big fan of anything that benefits Denton, and festivals are a big part of that. Arts & Jazz Fest is a more prominent and, for a while, really the largest one. There were others, but they did not compare in size or prestige. Now here is what is interesting: Denton has always had a huge reputation for Jazz. Mostly because of UNT, and Arts & Jazz helped to advance that reputation. This is great, however Denton is full of so much more. Even Arts & Jazz has more than just Jazz. Then 35 Denton was born and it opened Denton’s reputation up to genres across the map. Since 35 Denton proved that the Denton music scene could be successful on a large scale with more than Jazz, it feels like there has been a new “festival” popping up every weekend. Or at least attempts.
This is all good for Denton, however I want to point out that most of the acts playing these festivals are not from Denton! Now, just so I am not misunderstood, I am not devaluing these festivals one bit. Denton needed the national attention that these festivals have been providing. And Denton will continue to need it, I hope we see more 35 Denton and 35 Denton inspired fests. These are noble services that help Denton's music scene thrive. Unfortunately the local scene often felt very left out.
The greatest pro of the big festivals is that they create fantastic economic impact for Denton, generating millions. But that economic impact is here one day and then gone the next. My belief is that if we can draw attention to what happens the other six nights of the week (which is just as good, if not way better than a lot of the “non-local” acts) then the economics would not be an “impact” it would be an “increase.” I think affordable world-class music within walking distance of your own home has the potential to be a golden and powerful marketing tool. This marketing resource can be implemented every single day as long as the performances and booking stay fresh, and VERY local.
But in order for music to market businesses, businesses must first market the music. I know this sounds backwards, but it isn’t. Local musicians have an ability no business has: connection. Local audiences can not only watch local musicians, they can connect to them. One of my favorite stories to tell is of a band that decided to surprise a friend of mine by showing up at her birthday party to sing “Happy Birthday” to her. They weren’t paid, they weren’t bribed, they were just close by. It wasn’t an enormous effort for them, but it did have an enormous effect. My friend is now always in the front row of their local shows, and always brings as many people as possible! Why? Because they are not "a band", they are "her band." Can anything else really do that? Nope.
Local musicians love to love on their fans, and that causes them to not only become “fans” but “freak fans!” Consider giving a local musician an audience to be an investment. When they are given a small crowd, over time if it’s the right connection-creating musician, they can always grow their following. Let me repeat- over time. No investment grows overnight. Are you seeing how this could create economic increase?
This isn't going to happen instantaneously, but it IS going to happen. It can be scary to invest money and time in an idea when all along that little voice is saying “what if it doesn't work?” But now we know that it WILL work, and Oaktopia proved that! They brought in a couple of major acts which is a must. You have to bring in something to light the spark! But then they let local bands be the stars they are, and the local bands received press, attention, and new fans. This event was a stake in the ground, proving to everyone that local bands can do something just as significant and impressive as national acts. If there is another Oaktopia, and I genuinely hope there is, I can guarantee that the next one will be even bigger. Now that these bands were able to play in front of new audiences they have the chance to connect with and make new “freak fans,” and the cycle will continue. So, why wouldn't you do it again? And for that matter, why wouldn't other people step up and copy the model? This is exactly what we need. Lots of festivals booking lots of local musicians since they know it works.
One final point, was Oaktopia perfect? No. No festival is. No show is. Trust me. I have hosted some terrible ones. By no means the bands fault, but mine. Was it as big as 35 Denton? Nope. But the people that put it together were young, local guys. Not a big powerful entity, just young, local music lovers that said “let’s create something.” Which is quite remarkable, not just because they had a unique point of view but as locals they were more familiar with the venues and could place the right genres in them. Denton is full of creative people completely capable of replicating this over and over.
Like many of you, I stopped waiting on someone else to do something for our local artists, so I offered them a platform where they could be heard... DentonRadio.com. It’s not perfect, but it’s here. Oaktopia was not perfect, but it is here. And we need more people following their dreams and getting creative. Over time we are going to change everything. Denton is already an amazing place, and soon it is going to be even better as more people take a page from Oaktopia’s book and take that first step. The first one is always the hardest and scariest. And it doesn’t just have to be music, the Denton Community Market saw a need for local Artists and Farmers and filled the void. This blog is a call to action What need do you see?
GREAT job, Oaktopia! Thank you for taking this ENOURMOUS step that is sure to significantly impact our local community.
Pictures from our Facebook page.