A few weeks back, on April 27, I had the privilege of attending the Denton Arts and Jazz Festival — one of about 200,000 people to do so this year. It was free, after all, even if they wouldn’t let you carry any coolers inside (didn’t want to stifle the beer concessions, y’know). The festival was a wide, sprawling event that took up the Denton Civic Center area and Quakertown Park in downtown Denton. The park itself is kind of a surprise — it’s a big, open space that seems out of place in the middle of a town as densely populated as Denton is. A historical plaque near the entrance of the park, however, tells the story. Apparently, back at the turn of the 20th century, Quakertown was a thriving African-American community. In 1922, Denton’s city fathers (who were all white, of course), decided they needed Quakertown’s 27-acre site for a park, so they held a bond election to raise the money for development, passed it, and booted the people of Quakertown out of their homes despite their opposition to the idea. Nothing unusual — it only happened a thousand times back in the old days.
But this entry is supposed to be about what’s going on these days, not in the past. In any case, it’s not the Festival organizers’ fault, and Denton has grown into a cosmopolitan city that hosts no less than two major universities (the University of North Texas, and Texas Woman’s University) and has a thriving music and art scene. The Festival itself is a lot of fun, though admittedly it was unseasonable cold this year. In fact, I imagine this guy didn’t make much money at all.
But no matter — there were a lot of very serious people attending, so much so that they were literally camping out. What some people won’t do for free music, eh?
The folks above were camped out by the big stage, where I suppose the headliners were going to perform later, those being Brave Combo on that day. This Dallas musical institution considers it its “duty” to close down the festival every year.
While of course there was a juried art show at the festival (which I will discuss in more detail later), I think the biggest draw was the music — which, despite the name, wasn’t all jazz. There were some pretty big names at the Festival this year, including Delbert McClinton, the aforementioned Brave Combo, and the Neville Brothers from New Orleans, none of whom are really jazz acts (though the Nevilles can be jazzy). There were an amazing 2,200 performers in total this year, performing on six stages scattered around the place, but I think they included a lot of acts that had dozens of people — like this Hispanic troupe over at the Festival Stage.
I started out over by the city complex, where the Budweiser Stages stands in front of City Hall. There was a beer garden next to it, but it was still early, so not very many people were imbibing. Besides, it cost $4.00 for a beer, which is a lot even for the one Landshark Lager that I enjoyed. Mmm, beer.
There was a good bit of the festival installed in and around the Civic Center, including a nice juried exhibit inside. A fellow named Michael P. Gray from Denton got Best of Show. Apparently, among other things, he carves figures (mostly Native American) out of tree trunks. Take a look at this picture, and tell me that one on the right’s not so much better than any mere cigar store Indian.
I hate to admit it, but I was so caught up in gawking and snapping pictures that I didn’t even notice the female figure and her, ahem, abundant assets on the right — not til later anyway. If I had, she would have been the central figure. Talk about having a heart made of knotty pine (or a head, anyway). Kawligaaaaa!
Most of the art, and most of the rest of the Festival, was located across this loverly bridge that arcs across a shallow waterway separating the park from the Civic Center area.
Most of the stages were over there, too, not to mention a lot of the food venders. And oh my, were they busy — and expensive. I bought a tiny little sausage on a stick <>
for $3.00 to go with my four-dollar beer, and decided to hold off on any more food for the nonce. I was tempted to try something from the booth in the next picture down there, which would have been fine if I weren’t diabetic. But I could just imagine having a fried Twinkie or Key Lime pie (I kid you not) and then going into a month-long diabetic coma.
I have to tell you, most of the art for sell (and there were over 200 vendors) didn’t impress me that much — I was more interested in what was for sell at the Cottonwood Art Festival that I visited the following week, and about which I will blog very soon. The art at the Denton Festival was great, but it was generally more or less conventional. I did enjoy these nice twisty sculptures, none of which I could have afforded to save my soul, I’m sure.
Anyway, the kicker was that they also had a kid’s activity area, over near that giant ice cream cone I showed you earlier. Here, kids could hammer wooden planks together and make objets d’art out of clay, like these that were left out to dry in the sun (though the sun was hardly to be seen that Sunday, ironically).
Well, folks, the Denton Art and Jazz Festival is well and truly over this year, but they’re certainly already planning for the next one. To keep abreast of developments, keep an eye on their official website at http://www.dentonjazzfest.com/, won’t you?