By Barbara Coots
Denton Live Spring/Summer 2005
This 2½-day event presents plenty of evidence to support Denton’s reputation as the music
capital of North Texas.
From its auspicious beginning as 1980’s “Spring Fling” through its perennially trendsetting present, the Denton Arts & Jazz Festival has been a matchless showcase for the advanced and innovative visual and performing arts communities from the city of Denton and surrounding areas. Considered by some as a reunion of sorts, the event draws celebrities and enthusiasts from across the country who recognize the city as the fine arts mecca (and springboard for new talent) that it is. Adding to the creative draw is the fact that family-friendly activities abound and admission is free. This year’s event will be held April 29–May 1 at the newly renovated Civic Center Park in downtown Denton.
It wouldn’t be the Denton Arts & Jazz Festival without Brave Combo’s “nuclear polka” (as dubbed by founder Carl Finch). Just emerging from a year when they celebrated their 25th anniversary, recorded a Grammy-nominated album, and appeared on The Simpsons, this Denton combo is stronger than ever. In contrast, the eclectic band remembers the early days (circa 1979) in the liner notes from their latest release, Let’s Kiss: “In the beginning, we hauled our equipment in an open trailer, pulled by a Honda Civic. If it rained, we were screwed.”
Thankfully, they’ve come a long way since then, having gained recognition worldwide, along with a Grammy Award for their 1999 release Polkatharsis in addition to five other Grammy nominations. Their beats include not only polka, but czardas, oberek, schottische, and waltz. “I feel evangelical to a point about the plight of polka,” says Finch. “Many polka musicians around the country are actively working to change its image.”
There’s no lack of support from this community. “The festival has given us a sense of home base that’s been critical to keeping us grounded,” says Finch. “We have people that we can come back to no matter what happens. It’s great to know that you have a whole town that’s a built-in fan club. The crowd’s incredible here; it’s definitely one of our best audiences.” Then, with a nod to their longevity as festival performers, he says, “I don’t think we’re even like an act anymore. We’re just like an expected building, an important booth.”
Joining Finch on Sunday night at this year’s festival are Jeffrey Barnes, Alan Emert, Bubba Hernandez, and Danny O’Brien. Oh, and you never know … one of the former band members might show up to sit in on a tune or two.
WHAT, AND WHO, YOU’LL SEE THERE
The opening headliner on Friday night for 2005 is Cuban jazz legend Arturo Sandoval. His return is most welcome after a weather disappointment cut last year’s performance short. The energetic, soulful Tower of Power takes the stage Saturday night. Guitar duo Trout Fishing in America will perform its blend of folk, country, rock, and comedy on Saturday and Sunday afternoons. And Denton’s own polka-performing offspring, Brave Combo, will close the event Sunday night. In all, guests can hear and see more than 1,400 musical, choral, and dance performances, ranging from jazz and blues to cross-cultural genres.
With many musicians defining the Denton Arts & Jazz Festival as a career-booster, it’s a great place to discover the latest musical trends while tracing the evolving careers of returning performers like saxophonist David Carr Jr. and festival fixtures like the Light Crust Doughboys and renowned UNT One O’clock Lab Band. Fred Nichelson, bassist for contemporary jazz band Fingerprints, says, “You get a certain amount of respect, just having been a part of the festival. And we’ve been there, year in and year out. It’s an outrageous response, the outpouring of support from Denton and the whole university, every time we play.”
The same is true for creators of visual art forms. Dentonites and metal artists Bill and Marion Graham approached their craft as a hobby, but after developing a festival following, they were able to turn it into a full-time profession. Indoor and outdoor booths offer everything from ancient to modern art, and media range from the watercolors of 15-year-veteran Larry Bridges to the exotic Hanji paper art of Anne Kolodji.
For the kids, there’s the hands-on Children’s Art Tent with 15 activities, an interactive show with “Singing Cowboy” Joel Reese, clowns, jugglers, mimes, and famed puppeteers Innate Imagination Marionettes.
LEND A HAND
Join TOP HANDS, the volunteer membership of the Denton Arts & Jazz Festival. The annual fee is $15 for active (working) members and $30 for supporting members. Call (940) 565-0931.
Since 1980, total benefits of over $180,000 have been granted to the Center for the Visual Arts, Campus Theatre, Civic Center Park, and other local arts facilities and preservation projects.
Booth info: Indoor and outdoor booths are available for fine arts and crafts. Crafts and sponsored art booths are available outdoors. To apply for booth space or activities, call the Denton Festival Foundation at (940) 565-0931. For rates and other information, visit dentonjazzfest.com.