There’s a haze of twilight, marking entry to tonight,
Like a blanket, almost, though not because of the comfort of inactivity – but because of the warm reassurance of a doing of something that breaks the mold. The ever-growing fest that is Oaktopia begins tonight, and at the very least, it has definitively shifted the tectonic plates of Denton’s makeup. Redirected traffic, floods of pedestrians, and pop-up tents as far as the eye can see? Denton’s beloved end-of-September ritual is back. And in an expanding small town such as this – let’s just say that there is unspoken comfort in the thought that Denton surely has its own incalculable capacity, and yet, nonetheless, such unknown numbers are being put to the test.
Because this is how a small town’s fourth iteration of an inimitable festival begins – not with a bang or a whimper, but with a slow-burn build that perfectly complements the dip-in atmosphere. After all, it’s a slowly-dip-your-toes-in kind of night – whether you’re a newcomer, slowly acclimating to the sudden transformation of Denton’s landscape, or a seasoned veteran of the festival, quickly adjusting to this year’s updates and, at first cautiously, scouting out the situation.
Unfortunately, it’s true that many of us had to work. Many of us had responsibilities or necessities, which had to be completed prior to arrival. We were deterred or delayed, dismayed by traffic or random riff-raff; we had worries and wants, and all sorts of store-bought unknowns, but, as with any undesired items,
we just left them at the gate.
This year’s Oaktopia, more than anything, is a making of one out of many. Petty Fest, Food Truck Fest, Glow Yoga on the lawn, local vendor and bands galore, and so much more – there’s nothing singular or demanding about the possible paths of this fest. And that is exactly the intention of the open, free-fall feeling of the beginning of our Oaktopia experience – hang around for food, find a way to catch-up and imbibe, and/or forego it all for a wandering of fall. It’s a first-world problem of too many options; like a modern cable TV package, there are too many channels to tune to, and so scarcely something compelling enough to break you free of the loop. Everything is open to being experienced, no matter what has been told – and, ultimately, though not needed for recognition, what interfered – all paths lead the same way. Just know that if you want in on this journey in full, well, you’ve got your work cut out for you – by virtue of your peers finding slippery ways towards to manipulate the ideals of freedom..
Wandering becomes a natural state of being. Slowly scouting out our options, we have to check what the fest offers before we wreck ourselves on conforming to singular options. Though it is a slow building and, admittedly, a seemingly glacially-slow trickle of attendees – people are building. Slowly, nearly unnoticeably, a gathering begins. People preparing their paints, plotting sculptures, designing displays; it’s like the calm before a creative storm:
all of our bones feel the barometric change that signals a coming pressure. But it’s no simple storm system – there’s something expanding, and it is exponential. No matter how thin crowds may seem or how slow the flow of attendees may be, at first – we know it will change. It’s nice, really, in that we are allowed breathing room, for now. Lenses may be tested, run-ins with acquaintances may be had, and the power-walking-that-verges-on-awkward-running energy of the weekend has not yet leaked into the prologue. So we wander, until the first signs of musical life rear their glassy-eyed heads again.
First, Fishboy – the perfect moniker for a decidedly upstream-swimmer. That is to say that Eric Michener, founding frontman, constantly drives a sense of immersion in his shows when he can, defying the general subdued stage presence of many other bands via seeming off-the-cuff absurdity. It’s stage-humor that is court-jester raw, and yet, far from disingenuous. Simply put, it is energizing, loveable, and hopeful for imitation. Really, it’s just Fishboy at their best: unabashed feel-good jams. Throw in a sprinkling of on-stage antics and banter by our beloved frontman, and you’ve got the perfect cocktail for kicking off a festival.
Now, if only we could get our hands on a real drink. We’ll take anything, on this first, meaningless, 95 degree day of fall in Denton, TX.
After the second-wind of energy from a set by the comfortably-renowned locals Cozy Hawks, it was time to make a quick shift in real estate – after all, tonight was only the beginning; a sampling of what’s to come, this weekend. Though newcomers have no comparison, and there is no competition of experience – any veteran must know this fundamental Oaktopian principle:
you’ve got to keep moving.
With so much going on, it’s up to you to decide how much you want to experience. It’s a matter of desire and pacing – give your feet the schedule, and they will move you.
So we headed around the corner to Andy’s, for a touch of the spectrum of hip-hop that would resound for the night, and in even greater capacity, for the whole weekend. Because of timing, we caught In quick succession the tail-end of Muenster + WAX LOGIC’s set – a refreshing, intimately-crowded change of pace for the somewhat newly-initiated space of Andy’s reborn stage. Shortly to follow was the beginning of a solo-set by D-Mar – a long-time poet with a presence that could fill any stage. With such a squad on stage, paired with a mob on the floor, and replaced by an in-your-face MC?
Well, you’d never guess it was just Night One of Oaktopia 2016.
Without diminishing concurrent events, Dan’s Silver Leaf held a certain unresistable draw, a back-to-back insurmountable trio: Black James Franco, Criminal Birds, and Biographies – oh my! Though it took no noticeable planes or trains to make their way here, BJF has, it recently seems, become a bit reclusive in regards to the Denton scene. If anything, though, it certainly doesn’t take away from their presence or performance; if anything, the recent-rarity of the local group adds to the awe of the performance. Without suggesting a conspiracy, it’s sure to say that all in attendance were greeted with a familiar hometown power trio that seemed perfectly suited to the night’s set. For this attendee, at least, the night was packed with revival.
In near-perfect following came the word themselves – Criminal Birds. From house-show send-offs, to new venue jams and festival kick-offs, this local band has more than earned its Denton pedestal. Call it hyperbole, sycophantic, even, but the Birds’ boys are deserving of every accolade attribute to them – by big-wig types and imbibed individuals, alike. You’d be a fool to seek more to say – this quad-squad speaks for itself
You know what? We love that they’re last – the humbly omnipresent Biographies, that is. Because, in all honest – we’re trying to find more words. This sonic sextuplet doesn’t need good reviews or the pleasantry of attention, though. There’s a reason they closed out the night, and it’s certainly not for want of attendance. Verb, adverb, or adjective – none suffice in capturing this sound, this set, but the gentleman and lady of Biographies weave stories that, even after five years of bandhood, have yet to lose their power.
If you didn’t fight back tears at any point in their set – well, it was no requirement but, hopefully, you’ll come to find that it would be far from ridiculous for a band like this to incite it.
And with that, the first night hits its last note. In the most enjoyable sensation of discomfort, the collective of press and public knew – whether freshly initiated or frequently returned – that tonight was only the bunny slope. A beginner crash-course leading into the daunting anticipation of Friday and Saturday. The two days that, this year, you know or will find out, hold the bulk of beautiful chaos. So, as you struggle to recover from last night; to recoup for Day Deux of Oaktopia and, maybe reluctantly, to revive and renew your imbibement – it’s going to be a bright, early Friday, no matter what you do. And in your recovery, we solely offer this, Biographies’ own closing words:
“We were all born for brighter days”