Finish it off, and wash it down.
That’s what the rain in Denton did for Oaktopia’s final day, last night – much the same as the drinks we had to send it all off. As the drizzle still lingers this morning, we’re finding it difficult to come back to you one last time. Not because of any hungover-haze or glazed-eye reservoir-gone-dry, but because pages only have space, and we need so much more than pen and picture to get you there, walking with us.
This last round starts as most do – with that strange brew of wearied feet and a mind wary of the impending end. It’s an exhaustion that is the gathering of a force; a final throe for the last go around. For us here at the mag, though, it also began with a very necessary cold brew to get off the ground. Once we hit the scene, though, a buzz better than caffeine immediately took hold. Denton’s vendors had gathered at the West Stage, and this last day change made for a very intimate, close-knit-community feeling that was palpably present. Our final festival day was packed full of little stories – and strange as it may seem,
it began with soap and a sermon
Though the last day of Oaktopia has so far been Sunday, this year, our last day was Saturday. Still, there hanged in the air an energy of siesta-esque comfort not unlike the sort of engorge-and-relax feeling that many working people find on Sunday. A day of rest for the weary Oaktopian’s soul, but certainly not for ears or feet.
There were vendors galore, most of whom made up the very fabric of the Denton Community Market. One such familiar face was Bluff City Soap Works, a personal favorite and a must-visit. If you want a variety of real, healthy body soap – anything from “morning buzz” coffee-based bars to “citrus energy” and chamomile green tea – then this is the place to make a habit. There was also Cactus Makes Perfect, a handmade succulent-in-ceramics vendor run by a local couple – the wife creates, and the husband helps slang. There were a few unique additions, for the fest – such as Halo Auragraphic Photography, which proports to be able to visualise-via-photo your aura, via a chromatic, alien-looking tent. Also in attendance was local artist and constant Austere collaborator, Zarina Kay, whose art was most recently officially picked up and merch-ified by Oaktopia themselves. Her art speaks for itself – and she’ll be speaking for herself in an article for upcoming Austere Mag issue, Quest. Stay tuned.
From there, we went from soap to the soapbox. Befitting of this “Sunday” was, at the beginning of our day, at least, a sonic sermon via Lee Fields and his backing band, the Expression. It felt as if James Brown himself had reincarnated into Denton, TX, to deliver the gospel of soul. The beginnings of his songs felt intimite and impassioned like a Southern Revival call-to-Christ – and the jams that followed were an immaculate fire-and-brimstone finish.
In perfect contrast – or maybe even harmony – with Lee Fields came Andrew W.K. – the crowd-crooning saint to the now stage-playing sinner. Though Fields is no Preacher and Andrew W.K. is only a party rawker in performance, the vibes were nonetheless unavoidable. W.K.’s performance can only be described as wild–eyed and high-energy. Our frontman was, of course, crashing about the stage replete with dirt-stained shirt, drool and snot flinging even more than his sweat-soaked hair. His guitarist, Dave Pino, made it clear that he does not blink, nor has any need to. He was fast moving to the point of being difficult to capture, but if these images tell you anything, its that there were far more crazy-eyed looks than, here, meets the eye.
After this final re-introduction to the festival, we found ourselves obviously drawn to DJ Low Down Loretta Brown – aka, intersectional talent Erykah Badu. The hype was built in the best slow-burn wait with a series of hip-hop and pop throwbacks, before Badu strolled on stage. From there, it was a perfectly non-linear DJ set to make for an hour of unstructured vibing. We here at Austere checked out the set from a few angles, and then spent our time backstage, chatting with staff and talent alike, and even having our very own lead Denton correspondent Alcynna Lloyd snagging a selfie with Erykah Badu herself.
As evening turned to night, despite the beachy nature of upcoming surfer-rock duo Best Coast,
it was rain until Rae.
And yet, while this seemingly close-call to disaster and disappointment turned out to be merely a delay for Best Coast – it was a transcendent experience for this photographer. With a weather-sealed camera, rain-cover on the backpack, and a bone-soaked body, there was nothing to stress about when the downpour came. With rain cascading down around and on us, we captured some seriously striking portraits of the washed-and-waiting masses. Although being stuck out in the rain may sometimes not bode ill for mood or health –
there’s something so wordlessly purifying in relinquishing to the solace of a storm.
It was both a refreshing relief to the day’s lingering heat, and, thankfully, fairly short-lived. However, the showers didn’t end with the rain. Enter Rae Sremmurd.
After having just taken the rain with grace, we found ourselves quickly showered again at the start of Rae Sremmurd’s set; after a provocation of the crowd yelling “Fuck Trump”, the Brown brothers proceeded to shower us in popped champagne. The photo pit was not spared, but rain and champagne mingled fairly unnoticeably. To say this set was lit would be reductive – but totally accurate. With a sampling of beach balls, fog blasters, oversized fur coats, and lyrical bomb-dropping, you’d be hard pressed not to find your fill at this show. Once the end of the night began to approach, it was all about local – kicking off with a quick glimpse of intimate Denton mainstays, The Monkberries, and moving on to a medley of Andy’s and Bearded Monk based performances.
The Bearded Monk may be spilling over with stocked-shelves of beer, but the venue has never felt so musically filled as it did with Kites and Boomerangs set. If you’ve ever seen they’re cover of “Hold On” by Alabama Shakes – or, if you still have yet to experience it – then you should know that Will’s soul-filled wailing vocals alone are unparalleled.
Finally, Orcanaut finishes us off strong. Though a recent dance-floor spillage had just been mopped up, it did nothing to waylay the would-be moshers – one of whom was yours truly. With camera bag secured, there was no hesitation at the first shove, but footing was quickly, cartoonishly lost on the slippery floor, and that release was short-lived, but always necessary. Orcanaut may seem intimidating, but, sweetheart gentlemen only just so happen to form the most mosh-worthy, head-banging band in town. We’d say you probably haven’t heard music quite like their unique brand of experimental, ambient-jam metal – but if you’ve seen music in Denton, there’s no way you’re not familiar with the Orcanaut experience.
Because Oaktopia is not in the time or place, but in us, the community – all the faces, all the makers, all the music and its many takers. In the most simple, true expression?
Oaktopia is a coming together.
Festivals end, as finance and fatigue can only go so far. But Oaktopia is only one expression of a town with so much to say and share. It’s controlled and contained, and so it has the appearance of an annually defined beginning and end. But if you’ve ever spent time in this town, you know the only thing leaving at the end of this weekend are the out-of-towners. Local acts play constantly in this town whose heartbeat is a constant pumping of creativity. Oaktopia is a beautiful, chaotic, miraculously-staffed and planned festival that we all look forward to every year. It’s a festival that has never failed to learn from mistakes, and to grow in four years from a fledgling, seemingly pipe-dream gathering, into a full-bore festival that transforms our little Denton into something larger than the DFW skyline.
Nothing in this town ends – you’ve just got to look a bit harder, a bit deeper, and you will find little Oaktopias everywhere.
Here’s to everything Denton has to offer between this fest and the next.