I used to question why people selected to attend music festivals in the summer – clearly, a music festival in the first few days of fall in Texas is still very much the summer – the allure of some of my favorite bands was never enough. I was always turned off by the amount of people, the sweat, the heat, and the amount of money that would inevitably leave my pocket; however, these are all the things I quickly began to love about Denton’s Oaktopia Festival. From internationally known bands to Denton locals, Oaktopia reminded me that Denton is in fact a creative hub. Crowds of people wandered around Downtown Denton with a glazed look of contentment in their eyes. As a music-centered city, the crowd goers all seemed to be veterans. Holding water bottles to stay somewhat hydrated between beers, sitting comfortably on blankets and lawn chairs, and all dressed in outfits that let every non-Dentonite know that Denton is home of the art hoes.
Photos by Eric Sonson
The festival kicked off Thursday afternoon with a food truck festival and a Tom Petty tribute show at the main stage that was surrounded by constant murmurs of, “this is a Tom Petty song?” Already drunk , the crowd danced and sang the lyrics in unison and created the vibe of togetherness that lived strong throughout the rest of the festival. Aside from the main stage, where I spent the majority of my time, music blared from windows of bars and the rooftop of restaurant Lone Star Attitude (LSA). With music flowing all over the square, there were still plenty of free things to do for those who didn’t want to drop the $85 on the festival. Nearly every set at LSA was geared towards country music fans, the Campus Theatre provided a venue for free stand up with some of the local comedians, and there was a stage set up on the courthouse lawn that featured local artists and yoga.
Friday afternoon, I caught the last half of Nashville-based artist Nikki Lane’s set where she brought her mother up on stage to help her sing a song – which, of course, created the cutest set I saw all weekend. Country music with rock and roll influences proved to be my jam more than I had anticipated. I spent the majority of that night bouncing back and forth between the main stage, the west stage, and the beer vendor. As intoxicated as I could be considering the amount of sweat that was coming out of my body in 90 degree weather, I watched as Wavves played an amazing set—unfortunately it did not include the birthday song, though it was one of the member’s birthday. After their set, the majority of the crowd migrated back to the west stage to hear Dr. Dog and dance our hearts out. As it got later and later, our anticipation grew waiting for Cat Power to take the stage solo. Her melodic tunes created the perfect set to recharge and feel connected to the crowd on an emotional level; however, we were all back to dancing the moment Beirut hit the stage. Since they were the last act prior to headliner Norah Jones, they kept us on our toes and ready to hear music from a talented artist that used to call Denton her home.
After an incredible first two days, I brought my mother with me for the final day of the festival. We caught Amasa Hines’ set and began with daiquiris to start our day off right. I took my mother around to see everything she wanted to see, and of course, we had to stop by the Karma Yoga stand so she could get her face painted. Arguably the most important part of the day was the Super Smash Bros tournament going on at the Campus Theatre, thanks to Freaks and Geeks of Denton. Watching college students competitively showing off their Super Smash skills for a decently sized trophy felt like I had reached a milestone in my own life. After effectively getting my ass handed to me, I headed back to the main stage to catch jazz musician Lee Fields and the Expressions play an amazing set. I’m not quite sure how the New York artist managed to survive the heat in a full suit, but he did it with no hesitation and absolutely had the whole crowd grooving. For a slight change of pace, I ventured to LSA with my mother to hear some country-influenced music from local artist Kim Nall and the Fringe, followed by another Denton artist Field Division on the courthouse lawn. Back at the main stage, the crowd took an entirely different atmosphere in preparation for rapper OT Genasis. As soon as OT Genasis hit the stage, the crowd entered into a new level of hype. A thin layer of smoke filled the crowd as he played hit after hit, and he took some time in between songs to tell stories and jokes before the rain delay that postponed both Best Coast and Rae Sremmurd. Luckily, a little bit of rain didn’t stop the fun of the festival. Best Coast came out and delivered another set as amazing as their last Denton area performance. Rae Sremmurd pulled back the vibe that was alive during OT Genasis and had the crowd moving and jumping with smiles on everyone’s faces as the fest at the main stage came to an end. Other venues kept the music playing until the last call put an official end to Oaktopia.
Previous to this experience, I had never considered myself a festival type of person, but Oaktopia gave me a new perspective. I arrived slightly discouraged by the decline of local scene since many venues closed over the summer, and I felt unsure as to what to expect;
however, Oaktopia restored my faith in the creativity of Denton. I can definitely say I am looking forward to next year’s festival to do it all again.
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