Band Together Denton Spreads DIY Spirit

Homegrown festivals have become a staple for music-loving cities over the past few years—for proof, you need not even look outside the Lone Star State. These festivals are born out of the desire to see decent live music acts without breaking the bank. Band Together Denton is the newest addition to Denton’s scrappy music scene. Two days, ten houses, and sixty bands made up this ambitious house show festival.

Each venue brought its attendees an assortment of excellent acts, the smell of beer being tossed overhead, and the sight of cramped-but-charming quarters that only the best house venues can provide. From Friday to Saturday, bands both notable and new were sprinkled across town, and local artists set up camp to hock their wares.

Conor Wallace added a dance-pop and alt-country ambiance to Nebulae's evening. Wallace is known for two things: making music we all love, and providing plenty of witty banter with his sister and backup vocalist Adrien Wallace. Songs like “Taste of Cinnamon” and “Hold Your Baby Tight” hyped up the crowd, but still left us with a sense of emotional resonance that we all appreciated. The mixture of Conor and Adrien’s voices works so well that it allows their listeners to fully grasp the context of each song while enjoying the endless, beautiful harmonies.

E Third
J3’s Journal and Lil Durt filled the air at E Third with their quirky, unconventional take on hip hop. The outdoor setting was perfect: there wasn’t too much bass or too little room to move around, and the audience slowly got more and more into the spirit of things as Jordan Johnson and Jabari English dipped into the crowd to hype everyone up. (During “Private,” J3 even indulged in a little rolling around in the grass, proving himself the hip hop Iggy Pop we always suspected he might be.) The duo brought fellow artist LVL 9 in to rhyme on one song. 40s circled the crowd, the lights in the yard shone bright, and no police were called despite the thumping bass and enthusiastic vocal performances.

The Rabbit Hole
The Monkberries began their set at The Rabbit Hole around 7PM. Adam Millard and Marissa Hunt work well together and provide an echoey sound that could be described as adorable doo-wop from space. Each song presented itself as an easy-listening duet, with the audience swaying to its good mood melodies. It was a great way to kick off the night. Ending the evening with Biographies was something akin to bliss. Biographies are notorious for their long setup times, but when all is said and done their shows are worth the wait. Each song lilted the audience with grand intros and uplifting bridges. Chance Maggard and Katie Slusarski’s voices blended to generate their powerfully poetic lyrics. The band played a few songs off of an upcoming album that left the crowd wanting more.

Snuff American Style, who played LiberDIY on Saturday, is an experiment in bringing depression, anxiety, and gritty life experiences into play through a combination of sounds that don’t necessarily inspire feelings of comfort or safety. In fact, a lot of the set left audience members feeling uncomfortable and fearful for the near future. But then again, isn’t that life, at times? Snuff American Style got everything right in his last live set, expressing all that we might try to repress when everything seems to be going poorly in such a raw, vulnerable way. It was a set that was made for a house show. Five-musician outfit Rei Clone followed and completely filled the playing area of LiberDIY—the music filled the rest of the venue. The first few songs from the shoegaze group were nearly vertigo-inducing, and we were honestly not just more than okay with it, but extremely impressed. Their jabs at both themselves and Michael Briggs of Civil Recording (who recorded, mixed, and mastered their album Wet this past August) made for a good bit of ironic humor for an audience that was clearly digging their set. Bottom line, Rei Clone’s performance was a fun, loud party. (All music aside, we have to give a specific shout-out to LiberDIY’s resident kitty Raider, who made the evening that much more enjoyable.)

The Yellow Sub
Saturday at The Yellow Sub did not disappoint. The evening started with Marathons & Unicorns, an improv rock band consisting of Eric Nichelson (of well-known, much-loved Denton band Midlake) and his two young sons. Owen and Tate may be just 12 and 4 years old, but their drum skills are already at a level well beyond their years. Eric provides vocals, synth, and guitar for the band while the two boys complement each other on two (very different sized) drum sets. The sight of this family band is inarguably the cutest thing anyone has ever seen—we were able to reach this conclusion by overhearing more than a few “Maybe I do want kids after all” conversations amongst audience members. Eric began the set by asking his bandmates, “Before we begin, does anyone need to use the restroom?” After the crowd recovered from the endearing shock to our hearts and ovaries, we realized that this band indeed has a ton of talent. Even though Marathons & Unicorns made for a tough act to follow, Mink Coats did just that, treating the small living room to their uniquely resonant brand of psychedelic garage rock. (Bassist Spencer Jones made sure to angle his Electric Wizard shirt—the back of which read “Legalise Drugs & Murder”—away from the younger members of the previous band.) Crowd favorites like “Greasy Dan” and “Candy Bowl” filled the room, bolstered by the close proximity to Taylor Copeland and Jared Starcher’s shared guitar chops. They closed out with a rare display—a cover! Ty Segall Band’s “Wave Goodbye” graced audience members’ ears as their set came to a close.

Levi Cobb & the Big Smoke was in many ways a departure from the other acts at Yellow Sub, but a welcome and lively one nonetheless. Jesse Thompson, Matt Farmer, and Sharla Franklin were decked out in Western finery, which is a good illustration of the band’s aesthetic. With their Americana-tinged-in-whiskey-soaked-folk-rock, everyone found themselves foot-stomping along to the group’s original songs and covers. Their performance of “O Mary Don’t You Weep” had the crowd simultaneously awed, dancing, and singing along in full form. The lights had been off for the other shows at Yellow Sub, but Puddin’ Taine started their set fully exposed under both the Christmas lights and the bulbs directly above Brandon Dowd’s head. Should someone turn them off? Should I? we thought. No. You need the lights on to witness the intense, sexy, fun party that is Puddin’ Taine in all its glory. To hear Puddin’ Taine is to immerse yourself in funk that grooves and moves with the many permutations of the genre. (One of the best moments in the set was the group’s rousing rendition of the venue’s namesake.)

Fresh off a tour, this was The Holophonics’ first Denton show in nine months. The ska group pulled out all the stops with a full setup that included two trombones, one trumpet, and a bassist who joined the group just last week. Just when we thought the night had given us festival-goers all the covers we were going to get, they ended with a ska-infused arrangement of “Texas, Our Texas,” which proved a good way to pump up the audience after midnight and a full day of shows. While this is a band that has always hit the ground running in their nearly five years of existence, we hope they’ll stick around and bring more ska back to Denton as often as possible.

Glorp Studios
Across town in a suburban neighborhood, Glorp Studios hosted Orcanaut. This stoner metal band played in what was probably the nicest house venue yet. Glorp Studios left attendees feeling as if they and this hard, grooving group had broken into the home of someone’s aunt in order to put on the most metal show ever. Between headbanging and hoisting amps into the air, there were a few exclamations of, “Have you seen the granite countertops?!” Orcanaut was of course excellent in creating a vibe that crossed the boundaries between acid rock and heavy metal. Cameron Hinojosa’s vocals are what drives the band’s thrashing sound; the outfit has the appeal of Mastodon, among other groups.

Hettie Hacienda
On the other side of the train tracks, through the lane of taco temptations, the Hettie Hacienda played host to a mostly psych-rock lineup (with OG Garden standing out as the funk group of the bunch.) Despite OG Garden's early 7 PM showtime, they began their set to a packed room, although it took some creativity to pack all of their members into the small stage area. Half of their audience eventually left, but every set afterwards was replenished by an influx of attendees. Some were only there for the one house show; others ventured from other venues such as Load-In. It was a music lover’s dream, mixed with plenty of sweat and melodic rock, faithfully watched over by PA-master Zach Walker. Sunbuzzed, Biscuit Head, and Glasir didn't disappoint. The night ended with Dome Dwellers situated in a triangular formation, facing each other. The crowd moshed and danced only inches away from singer Michael Slack's back.

Dane Manor
On Saturday Pearl Earl graced a tiny room over at Dane Manor, filling the small space with psychedelic surf sounds. This powerful group is comprised of Ariel Hartley (on guitar and lead vocals), Stefanie Lazcano (on bass and vocals), and Bailey Chapman (on drums and vocals.) It’s very rare to see a band in which every single member is on the same wavelength while playing. The band took a mini-break to make sure that the crowd got a copy of a newspaper entitled Resist! Each copy was passed out in honor of the worldwide Women’s March, the event protesting hatred, discrimination, and oppression of all kinds, which had taken place earlier in the day.

Jagoe House
Saturday closed with powerful sets by Fishboy and the much-anticipated reunion of Ella Minnow at Jagoe House. Fishboy’s upbeat demeanor is always something to be admired and beheld: each song was catchier than the last and gave the audience a reason to mosh. Fishboy’s pop sound, being somewhat silly, was perfect for this house show setting. (Fishboy also managed to pack the room so full that late arrivers couldn’t see anything except the flailing neck of a guitar.) Ella Minnow ended the night by passing out tons of free t-shirts and copies of their CDs while the crowd passed around bottles of booze to beat back the sweat that, by this point, was dripping off the walls of the living room. This alternative indie rock band reunited for Band Together Denton, and we are so glad they did. Seeing as this was their first show in about five years, the night had a powerfully meaningful feel to it. With sounds equally creepy and captivating, the band helped to end the evening with elevated pop sounds that moved the audience to laugh, dance, and sing along. The best news came at the end—thanks to their recent reunion, Ella Minnow has decided to play a few more shows in 2017.

Band Together certainly lived up to its name over the course of its two-day run. Each venue’s programming ran smoothly, with only minor hiccups that are always to be expected at massive house shows. Each venue worked hard to give festivalgoers a great experience. Best of all, festival co-founder Tiffany Youngblood announced yesterday that the festival more than achieved its goals: Over $3,500.00 was raised for local non-profit Mentor Denton, all thanks to regular old Dentonites like you.

All in all, Band Together Denton was a welcome answer to the devastating loss of venues in 2016. The festival was a kind of salve, and a reminder that places don’t create culture—people do. As long as there are rooms offered up in Denton, music and art will fill them, even if people have to do it themselves. This may be the first year for this plucky and ambitious festival, but we certainly hope it won’t be the last.

Header image design by Brittany Keeton