First Denton Folk Festival to Showcase Local Singer-Songwriter Talent

The four male directors of the Denton Songwriters Guild — Landon Taylor, Matt Grigsby, Billy Ratcliff, and Aaron Price — are so at ease with each other as they sip on Shiners or Lakewood Lagers around a table in Taylor’s garage that it’s easy to follow suit. The garage door is open, and a light breeze and a little light filters in. The walls are decorated with various Emmitt Smith and Texas Tech memorabilia, and on a shelf next to the refrigerator sits their framed Best Literary/Arts Collective award from the first ever Denton Arts and Music Awards show. Taylor assures me that that is not where it will stay; the group plans on making a cozy, central space for it among the other awards they know their group can win. 

This award-winning group is not driven by a need for success or recognition, but rather a passionate desire to be an inclusive place that encourages, teaches, and promotes songwriting in Denton.

“Our purpose is to facilitate and promote local songwriters, and to encourage local songwriting in Denton,” Taylor says. “We have a monthly meeting where we talk about songwriting topics and how to grow a songwriter and a performer. We also perform at those meetings. We pick a prompt for the month, and then we try to write a song based off of that prompt and perform it at the next meeting.”

The first annual Denton Folk Fest is their next step in revamping the public image of the folk scene in town. All longtime Denton residents, the directors acknowledge that they love the direction the music scene is going in—especially in that certain genres are finally gaining traction—but have noticed a shrinking folk presence in town. They reminisce on the days of Banter, a former bistro and folk scene mecca that closed its doors permanently in March 2015, and how Joe Pinson always started off the space’s open mic.

“I don’t think folk as a genre is losing any power. In our town specifically, it’s going through a remission. We’re hoping that by throwing a festival will start a small growth,” Grigsby says. “We hope that it will grow and create a resurgence in the folk scene.”

While one of their original goals when forming was to have a festival, Ratcliff says that after their one-year anniversary in November, they wanted to expand their output beyond their meetings.

“We got together as the creators of the guild and we decided that we wanted to do more than what we were doing, and I think that’s really what put in place this momentum to get the folk festival off the ground,” Ratcliff says. “We want to be more involved with the community, and to be at more community events.” 

While the full lineup is not yet online, audiences can expect to see Levi Cobb and the Big Smoke, Claire Morales, Joe Pat Hennen, Boxcar Bandits, Jacob Furr, PurlSnapShirts, and Warren Jackson Hearne, just to name a few. The stagger in age groups is something that the directors see as a huge benefit, and as a way to get an eclectic crowd to the fest. 

Each of the five directors [Olivia Countryman is also a director of DSG] will play a set, with 26 acts in all performing. There will be an indoor and an outdoor stage, and as one band is breaking down on one, another band will be performing on the other stage. Ratcliff says that this should mean a continuous flow of music for both evenings. 

Most of the acts will not have drum setups, and given the nature of the music itself, audiences can expect a stripped-down, intimate showcase of quality folk music from notable Denton and North Texas acts.

“It’s not as rocky or loud, or with a lot of bass or drums. It’s going to be more like when you go to see a classical guitarist play and it’s just the guitar player, and it’s quiet and respectful and you listen,” Price says. “We’re not going to do that specifically but it’s going to be a bit more laid-back.” 

There is a $5 suggested donation for the festival, and all proceeds will go to the bands and musicians performing. Jagoe House is hosting the event on both Friday and Saturday, March 24 and 25. The directors said the help and direction they have received from the popular house venue and 7Feathers—who is helping with promotion, sound, lights, and volunteers—have been tremendous assets in pulling off the festival. 

As with any cool Denton event, folks can expect yoga, vendors, and several activities going on during the festival. Follow the Facebook event for information as it rolls out, and check out their website for more info on the group itself.