Header Image By Zachary Taylor
The annual Oaktopia Festival in Denton, Texas is an amazing experience of sound and culture. A festival so popular in Denton that it has sparked a stand-up comedy fest called “Joketopia” as well as a small free music fest called “Broketopia” for all the college kids too broke to attend. This year I had the privilege of attending the three-day festival for the first time. It was a very colorful and inviting event with lots of art installations, art vendors, food trucks, a diverse crowd of people, and most importantly…MUSIC. Headliners performed on the two main stages, along with local acts and touring bands playing at bars, restaurants, and impromptu stages scattered around Downtown Denton. With headliners like Wavves, Andrew W. K., and Rae Sremmurd, it was bound to be an exciting weekend.
On the first night of Oaktopia, we attended Petty Fest, where we saw many different musicians and celebrities joining Midlake, the on-stage band formed in Denton, to play covers of Tom Petty songs. The guest list included actors Jason Lee (along with his wife), Danny Masterson, Norah Jones, and Bob Dylan’s son Jakob Dylan. Backed by a wide array of musicians for the house band, largely made up of members of Denton fan- favorites Midlake, each performer managed to bring justice to their choice of Petty. Fans young and old sang along to all of the great Tom Petty hits played throughout the night, including “Runnin’ Down a Dream” and “Free Falling”. Norah Jone’s closed PettyFest on a high note, highlighting her anticipated set the following evening. Sponsored by Best Fest, Petty Fest is another installment in a concert tribute series, honoring heavily revered musicians such as George Harrison and Bob Dylan, and reminding us all why their music lasts a lifetime.
Black James Franco
After watching Tom Petty covers all night, it was refreshing to hear some good ol’ noise-rock over at Dan’s Silverleaf, one of the many bars near the main stages that hosts Oaktopia shows. This night we had the pleasure of seeing a band called Black James Franco, a group that played through many different styles in their set, sometimes laying down punk-rock grooves and sometimes breaking down into noise sections with the drummer screaming incoherent sounds into the mic and the occasional appearance of a fourth band member playing the trumpet frantically. Although the crowd seemed a little dead during noise sections, once the band kicked it back to the grooves, the crowd loved every second of it.
On Friday, the first headliner we saw was Wavves, a surf-rock band from San Diego, California. As the band first came out on stage, lead vocalist and guitar player Nathan Williams talked to the crowd about his experience in Denton the past couple of days. He and his band visited a few bars and a college party they apparently got kicked out of. At one point in the set he even made a joke about the equipment on-stage saying “and now our special guest, Norah Jones’ organ!”. But after a little talking, they jumped right into the jamming. The group brought the energy of the crowd to a high with a performance full of enough grungey guitar-shredding and angsty vocals from lead Nathan Williams to make anyone want to bang their head. Even recording artist Neon Indian happened to be in the crowd to see Wavves. The set included many songs from their newest album V as well as many of their best hits like “Post Acid” and “Demons to Lean On”.
Now many great artists graced the main stage on Friday, but my favorite act of the night was most definitely Beirut. With an impressive display of horns, playing sweet melodies with excellent vocals as well, the band caused the crowd to grow twice in size and excitement as they played many of their best songs, including a crowd favorite, “Santa Fe”. This was definitely a change of vibe for the festival that day. The band delivered a joyous and grand performance that had the crowd dancing the entire time. Witnessing the sound of Beirut’s trumpets was certainly one that I’ll remember for a while.
After a stellar performance from Beirut, I headed over to a bar just down the street from the main stage called The Bearded Monk to see Moon Waves, a local band that can be found playing at many house venues around Denton. Made up of young college kids, each with an ear for tight grooves, they prove to have a lot of potential despite their ages. The band, adorned in matching black and white polka dot shirts, played a lively punk set with blasting drum beats and harsh guitar riffs. The set was so captivating that it almost made you forget about the fact that they were playing in a parking lot on the side of a bar with cars flying by 30 feet away with only a projector for a light source.
After Moon Waves, we made our way to Dan’s Silverleaf once again to see The Whigs. Once we got in, we happened to see Danny Masterson in the crowd alongside his brother. After a 30 minute delay, the trio jumped onto the stage for a powerful display of southern rock and hard rock. The lead singer and guitar player sported a long flowing mane of hair, ray-bans, a poofy shirt, and a 70’s style moustache. He flailed his long limbs across the stage throughout the entire set, yet still maintained a sort-of rock star persona. Many songs resonated with the audience, but their final song “Staying Alive” rocked the bar to its core. With incessantly repeating crashes of cymbals and guitar licks, the song built to an ear-splitting climax before ending with a soft post-punk outro.
Denton’s own Norah Jones, UNT College of Music alum, took the stage late Friday night as the headliner of the festival. After being Denton’s pride & joy, it was a marvel to see her return to her roots and partake in the town’s music scene. Her set was sparse, low-key, and gentle – barely making a ruckus in the city’s atmosphere. Her seductive and lush mix of country, jazz, and soul mixed smoothly with the incoming darkness, and her beautiful voice hovered over the eagerly waiting fans. Performing a small ten song set (complete with a full band and grand piano), Jones performed classics from her Grammy Award Winning debut Come Away With Me, along with a new song from her latest record, and even a song she wrote for the animated film PUSS IN BOOTS. It was a quiet conclusion to the UNT Stage, one that will go down as a homecoming perforamance for the ages. Nothing groundbreaking mind you, but to say that that hour wasn’t special would be a huge understatement.
Austin feel-good trio Summer Salt (formerly from Denton) performed during Norah Jones’ highly anticipated set, making it one of the biggest conflicts of the weekend. However, the trio managed to fill up Andy’s Bar pretty well, enticing the crowd with their summer sound fused with a bossa nova vibe. The group recently released a small EP this year; along with their 2014 EP the trio had a small but incredibly energetic set. Eugene’s (drummer) minimal set, Phil Baier’s funky bass, and Matt’s (singer) soulful voice, made for an odd atmosphere in the small dark and dingy bar, but they were able to make it work. Shifting from soft summer tracks with some groove heavy breakdowns (complete with schizophrenic lights), Summer Salt were able to make themselves sound bigger than they were despite how small/minimal their set up is. While big in the Austin music scene, the trio were able to gain some new fans that weekend by commanding the small stage in a small bar on the corner of a square in a small town.
Kicking the party off right, the first big act of Saturday was Andrew W.K. and his band. A high-octane performance from the start, Andrew came out to one of his best hits, “Time to Party” wearing his signature white T-shirt and white jeans. The crowd was instantly set to party mode and began banging their heads and even forming a circle pit. This heavy-metal party-pop party wouldn’t stop until the band left the stage. Andrew’s stage persona was probably the most entertaining thing about the whole performance. Between songs he would preach his party philosophies and give the crowd life advice which usually just ended up with him telling them to party more. With high-speed guitar playing and an impressive keyboard solo from Andrew himself, it was definitely a highlight of the day.
DJ Low Down Loretta Brown (aka Erykah Badu)
After spending much of my energy banging my head to Andrew W.K., it was nice to sit and enjoy a very chill DJ Set from Ms.Erykah Badu. Although she came onto stage a little late, Badu played a set that included many great hip-hop and R&B classics and some new hits as well. Even though it wasn’t a full-fledged performance from Ms.Badu, the crowd grooved and sang along to every song she played. Occasionally she would sing along or sing one of her songs, but mostly just sat back and let Q-tip and Phife Dawg do the talking.
Pete Yorn’s classic rock/singer – songwriter chops provided a peaceful sabbatical before the chaos of the hip hop centric acts would begin. Yorn’s set was perfectly complimented with an auburn sunset caressing the stage as Yorn closed off the daylight with classic hits such as “Lost Weekend” and “On Your Side”, rounding in fans from all ages from younger teenagers to middle-aged dad. It was a performance that helped send the festival into night time, and Yorn even covered Morissey’s “Suedehead”. It was a classy performance all around, and one that felt as soothing and peaceful as the cool September breeze.
When it was time for O.T. Genasis to perform, I wasn’t really sure what to expect. At this point I only knew his two big hit singles, “Coco” and “Cut it”, but I was hopeful. Sure enough, O.T.’s performance of “Coco” definitely had the crowd jumping more than it had throughout the entire day. But afterwards, he cut the track to address his image and the fact that many refer to him as a one-hit wonder. He explained that while on a flight to a show, a friend called him and told him about this one-hit wonder stuff. So he cancelled the show, flew back home, and recorded “Cut it”. He then gave an even more lit performance of this song. The fact that he had the courage to address these accusations is what made me appreciate him more as an artist. After he was done playing his own songs, O.T. decided to share with us some of his favorite songs…and then he played “Hello” by Adele. It was pretty hilarious to hear a rapper admit his love for Adele, but I guess it just shows you that everyone has their guilty pleasure music.
Just as Bethany Cosentino and her band were about to walk out onto the west stage that night, a freak rainstorm hit and my group and I had to hide under a tent for about 15 minutes. Crew members scrambled to try and put tarps and towels over expensive stage equipment as the rain poured down from the sky. But nonetheless, once the rain subsided Best Coast took the now damp stage and still gave an awesome performance. At one point in her set a drone flew nearby the stage to which she expressed her hate for after hearing about Enrique Iglesias’s hand getting cut by one during a concert. Besides talking to the crowd from time to time, there were many elements of the set that made it feel very intimate, including the fact that half of the crowd that had been waiting for Best Coast to go on completely vanished once the rain hit, making it easier for the dedicated fans that stuck around to get closer to the stage. There was also a very nice atmosphere with the fresh smell of rain in the night air. It was the perfect backdrop for Bethany and company to serenade the audience with her beautiful voice and rhythms. As they played crowd favorites like “Boyfriend” and “When I’m With You”, the dripping wet crowd swayed side to side joyfully to some Cali vibes.
Every act at Oaktopia was great, but none drew more of a crowd than rap duo Rae Sremmurd. Before they came out, they had a screen condemning Donald Trump with flames in his eyes. As Swae Lee and Slim Jimmi came onto the stage wearing their signature coats and dancing along to their song “Start a Party”, the entire crowd lit up with excitement. The crowd bounced infectiously to club bangers like “Blase” and “By Chance”. Co2 rigs sprayed smoke in the air and lights flashed as Slim Jimmi sprayed champagne across everyone’s faces and Swae Lee jumped around the stage holding a pineapple. (that he ended up cutting open and eating by the end of the set) Thousands of girls screams could be heard as Swae sang the chorus to songs like “Throw Sum Mo” and “No Flex Zone”. After giving the most lit night Denton could ask for, the duo closed out with their newest big single “Black Beatles.” Once they finished their set they asked the audience to send them the address to any parties they could crash, proving that the Sremmlife party really never stops.
After this weekend, all I can say is that Oaktopia is most definitely the best little festival in North Texas. It’s more than just a music festival; Oaktopia also has its own film fest (co-sponsored with Granatum Film Fest), comedy fest, fashion show, and countless art displays. Oaktopia means a lot for North Texas, and it means a lot for Denton. Oaktopia is important to the music scene in Denton, which one could say has been struggling recently with the closing of many local venues such as Mac Island and Rubber Gloves. Oaktopia is another reason for tourism to the city, its great for the local artists and vendors, and it gives Dentonites the chance to see some amazing artists close to home for a good price. The acts are diverse and talented, the location is great, and the experience is awesome. Oaktopia 2016 was bigger and better than Oaktopia 2015. And with a line-up that only gets better each year, you can bet you’ll catch me there next year and many years to come!
Oaktopia Press Team 2016