A Tale of Two Festivals: How March’s Musical Madness Almost Drove Me Insane


The biggest band of 35 Denton 2012 has just finished performing at the Denton County Fairgrounds, as a muddy field of stunned onlookers dissipates, ears ringing.  They have just witnessed as unlikely an event as any on this family-friendly patch of earth behind Kroger: the Jesus and Mary Chain, three days after their originally scheduled date. You could say that the Flaming Lips, performing here in 2010, was also a strange event. But that group lends itself to big shows, fully enhanced by props, childish giddiness, and a knack for covering “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” Jesus and Mary Chain are reduced, minimal, and mean, with grotesque feedback and nastiness.

Backstage, I run into Nic Bagherpour, the official “Volunteer Coordinator,” for 35 Denton. That means he has the thankless task of rounding up dozens and dozens of worker bees of various experience levels to help put on the festival. Some are old hands with experience in various applicable industries. Some have that wide-eyed street team indoctrination that is so important for maintaining any large-scale operation, and festivals in particular. I’m surprised at Bagherpour’s question to me, even though it’s the fifth or sixth time I’ve been asked it during the festival: “Has 35 Denton ‘arrived?'”

I tell him what I believe to be the truth: It already arrived before this. The foundational shift behind the festival was tectonically hastening as far back as 2010, where, at the end of that year, Natalie Davila took over the booking duties. The writing on the wall was quite legible then, especially when one recalls what Davila actually said in her interview with FrontRow at the time:

I can confidently say 2011’s 35 Conferette ain’t your Mama’s NX35. We have definitely stepped out of the box and the current list of confirmed artists is more eclectic and diverse than ever before.

If one has been paying attention to where both the underground and mainstream have been moving in the relatively small town of Denton, there is nothing surprising about any of this. 35 Denton has grown into a marriage between the popular and left-of-center tendencies of the town, and it reflects the changes taking place in Denton the other fifty-one weeks of the year.

Of course, not everyone is going to be happy. There is a contingent of “the underground” who isn’t all that pleased about the newly scrubbed sheen that has taken a corner here and a corner there, both on the stage and on the streets of Denton itself. There are also cultural conservatives who feel that perhaps the festival is a little too reflective of the esoteric booking tastes of the young blood behind the scenes. Generally speaking, when you have fully irked both of these extremes, you are probably headed in the right direction.

Chapter 1: Naysayers 

It is weeks before the festival, and part of the talk repeatedly centers on the Observer’s year-long take on how there is a “lull” in Denton music activity. With apologies to current music editor Audra Schroeder, who was helicopter-dropped in the middle of all this, the alt-weekly has been pushing this story from late 2010 until early 2012. If you were to believe what you read in the 2011 Observer, Denton was pretty much dead throughout this entire time. Finding this top-down, subversively “Pro Dallas” view somewhat puzzling, I go right to the source, the former “North of the Dial” columnist, Rodrigo Diaz. I run into the writer, after a show at Rubber Gloves Rehearsal Studios. He had recently stepped down from his position, one that he uniquely utilized in a way no other “North of the Dial” scribe had.

Neither of us are in tip-top shape, but that only makes it easier to playfully pounce on Diaz. “So, why did you stop writing the “North of the Dial” column?,” I ask. And even though there is a sense of role playing and put-on in our brief Q & A, I’m still slightly stunned by his answer.

“Because I f*cking hate 35 Denton. It’s the stupidest thing ever. Because it’s not ‘based,'” comes the response.

If you must know, “based” is what all the effortlessly cool, willfully bad kids are calling things these days. At the risk of sounding like a complete square trying to explain the “bad equals good” linguistic implosion that peaked in the 1980s, the term originates from Bay Area rapper, Lil B, and which the Guardian hilariously explained in a February 2012 article on the artist, “Appears to mean saying whatever’s on his mind at any given time.”

You have to hand it to Diaz, here. He is certainly living by that code, and I can respect that.

“Okay, okay,” I say. “Before we get into your lingo…”

Diaz was heavily involved in the Lion’s Den after-parties during 35 Denton, which certainly were “based.” I had him walk me into one of them, and it was literally impossible to get down into the notorious neon basement. In front of the house, members of the local media —some of whom I’m shocked to see in this setting— shower me with backhanded compliments and loaded questions. “Do you actually have an editor?,” a local radio personality asks. A woman volunteering for the festival walks up and sprays my face and clothes with pink hairspray while I’m being interrogated. The police show up. Like so many similar scenes before this one, I instinctively flee. This is certainly more like the Denton of old, or at least the idea of it, the one for which Diaz and his like-minded cohorts yearn. That was the Denton of house shows and chaos and people simply trying to have a good time, while the troublemakers—fully enabled by the media and police—swoop in to pick it apart. It’s an old dance. Having been on both sides of this fence, more than ever, it’s easier to understand both sides. But this Denton is clearly alive and well, and will probably never die. It doesn’t matter how many condos they build.

As for the “Denton Sucks Now” view being the common approach at the Observer, both of those writers left the publication by choice, and it will be interesting to see what’s next. It already has been, actually.

Chapter 2: The Changing Look of Authority

There is a popular shirt and unofficial slogan in the town, “Keep Denton Beard,” which, of course, derives from the unusually high number of hirsute faces in Denton when compared to predominantly clean-cut North Texas. But here’s my question: what are the ladies supposed to be keeping in Denton?

The aesthetic revisions taking place since last year already had some of the aforementioned cultural conservatives, not to mention play-it-safe journalists, a little apprehensive. Throw in the fact that many of these choices were also made by females. That didn’t help; it never does. In my own experience, if I’m ever reviewing a performance by a female artist or interviewing a female booking person, the backlash is always ten times as venomous when people disagree. It’s not even surprising to me anymore. Nobody likes to be called sexist, but it’s alive and well, especially in music.

Right up until it was clear that there would be enough big names to make the event nearly fail-safe, the common sentiment was, “But what about Chris Flemmons?” There is no disputing that Flemmons, the founder of 35 Denton, is a local figure of some stature, but even though he has clearly and publicly relinquished almost complete control of the festival, I find it a bit dismissive of the people who are actually calling the shots these days that many of the articles about the festival are often still either half about Flemmons, or at least gave him hundreds and hundreds of words. It’s as if people simply weren’t ready to let go.

I have grown to truly respect Flemmons over the years, but one of the things most admirable about him is that he has been one of the few people in North Texas music to show the courage to step back when necessary. Stepping away from the festival is a way of admitting that the people who should run the festival are the same who obsess over every new little sound that creaks and disturbs from basements the world over. These are the people who sift through virtual mounds of hissing demos and clumsily written press-kits. Not everyone has the patience for that, and some (but not all) definitely have less time for it as real life bears down with each passing year. How do you cram a three hour SoundCloud listening session of teenagers’s musical experimentations in between mortgage payments, children, divorce, day jobs,and the early siphoning of your 401K? You don’t. The idea of it is laughable to most who reach a certain age. Flemmons made a move so smart and courageous that I bet nobody repeats it anytime soon. It’s a shame there aren’t more like him.

So who is really behind 35 Denton? Davila rightfully gets much of the credit, but this year the women of 35 Denton increased their profile, including Kyle La Valley, who worked with the festival last year as the official photo editor, but was now filling the much larger role of creative director; photographer Andi Harman; and one-time “director-of-development,” Lyndsay Knecht, who left the festival at one point but swooped in at the very end to expertly put out various fires.

But age and gender aren’t the only transitional factors that come into play. A good festival also has much to do with the formative background of the organizers. Again, this is another change that began nearly two years ago. During that time the predominantly male old guard worked comfortably with and was worshiped by the local venue establishment, but they have been increasingly replaced by these women who worked or congregated in DIY spots, as opposed to the brick-and-mortar clubs of Deep Ellum or 1990s Fry Street-dominated Denton.

Davila, of course, ran the Majestic Dwelling of Doom (formerly the 8th Continent and Wisconsin), Harman attended shows at 1919 Hemphill, and LaValley photographed various underground activity throughout her young life, including some dangerously close work documenting Chicago’s skinhead punk culture. La Valley’s art has existed so close to the edge, that most of a one-hour interview with her remains unusably off-the-record, but I first noticed the artist long before I met her, due to her propensity for elevating her subjects into glamorous heights. (From  FrontRow, April of 2011):

Photographer Kyle La Valley (warning: you need flash to see this) will be handling “life’s little moment” duties for the event and I really need to interview the artist, to ask which ISO settings are preferable for making grimy basement DIY shows look like they took place in an Uptown lounge.

As tongue-in-cheek or backhanded as that sounds, watching some of the local media scramble to pretend that they were ever supportive of these individuals in their early endeavors or the places they frequented has been humorous at best, and at worst — cynical game-late politicking. I don’t particularly recall seeing most music editors and their foot soldiers-of-print at Dwelling of Doom or 1919 Hemphill very often, but I could be wrong.

Another lesson buried deep in 35 Denton’s changing story is that rather than having a band play a basement down the street during the festival, two years before they headline Hailey’s, the new organizers are having the same bands involved from the get-go. Davila’s shrewd foresight has her nabbing artists often before people are fully informed of their exponentially increasing stature. The beloved Peaking Lights may have headlined a festival-closing set at Rubber Gloves this year, but they were booked at Majestic Dwelling of Doom all the way back in November of 2008, nearly four years ago, ahead of their eventual status as Pitchfork favorites. Is there any doubt that this is the right group for the job?

One of the most eye-opening moments in understanding how much the 35 Denton culture had really changed occurred two Saturdays before the festival. I stop in at the 35D offices in a converted gas station after the bars had closed, and LaValley and Harman are overseeing the final touches on a spray-painted mural by a graffiti artist visiting from Houston (I’ll respect his anonymity). Also in the space, “Public Art Coordinator for 35 D” Christian Millet, overseeing things. It’s obvious that he, along with everyone else, have been working nonstop at the space for an unhealthy amount of time. The small group is stacking empty energy drinks like frat boys or crust punks (take your pick) in a communal living space, and there seems to be a sense of delirium mixed in with the dedication at this point. Harman speaks of sleeping in her car rather than make the drive home to Carrollton. Which brings up an important point: don’t ever be fooled into thinking that the fest is completely run by Dentonites. It’s an unspoken truth that suburban misfits are essential to fill in the inevitable efficiency gaps of any enterprise that takes place in Dallas, Denton, or Fort Worth.

Finally, I notice a big, heavy unbolted door, covered in rather dated band stickers, leaning up against the inside wall of 35 Denton’s computer-crowded nucleus. I’m told that this is the original door to the Argo, the legendary venue where countless memories were made, living on through fairly consistent referencing by music fans who were lucky enough to have experienced it. I’m also told that the door was dragged here, and that some of the 35 veterans were nearly moved to tears when reciting the band names out loud, like tree rings of an era decades removed. I jokingly start going down the roster telling them how many of these acts I actually found terrible in the 1990s, since I quite consciously followed and lived through it. But as I’m doing so, I feel somewhat bad. I know how much this history means in Denton. But is this enormous hunk of a door, a weight from the past that will never be completely closed? Or is it simply a small symbol of then and now coexisting gracefully? Perhaps it’s both.

Chapter 3: Showtime

Thursday night, the first night of the festival, rolls around and sneaks up on everyone. I’m racing through traffic, convinced that I’ll have to fight for a space. But no such trouble awaits. After all, this is Denton. It’s entirely manageable and, as advertised, entirely walkable. You could park blocks and blocks away, and still feel right in the center of things. You’ll be charmed the entire walk there. If you’re of age, stop in to Midway Mart and grab a Kronenbourg or a Baltika. Yes, this extremely modest, yet very well-stocked convenient store has both.

But as soon as I’ve successfully parked, the first sign that 35 Denton might be a bit different from even last year is immediately apparent. The real reason the rest of North Texas wants in on this action? There is a line out the door of the Labb all the way down the sidewalk. It’s a quick slap back to reality after lovingly wandering around Denton as if it were Bedford Falls. This is business, after all, and from the look of all of these uncomfortable souls, business is pretty good. I’m convinced that being a member of the media won’t help fight the line, but a text message later and I’m being swept to the front of the line. I feel only a little bad.

But even a scene like this isn’t that uncommon in Denton now days. Have you tried getting into Paschall on a busy night? Please. I once spent an hour waiting to get in. Yes, the new cocktail-swigging Denton is definitely prone to a growing pain or two, but what is encouraging is that everyone from the house show vandals to politicians like Kevin Roden seems very concerned about how to stay involved. You can’t necessarily say that about many places in the United States, and especially in Texas.

I’m lucky enough to catch most of Old Snack and Final Club at the Labb. Old Snack’s jittery jangle and ridiculously speedy rhythms are rickety and wobbly,  but in the best way. I publicly deride them for doing a false start at a festival.

After leaving the Labb, things get hazy. The push and pull of trying to be everywhere at once sets in, and it’s as stressful as it is fun. I’m probably an old pro at this by now, and there is no honor in that, trust me.

The next noteworthy act I catch is Alabama’s G-Side and the duo overcomes sound issue as only a rap group can. When the mic goes out: Call-and-response. They go a capella every time there’s a connectivity issue, and it’s seamless. “Let’s switch up the vibe,” they assure the crowd. “F*cked it all up.”

The backup singers startle me, because they can actually sing. I love all manner of experimentation and anti-music, but when a singer can actually, truthfully, one hundred percent, sing? Time stops. It’s special. I wish I could remember the fashion icon who said, (paraphrasing), “A drop dead gorgeous woman is the one thing that never goes out of style.” Well, it’s that same sentiment. Nobody will ever fault you for singing like a damn angel, man and woman alike.

I run into Track Meet’s Austin Shook during the G-Side set, and he complains that perhaps Andy’s should have upgraded the sound-system for the festival, even if it required renting one. He makes the very solid argument that many venues are forced to do this during South By Southwest.

Shook was a late addition to the festival, since the originally scheduled-group Missions dropped off the festival lineup. I ask Shook, who is an associate of the aforementioned Rodrigo Diaz, if he’s ever attended 35 Denton before.

“The last three or four years, I’ve always gone to South Padre the weekend before South By. I’ve got a lot of friends down in the Rio Grande Valley,” Shook said. “They have giant Spring Break festivals down there, where they close off the beach. They have stages on the beach and it’s sponsored. They have this thing called “Coca Cola Beach,” and Tiesto will play at Schlitterbahn. The knee-high pool where people play volleyball and sh*t?  That’s just packed with people, raving and raving.”

It sounds like Shook skipped out on a lot of fun to play an early slot at Hailey’s this year. But he seems content with his choice.

“It was good.The bucket of beer onstage, that was nice. They wanted me there for soundcheck at 7. I got there at 8:30.”

Then I ask him about something I’m not “supposed” to ask him about: The fact that since he was such a late addition to the fest, the poster designer was forced put Shook’s name in a higher position of prominence than normal. In other words, Austin Shook’s name was in a larger font, than say, the Baptist Generals.

“A couple people have told me about it and it’s funny,” he laughs. “But, I’m a big dude. So, big name.”

After the set, I finally meet Jaime Paul Falcon, of the now defunct Day Bow Bow and currently, Dentoneer, something I’ve been meaning to get out of the way for years. A small group of us briefly chat about the growing concern over the lines at each venue, and I ask Falcon if my media pass will help sidestep the lines. “This isn’t South By Southwest,” he says. “Your badge means nothing here.”

“Well, good to know,” I reply. “I can’t wait until next week, when I can finally be treated like a human being in Austin.” (More on that later.)

Chapter 4: The Mirage of the VIP

To anyone that missed out on those first two nights of 35 Denton, and there were a few, you missed out. Those first two rainless nights made the soggy mess of Saturday much more bearable, since rain had been threatened for the entire festival all week. Whether rain or shine, I repeatedly found respite by ducking into Jupiter House, as always, which seems to support a cross-section of people who have everything but a music festival on their collective mind.

At 10 p.m. on Friday night, a Jupiter House employee tells me that there has been a line that extends “halfway through the store,” for the past four hours. The way the crowds and the cashiers and the journalists and the bands are starting to talk, it’s as if there is one long line wrapped all the way around the square.

I make it just in time to catch the Baptist Generals, who everyone involved in the fest seems on edge about, since it means that the the festival founder (Chris Flemmons) playing the festival is its own story and its own conclusion. It’s as if a groom is having to sing at his own wedding. I have actually seen that before, and the pressure is tremendous. The band is just fine, however. With musicians as seasoned as pianist Paul Slavens, upright bassist Ryan Williams, and man-of-many-talents, Peter Salisbury, there is little cause for concern. The only x-factor is Chris Flemmons himself, as it should be. He is less talkative than I’ve ever seen him onstage, and all business. The group came off as if they had been touring as much as the Mountain Goats has as of late — and Generals even bested them if one had to choose.

Later in the evening, I’m making the mistake of shadowing musician friends a little too closely. I really need to cut this sort of behavior out. Never follow the worker bees back to the hive, you’ll just get stung. Even though I’m walked into the “Artist’s Tent” by a hospitality director, I’m promptly kicked out after my press badge is revealed. I’m asked to leave by a woman with a panda hat on, one of those getups where it looks like a badly made Anime bear is eating your head. Look, the last thing I want to do in a tent full of free food and drinks is talk to musicians, okay? I’m in the honeycomb hideout, I’m here for the honey. After I make a case for myself, I leave anyway, with the most sour grapes, prima donna-of-the-press statement, about how “I don’t even like to hang out in VIP tents anyway.” That’ll teach ’em. But what I really wanted was to get at those enchiladas.

While in the tent, I was around just long enough to overhear the bespectacled gentleman from High Places, Rob Barber, discuss life on the road and the mutual friends in the industry he shared with his peers. He sounds a little weary, but he’s very gracious and very experienced. He later loses the glasses for a set at Andy’s, and seems every bit as cool as the endless amounts of press the skewed pop duo gets implies. Another musician tells me that High Places generously gave him both of their VIP passes, which aren’t meant for musicians of his ilk. This sort of musical caste system is the norm at festivals, and this is by no means meant to pull back the curtain on any sort of scandal. Musicians aren’t always the competitive backbiters they’re made out to be. Sometimes they look after their own.

Elsewhere during the evening, I see Coves perform what must be the most well-rehearsed set of the weekend. These kids are slick with a capital “‘ick.” But seriously, why this band isn’t as big as some of their contemporaries around town, of the sort that get hooked up with big booking agencies, is a little surprising. They could be on their way. Many times upon hearing a young, hyped-up pop band, you’re left wondering why they get so much attention other than being the right age with the right clothes at the right time, but often with a sound that’s a few years behind what’s actually working the streets (or at least the trenches of the industry). The group features the ever-employed Jeremy Buller, along with Caleb Ian Campbell, who is an extremely gifted finger-picker, and that is made all the more obvious by the fact that he’s working a deeply resonating hollow-body electric guitar. This is not a group I was expecting to enjoy very much live, but some things are so well-composed that you have to concede. In other words, if Coves became a midlevel touring act that eked out a life on the road — and make no mistake, that’s extremely difficult — I would find it not-at-all surprising.

Chapter 5: The Blur of the Weekend

Much of what happens during the rest of the weekend, has been covered quite extensively on Front Row, but there were some things that I saw.

Musician Ty Stamp promised to “set something large on fire” at his performance with his long-running collective of  musical (and otherwise) misfits, Violent Squid, but no such thing happened. I know this despite spending much of the band’s set in line. What I could hear from the line outside sounded like a fairly grandiose take on improvised music, and it had better, considering there were around a dozen people onstage. Stamp, as always, somehow manages to make this much music with this many people and it’s never overbearing. His “Sassy Mink” video is still a lost classic of its particular scene and era. Eat Avery’s Bones follows Violent Squid, and as I’m watching them, it’s hard to imagine seeing the group as the bunch of hilarious teens they were when I first saw them six years ago.

At some point during the weekend, I spoke to Rubber Gloves owner, Josh Baish, about attendance, and I wish I could play (or at least transcribe) some of these profane interviews in their entirety. “Rubber Gloves got at capacity, really quick. I was surprised. And then, someone was in the parking lot, demolition derby-ing cars,” Baish said.

“What do you mean?,” I ask. “What did you do?”

“What can I do?,” he replied.

Besides the near-disaster that the Jesus and Mary Chain rescheduling debacle avoided, 35 Denton made it possible for me to see, quite comfortably, Devin the Dude tell an audience in Denton to “Drink responsibly,” and the Raincoats perform their impossibly innovative first record in its entirety. When it was repeated to me that another music writer called the Raincoats first couple of songs, “shaky,” I was incredulous. “First two songs are shaky?,” I thought. No, their entire recorded output is shaky. That’s the point. Each individual on this planet shakes in a way, and with a repetition that is unique to them. The Raincoats, with their very human nausea, nervousness, and longing, shake in a way that’s been vastly influential, yes, but never quite recaptured.

Chapter 6: Climax, Delayed 

We’re back were we started. The Jesus and Mary Chain are effectively buzz sawing, band sawing, power drilling — pretty much every power tool that’s been assigned to them by every critic ever for nearly the past 30 years. They’re doing it all at once. I’m actually shocked by how loud they are getting on certain songs.

As the set’s wrapping up, I see Jaime Paul Falcon pushed up against a wall by a security guard, as if he is going to be arrested. He is not arrested, but this festival turns out to be much more about equality among press, artist, organizer, and volunteer than I could have ever imagined.

As the backstage celebrations commence, complete with champagne toasts, and digital flashes going off in all directions, I start asking everyone the same question, since this resolution was extended by a few days. Those few days in-between I have already forgotten myself, but they certainly made the festival seem longer.

The question: How did you feel when the last note was being played?

Jaime-Paul Falcon: “I was, um, busy. I was busy. I’m sorry. I was checking the Rockets score. Quote that. I was checking the Rockets score.”

Andi Harman: (Fighting back tears): “It was definitely significant. It wasn’t something that was super-definitive. It was a mixture of feelings. The most prominent one was probably…big sigh…relief. Standing there, in the middle of the press pit, and seeing them walk off the stage, there’s not a word for that. It was beautiful.”

Kyle La Valley: “I feel separation anxiety and I want to do it again. Better. I want to start again on next year, tonight. I don’t ever want to stop doing this.”

Natalie Davila: “I felt like it was the loudest show I had ever seen, and it was really f*cking tight. It’s tight.”

Epilogue: Glue, Latex, and Shame – An Afterword from Austin

For insurance purposes, my hope is that they’ll one day have an official designation for the masochism associated with grown people who attend multiple music festivals throughout the year. Or even worse, back-to-back. If you are one of my fellow comrades who willfully endured both 35 Denton and South By Southwest: Hats off to you in the struggle.

I didn’t have to go to South By Southwest, but I haven’t missed it once in ten years. For many of us, it’s become almost religious. Like a long-suffering old-fashioned mother who puts the house together Thanksgiving after Thanksgiving, Christmas after Christmas, hoping that this will be the greeting card-perfect year where it all comes together, we keep coming back hoping to feel loved in return for our efforts. Does South By Southwest love us back? Hard to say. I do know that if you’re rejected for press credentials, they immediately make the following offer. Don’t ask how I know this:

Thank you for your interest in SXSW Music 2012. Unfortunately, I can not offer you a comped press credential. I would, however, be pleased to approve you for a credential at the discounted press rate of $595. This credential will provide you admission to all SXSW Music events. You will receive a separate email containing a coupon code and instructions to redeem your discounted 2012 SXSW MUSIC Press Credential. PLEASE NOTE: you must redeem your coupon to actually complete your registration and receive your badge on-site.

Pretty amazing, don’t you think? Remember when Morrissey sarcastically sang, “Would you like to marry me? And if you like, you can buy the ring?” It’s kind of like that.

Before we go any further, let me state that I adore South By Southwest. I truly do. Last year, when everyone tried to slam it as being too violent and commercial, I was one of the few defending it. This year, everyone wanted to be sore with A$AP Rocky and co for retaliating after being attacked by the crowd with flying beer containers and having their head-wear taken, and I find that absurd. If anyone hits you with beer and takes clothing from you in any situation, you’re going to be a little upset. It’s perfectly understandable.

This was more of a back-t0-basics trip to Austin for me. I was back at the free events and seeing house shows. I have no problem with that. This endless complaining about Doritos sponsoring everything? Well, I barely experienced that at all. I mostly heard about it from others.

I spent a lot of time at the Mess with Texas event, which is strategically, and conveniently, across from the Fader Fort. It’s organized by the same kind folks that book Fun Fun Fun Fest, and the most offensive product they marketed was boxed water. Which isn’t offensive at all. In fact, if you’re going to consume prepackaged water, it may as well come in biodegradable cardboard, wouldn’t you agree?

They treat the press like gold here, though I don’t want that to increasingly be how I rate things. But it was really easy and a credential was secured with no hassle. A friend who met up with me also got in just as easily with no RSVP of which to speak. Transmission Entertainment has to be the most cooperative talent buyer in the state, and maybe even the country. Local booking people take note: They don’t do things like publicly brag about all the people they didn’t let in on the guest list. Are there a lot of people who like to take advantage of this sort of thing? Absolutely. But really, most of the time you should be glad that anyone wants to attend your event at all.

I saw Deerhoof on accident and I saw A$AP Rocky for free. I didn’t have to pay a ton of money to see him open for Drake.  I’m looking through my notes on A$AP, and they’re a little funny, when you consider what transpires almost 12 hours later in the same setting:

A$AP has his shirt off. Looks fit. Everyone is throwing drinks at him. This is what happens when one of your hits is about a drink. He has a great attitude about being hit with drinks, which is probably part of the reason he’s a rising star.

That certainly didn’t take long to unravel. But again, I understand. Have someone walk up to your cubicle, rip the tie off your neck, run off with it, and as they’re fleeing, turn around and pelt you with a full can of beer. How do you react? What’s your move?

I was fortunate enough to catch Hardly Art recording artists Deep Time across town, at a quaint East Side house show where little kids were present, along with locals, Fox and the Bird. The acoustic folk group surprised me with their set and didn’t even tell me they were playing, even after I specifically asked one of the members, “Who else is playing tonight?” “Nobody.” That was the reply. Oh, well.

Finally, after dealing with so many members of the local press this month, I learned that there are some of you who feel that perhaps I have an inflated ego. Well, this story is for you. It’s the exact moment that I let a festival strip me of what was left of my dignity and certainly  a good chunk of my ego.

Since I may or may not have been credentialed, it was in my best interest to get credentials if they weren’t in my possession. Does that make sense? I knew some touring friends who were leaving the festival, and they invited me over to the hotel early on Saturday morning to have some breakfast and see them off. After breakfast, I noticed that one of the band members had carelessly discarded an “artist” wristband. Don’t mind if I do! It wasn’t in the trash, okay? It was next to the trash. There’s a difference. Besides, hotel trashcans are cleaned out every day.

I spent all day attending free events, and meanwhile that artist wristband is burning a hole in the trunk of my car. Do I? Don’t I? It seems dishonest, and I don’t like to break any rules and jeopardize any future return trips to the festival. I go about my business, and I enjoy my day. I’m fine. I’ve seen bands for free. I’ve been treated decently by at least one organization, so take that Jaime-Paul Falcon.

So then, why did I leave that house show early, only to drive to an H.E.B off of East 7th street, in order to purchase latex gloves and Krazy Glue? Why am I sitting in that same grocery store parking lot, around people with real lives, and real problems, with my hands firmly adorned in said latex gloves? And why am I waiting for this awful glue job to take hold on an artist wristband that isn’t mine? I’m no artist. And even if I were, it would firmly be in dispute in this low moment. I’m starting to feel like I’m no writer either. I’m sitting in my car sweating at this point. Please, just dry. Please, take hold. I don’t even know what group or singer I want to see tonight, but I want to see someone.


The wristband has come apart. It’s not going to work. For some reason, for the first time in months, I almost feel like weeping. And this festival has reduced me to that. Sweating and nearly crying alone in my car with latex gloves on, sticky glue on my wrist, and a popped wristband that mockingly says “artist” but doesn’t belong to me.

I love you South By Southwest. I’ll see you next year.

Image at top by Sara Kerens 


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