Denton’s arts and cultural scene had a productive and eventful 2018.
Bringing back the rooms
Over the last few years, locals bemoaned the shuttering of beloved music venues.
The “Old Dirty Basement” at J&J’s Pizza reopened for bands in January, and a new owner is in the process of reopening Rubber Gloves Rehearsal Studios. Andy’s Bar became a bustling pulse-point for local and touring acts looking to book a show.
The downtown bar has booked hip-hop legends such as Bun B and Devin the Dude, and it’s become sort of a home base for Glitterbomb, a local queer burlesque troupe and show.
In just the last few months, Denton won back a beloved music venue when Sweetwater Grill & Tavern got a makeover and opened with a menu similar to the original.
Owners returned the popular patio to musicians — especially jazz musicians — several days a week.
An appointed committee will recommend that the City Council turn the vacant City Hall West into a multipurpose cultural center, with a proposed performance space, visual arts space, offices and a state veteran’s museum incubator. Locals will have to wait until 2019 to find out what will happen to the spot and how it might be funded.
The grand opening of Alamo Drafthouse in June was a major business story, but it had major implications for Denton’s cultural scene, too. James Wallace, the Alamo Drafthouse North Texas creative manager, said the Austin-based cinema franchise was hoping to team up with Denton’s two major film festivals — Thin Line and Denton Black Film Festival. Wallace was true to his word: the Denton Black Film Festival will screen selected movies at the theater.
Thin Line, an established documentary film, music and photography festival, broadened its horizons before Alamo Drafthouse opened with a brand-new partnership with Denton Movie Tavern. Thin Line has experimented with supplemental screening venues before, but the partnership lends the Denton festival a state-of-the-art movie screen to show films.
Both Thin Line and Denton Black Film Festival still consider the Campus Theatre in downtown Denton their anchor screen. But branching out to the local multiplexes is a score for both fests.
Polacon, a Denton-Dallas polaroid conference, turned three this year. The fall festival brings instant film lovers together in downtown Denton (and in Dallas). Founder and director Daniel Rodrigue has gathered the right volunteers around him to build a festival that makes memories and champions film photography.
Sounds of the year
Denton continued to groom emerging musical talent. Martin Godoy, a first-generation college student pursuing a doctoral degree at the University of North Texas College of Music, claimed a coveted award: the Myrna Brown Artist Competition. Godoy plays the flute, and the Brown contest is considered one of the most significant international flute contests.
The local rock, folk and hip-hop music scenes were busy, too. A sampling of local musicians who created new music this year: Local metal band Dieselbeast released a long-awaited follow up to its 2014 demo with a self-titled album in March; The Hope Trust released a 10-track album, Passengers — its fifth recording — in April; Daniel Markham released the 14-track album Hyperseed back in May; Claire Morales followed up her 2015 debut with All That Wanting in June; AV the Great teamed up with his favorite hip-hop cat Gas House Smitty to release Bunkin 101 in July, and Scott Danbom, best known as the keyboardist of Centro-Matic, released his solo debut Static Diary in July.
Art in flux
Artist Dan Colcer painted a mural on the Dallas Drive railroad underpass near Eagle Drive and Bell Avenue this month. Keep Denton Beautiful received a $10,000 grant from the Keep America Beautiful/Lowe’s Community Partners Program to pay for new murals on the Union Pacific bridge embankments. The original murals, painted by Craig Nance in 2005, had deteriorated enough that the nonprofit decided to replace them.
Speaking of murals, the huge painting on the north side of Andy’s Bar came under fire after local officials made an issue of the fact that “Band on the Run” wraps around the front of the downtown bar. The storefronts on the Square are official historical sites, and the Historic Landmark Commission objects to painter Dan Black altering the front of the building. The City Council tabled an appeal regarding the mural by the commission so that one of the building owners would be available for a discussion.
Denton Community Theatre and Music Theatre of Denton proposed to their memberships that the companies merge. The idea is to attract bigger numbers to auditions (which isn’t a problem as both companies have been breaking audition numbers over the last few years), avoid conflicts over musical properties and to free up the Campus Theatre while giving casts a longer production run.
Barley & Board, a downtown Denton restaurant with a small brewery inside, launched a home brewer’s league this year. Local beer enthusiasts got to make a bigger batch of their own beer than what a typical home brewer can produce.
It might seem like a small thing, but Denton got a new official Christmas tree this year. The eastern red cedar tree that had worn Christmas lights for decades was in decline. So the county planted a Nellie R. Stevens holly tree on the courthouse lawn on the Square. The tree seemed a little small at this year’s Holiday Lighting Festival, but the crowd still cooed when the lights came on.
Milpa Kitchen & Cantina earned a spot on Lidia Celebrates America just before Christmas. Celebrity Chef Lidia Bastianich has produced seven specials highlighting the food and communities in small-town America. She visited the Landeros family of Milpa Kitchen & Cantina to learn how to make tamales. On the same special, Bastianich visited 12-year-old Katie Swan at her family’s home in Sanger to follow Katie and her show project pigs through the North Texas Fair & Rodeo. The show aired on KERA-TV.