Last Night, 300 Or So Denton Music Community Members Gathered To Discuss The State Of Their Scene.
Still reeling in the wake of the closures of Hailey’s Club, Rubber Gloves Rehearsal Studios and the Ol’ Dirty Basement at J&J’s Pizza over the course of the past 12 months, the Denton music community gathered at the Patterson-Appleton Arts Center last night for the town’s first-ever Music Town Hall.
Organized by Christopher Kent Cotter, a volunteer operator of the DIY venue/community space 1919 Hemphill in Fort Worth’s Near Southside neighborhood, the event saw some 300 concerned members of the Denton music scene dedicating four hours worth of time to sharing their thoughts on the state of their community and the actions they must take to ensure that it continues to thrive.
In addition to the many who came to the open forum to listen and share their own thoughts, the town hall also featured a panel of influential musical Dentonites, with community leaders including University of North Texas president Neal Smatresk and city council members Keely Briggs and Kevin Roden also in attendance.
For a topic that’s inspired more than its fair share of consternation over the last year or so, the event was remarkably civil, with pointed jabs and conspiracy theorizing kept to a bare minimum. If there was a prevailing sentiment to the event, it was this: Meetings like this are a good idea, and they need to happen more often. And while that’s not exactly a solution to the problem — town halls, after all, must do more than beget more town halls — it’s certainly not a wrench in the works.
The civility of the proceedings likely came as a surprise to the many cynics who amassed on social media in the weeks leading up to the event. The Facebook page which advertised the meeting was criticized for the way it prominently featured 35 Denton and Oaktopia, Denton’s major music fests. Some perceived this as evidence that the town hall was nothing more than good marketing for the organizers of these events and a smokescreen of feigned concern deployed by the gentrifying elite.
But while Cotter, the event’s organizer, works some with Oaktopia, he’s hardly its top dog. In fact, he’s not even a Denton resident. Rather, as a DIY event organizer in Fort Worth, he’s simply an area resident familiar and concerned with the state of the scene up the road from him. And, on the spectrum between involvement with the DIY music community in Denton and objectivity, Cotter comes pretty close to the center of things. Prior to the event, he met the flurry of criticisms with a video response: “I’m just doing this meeting for you guys. There’s no conspiracy or anything like that. The only reason Oaktopia and 35 Denton and all of those pages are hosts on this event is to further increase the reach of that event page. It’s Marketing 101, OK? I paid for the room myself, I paid 80 dollars.”
Cotter was very much the guiding presence at the event too, as he circled the room with a mic, encouraging audience members to speak. As for the panel members, many of them were remarkably staid, with a handful offering only one or two sentences through the night and some remaining entirely silent throughout. Largely, the event was a discussion among audience members.
And, over the course of that discussion, many propositions covering a broad range of concerns were floated. A lot of time went into discussing the possibility of city government involvement in fostering the music scene. This position in particular was championed by Dr. Michael Shaman, a member of the University of North Texas Research Group and also the band Shiny Around the Edges. He proposed a music council.
“That’s what Austin has,” Seman said. “That’s what Seattle has. Take representatives from across the genres. Whether you’re playing hip-hop, avant garde jazz, if you’re a music educator, if you’re in a noise-rock band — someone from every single part of our scene to talk quarterly with the city council.”
This is an increasingly popular response across not only the country, but the continent. In addition to Austin and Seattle, Toronto has also developed a music advisory board designed to address rising rents that keep artists out.
Along similar lines, some audience members even proposed a venue actively subsidized by the city government. While that was largely viewed as a bit too stifling — too close to dissolving “separation of state and art,” as former Rubber Gloves owner Josh Baish put it — the idea of getting the city involved was generally a winning notion throughout the event. And with two city council members in attendance, this wish did not fall on deaf ears.
For the most part, the panel members were confident that the city council had the music scene’s best interest at heart — the only issue, panelists said, was presenting grievances to the council in a succinct way. It wasn’t until almost three hours into the proceedings that an audience member raised a dissenting voice, accusing the council of being marionettes for real estate and oil companies
The lack of communication between artists and the city also raised the issue of a similar lack of communication between artists, venues and concertgoers. There were many calls for a centralized website detailing the location and availability of house and other DIY venues — something flexible enough to account for the inevitable coming and going of these institutions. Another refrain of this type was centered around the UNT student body’s lack of awareness about concert events.
It’s perhaps not surprising, then, that the takeaway of the first-ever Denton Music Town Hall seemed to be that the music scene in Denton could use improved communication of all types — more town halls, more web hubs, more places to air grievances. The most striking aspect of the event, though, might have been just how tangled a skein this issue really is.
A lot of the forces at work here — rising property values, money flowing out of the city — seem frighteningly inexorable in a city that changes over as quickly as Denton always seems to. But if last night’s call to action leads more than just additional calls for action, maybe the sky that appears to be falling on Denton at the moment will get lifted up once more.