Two Dentonites Conjured Oaktopia On A Whim This Summer. This Weekend, Their Vision Becomes Reality.
Pretopia, a two-night house show extravaganza event meant to precede this weekend's Oaktopia music and arts festival in Denton was more or less a bust. Hundreds packed an post-bellum home each night, and the music was raw and loud and cool and just all kinds of bona fide Denton-y in feel. But the police? They've got expertise in spoiling fun.
Apparently, it was some standard noise violations that nixed the party. But the large food truck booked to post up in the front yard of this home late at night? That could have easily tipped the cops off to the fact that some shit was going down, too. Still, busted up or not, these pre-celebratory affairs seemed to speak volumes about what's in store for this weekend's festvities.
After all, if the police were the only thing that could bring this pre-event down, then the actual Oaktopia festival taking place on Saturday on and around the Square seems like it might actually be a huge success.
Oaktopia is an eight-stage (six indoor venues, one small set-up on the Square and a large, outdoor stage set up in the Wells Fargo parking lot at Williams Square), 50-plus act music festival also featuring art installations and a scavenger hunt. There are a couple notable names on the bill — namely hip-hop favorites Del The Funky Homosapien and Astronautalis (pictured above), who will serve as the festival's main draws — but, mostly, it's the four dozen acts from across the region that will fill the festival's stages out.
Coordinating an event of this scale is no small feat, of course. But perhaps more impressive is the fact that Oaktopia is the brainchild of two Dentonites in their 20s, University of North Texas student Matthew Battaglia and rapper Corey “S. Good” Claytor, who only started planning the thing this past August.
As with most ideas between friends, Oaktopia started as just a small flippant suggestion. Battaglia had asked to promote a show for Claytor's rapper alias S. Good, but, when that fell through, Battaglia's inkling to put a show together didn't subside. Motivated, he made a couple of calls around Denton to see what date some venues were open and found that three were open on the same day.
“I'm like, 'Fuck it, I'm gonna book all three and start doing a little music festival for Oak Street,'” Battaglia says. “Then Corey came the next day — the very next day — kind of like he's going to be a part of this whether anybody likes it or not.”
Since the inception of the idea, Oaktopia has garnered a great deal of hype in Denton, in no small part due to Nikki Crouse and Natasha Stoked, the similarly young founders of Austere Magazine. Crouse says her working relationship with Battaglia and Claytor — “Denton locals that just have a whole lot of heart,” in her words — started when they contacted Austere out of the blue, asking for help. Austere agreed to do so, and has since supplied Oaktopia a helping hand with volunteers, design, vendors and grassroots advertisement. Adds Stoked: “They just really wanted us to be a part of it because they knew we had the ability to create attention and reach.”
Having the young, artsy Denton crowd on board is certainly a gift. But it may also be a curse: As 35 Denton takes a year off to rebuild, Oaktopia is burdened with the task of temporarily filling Denton's festival void. No, Oaktopia won't have any huge national acts or any obscure Pitchfork-approved bands on the bill, but with the inclusion of art installations and the literary community Spiderweb Salon, Claytor still sees Oaktopia as a display of Denton's true flair.
“For a while there, [city officials] have been focusing on the business aspect of Denton and not so much the art and the music scene,” Claytor says. “But the people who come to Denton, a lot of them are here for the music and art scene. Since I've been in Denton, that's just how I view it.”
But the city is on board with this affair. Janie McLeod, community events organizer for the City of Denton, says that, “like any other festival,” she hopes Oaktopia will attract “more tourism, more awareness and an enjoyable evening and enjoyable time for the residents and the tourists that come to town. All of that's helped the economy and helped promote our music as being a focal point.”
Good thing: Music and arts are the clear the focal point for Oaktopia's organizaer, Claytor says. But so, too, is just getting their shit together.
“We [organizers] have literally no experience,” Claytor admits. “We've booked shows in the past, [but] that's literally all we've done. And, for [Oaktopia], we learned something new every day.”
And that education, Claytor and Battaglia hope, will pay off not only this coming weekend, but for future events planned down the line. Already, they hope to apply the lessons thus far learned through their trial-and-error process toward a second Oaktopia festival they hope to throw next year. Similarly, they hope to apply their new knowledge to a North Texas-centric hip-hop themed block party, which hope to throw at some point in Denton next summer.
Sure, for now, all the pressure is on this weekend. Pardon the organizers' ambition, though. As young creatives in a city that embraces this kind of energy, they can't help it.
“With the knowledge we have now,” Battaglia says, “we're gonna be fucking pros.”
Oaktopia takes place on Saturday, November 16. $20 tickets, a full list performers and the day's schedule of events can all be found here.