Handing Out Superlatives For The Year In Which Denton’s Oaktopia Fest Went Legit.
In its three years of existence, Denton’s Oaktopia Festival has gone from a string of fan-curated shows to a full-fledged event that the college town should feel proud to claim as its own.
In future years, perhaps, Oaktopia ’15 will be remembered as the year in which the festival went all-out legit, thanks to its incorporation of more than twice the stages it boasted in years past, an improved and easy-to-use scheduling app and enough manpower to ensure that things ran at least close enough to on-schedule to keep any complaints to a minimum.
In other words: This year’s Oaktopia hardly felt like the bar crawl that it too often came off as in previous incarnations. It felt like it’s taken a step forward, as if the festival had graduated onto bigger and better things.
That in mind, let’s hand out some superlative awards for Oaktopia’s big-step-forward year.
Best Stumble-Upon: Not Half Bad.
Walking around Denton during Oaktopia means there’s no shortage of music lilting through bars, all with the intention of drawing you into the festivities that are going on beyond the main stages. As unassuming as a show in a pizzeria may seem, the pulsating sounds of Not Half Bad gave festival goers a reason to wander into J&J’s Pizza — y’know, other than for a slice or two. The Fort Worth-based band’s mixture of punk, folk and tacos was the perfect sound for the basement atmosphere, especially as the smells of baked cheeses and meats flowed from above.
Best Crowd Bender: Blue, The Misfit.
There’s really not much to compare Blue, The Misfit’s crowd-handling abilities to, at least locally. The guy seems to get better with each performance, and at this point, there’s an almost fictional nature to them.
Best Party Starter: Father.
As the first headliner of the weekend, it only made sense that someone like Father would be in charge of getting the party started. The Awful Records CEO has a strong fan-base throughout North Texas, with Denton fans providing surprisingly more energy for him to feed off of than his extra-lit Dallas show from a few months back. The crowd danced and sang along to virtually every track, even when his internet hit, “Look At Wrist,” didn’t make the set cut.
Best Hair: The Bright Light Social Hour.
Hair metal may be dead, but flowing locks have seemingly become the standard for indie bands these days. And Austin’s Bright Light Social Hour takes the cake for best hair, for sure. Not only are their locks long, but their ‘dos even get incorporated into their live show like choreography. Willow Smith better look out.
Best Surf-Rock Revivalists: Mink Coats.
Surf rock and psychedelia are pretty underrated forms of musical expression, often thought to have been left in the past. But the Dentonites known as Mink Coats have resurrected the sound for a new generation. Their Oaktopia set was a blast.
Best Denton Ex-Pat: Sarah Jaffe.
She may not be from Denton, but a solid chunk of Sarah Jaffe’s formative musical years were spent here as she tended bar at Dan’s Silverleaf. In turn, she wears her ex-Dentonite badge with remarkable pride — and receives a ridiculous amount of love and support from the city in kind. At her main stage showcase, she serenaded fans during one of the most packed showcases of the weekend, all the while crafting a calm, ambient tone befitting of the area’s hippie spirit.
Best Stage Presence: Duo Contra.
The Dallas-based indie band’s members seemed to move in tandem with one another in a way that showed more than just dedication, but genuine passion for their music. It was compelling as all get out to see.
Best DJ Set: Shlohmo/
While DJing is a difficult skill in itself, Shlohmo gets extra points for incorporating some of his own productions into his live mixes. The Los Angeles-based act finds a perfect middle ground between hip-hop, electronica and the right touches of EDM during his sets that’s guaranteed to get pulses racing. That was certainly the case as he played an after-dark outdoor set at this year’s fest.
Biggest Let-Down: DJ Mom Jeans.
With a name like DJ Mom Jeans, you’d think you could expect a little more from Danny Masterson’s DJ set. Then again, what could you really expect from the man who once played the pseudo-anarchist friend on That ’70s Show? Plenty of Kid Cudi, Rage Against The Machine and other YouTube favorites, that’s what. The set wouldn’t have been so bad if there were proper transitions between songs, instead of choppy starts and finishes that made it awkward for anyone to dance to — or even tell what was going on next.
Most Magical Hands: Thundercat.
Anyone who can shred a six-string bass like Thundercat deserves to wear a full wolf headdress without the slightest snicker. Well, OK, maybe small snickers.
Most Haunting Vocalist: Moon Waves’ Leah Lane.
Think of a mixture between Janis Joplin, Kim Deal and Fiona Apple, and you have the young frontwoman of Moon Waves. Her sultry, siren-like tone has a way of pulling audiences in, just in time to be crashed with the group’s psychedelic sound.
Best Addition: The TravelStead Stage.
This stage really helped set apart Oaktopia apart from its previous editions and gave it a more traditional vibe. Nestled in a lot, shaded by trees and without hot concrete or advertising plastered everywhere, this setting was just a big ol’ stage tucked away in a natural hideaway. Pretty cool.
Best Once In A Lifetime Event: Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros’ Super Blood Moon Eclipse Set.
Regardless of if you dig indie folk, you had to appreciate the vibes. Are we to assume that the organizers knew this lunar event was going to be going down during the band’s set when they booked them? That’s probably giving them too much credit, but it ended up being pretty magical.
Best Proposal: Brent Camp.
Is it an abuse of power for an event organizer to interrupt his final night headliner’s performance so he can propose to his girlfriend? That’s a discussion for another time, we suppose, but watching Oaktopia co-organizer Brent Camp nervously propose to his girlfriend before Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros performed their massive “Home” hit was still all kinds of adorable. Even better: She said yes.