It's not difficult to find great music when 35 Denton festival comes to town.
The event, which hosts more than 100 bands annually, is a hotbed for up-and-coming talent, and its latest installment, March 11-13, was no exception. Over the weekend, the city's music lovers shuffled from concert to concert in search of their next favorite band, or at the very least, one they'd put on a bucket list to catch at Austin's South By Southwest festival in the coming days. Buzz circulated as attendees geared up for the biggest names on the bill, rapper Biz Markie and soul singer Charles Bradley.
But despite enthusiasm, there seemed to be one thing missing: people.
35 Denton declined to give GuideLive an official attendance count, but all you needed to do was show up to the outdoor main stages ahead of any headlining act to feel the excess of empty space.
The festival was intimate, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. A dozen attendees interviewed said the lack of lines and prime viewing areas were serious advantages.
But 35 Denton lacked a certain vibe and energy. Perhaps it was too intimate to be spread over three days and 11 music venues.
It wasn't because the crowd neglected to get in the festival mood. I spoke with numerous people -- those who attended, worked and performed -- who had a blast. There simply didn't seem to be enough of a turnout to generate perpetual excitement. As Dentonite Janet Laminack put it, "The crowd was engaged and listening, but not 'woo!' "
While some pined for past 35D experiences, when bands like Best Coast, Big Boi and Built to Spill filled Williams Square to the brim, the lack of bodies by no stretch meant the fest was a misfire. The picturesquely sunny skies helped; 35 Denton has notoriously seen disastrous weather.
Here are GuideLive's five best moments from the weekend.
Best performance: Charles Bradley
At 67 years old, Charles Bradley is a musical inspiration, and when he hit the main stage Saturday night, the singer was equal parts swagger and heart. Backed by guitar and horn sections, Bradley sent his infectious blend of funk and soul washing over the audience, leaving no hip unshaken. Between microphone tricks, dance moves and one stealth wardrobe change, Bradley would breathe in deep and let out a vivacious screech, proving to onlookers why he's known as the Screaming Eagle of Soul.
Best collaboration: Biz Markie and Slobberbone
35 Denton attendees gave Biz Markie's set mixed reviews after the rapper spent the majority of his time excavating '70s, '80s and '90s hip-hop and pop hits on turntable. Many times the tunes seemed better suited for a sorority party than a crowd of music nerds -- think Journey's "Don't Stop Believin' " and Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit." But no one could deny the magic that happened when Denton band Slobberbone joined Biz unannounced for a rendition of Steve Miller Band's "The Joker." The rapper then capped of his set with legendary original track "Just A Friend."
Best discovery: Modern Vices
With more than 150 acts at 35 Denton, the best new find will vary from person to person. But when I ventured to the main stages early Sunday afternoon, I was won over by the Chicago-based five-piece Modern Vices. Self-described as something between "late '50s croon and wet garage rock snarl," the band was reminiscent of '60s pop with a rockier edge, due in no small part to singer Alex Rebek's likeness to Jim Morrison.
Best space: Dan's Silverleaf back patio
The beloved Dan’s Silverleaf was booked all day and night, inside and out, throughout the weekend. The best spot was the renovated patio. It was cozy and filled up quickly, and maintained the kind of sound quality Dentonites have come to expect from Dan's.
Best vibes: Hip-hop shows
Hip-hop artists seemed to be the ringleaders of 35 Denton, keeping the weekend warriors out late grooving until the very last beat drop. Denton-rooted MC AV the Great squeezed 10-plus people onto the modest second main stage Sunday and bounced around so hard, the lighting setups shook like trees in the wind. He also rallied enough momentum to crowd-surf near the end of his performance. Alsace Carcione, another MC, kept the party rolling late Sunday when she opened for Fat Tony at Harvest House and ushered a full beer garden to dance and rock out with her. Then, of course, there was headliner Biz Markie. Despite the set's aforementioned mixed reviews, Biz conjured one of the biggest dance parties of the weekend with his choice of songs.