The eyes of the local music world will be on Denton March 13-15, when one of the city's festivals makes a highly anticipated return from hiatus.
Eclectic music fest 35 Denton, which had humble beginnings in 2009, welcomes more than 250 bands to 13 local venues and two outdoor stages after taking a yearlong break to replace key staff members and reorganize the festival.
Headliners for 2015 include '60s pop band the Zombies, Texas country artist Jimmie Dale Gilmore and indie rockers the Lonely Wild. The fest will continue to support local bands, too -- more than 130 of them -- but new additions to the lineup such as yoga, a social run and workshops will "provide more of an experience," according to the festival's creative director, Shaina Sheaff.
"We want to be able to build up these bands and celebrate our community," she says.
This sentiment traces back to the roots of the festival. Denton resident and musician Chris Flemmons built what 35 Denton is today out of a South by Southwest (SXSW) showcase in Austin featuring Denton bands. The festival grew into a four-day soiree that attracted music lovers from across the region with acts such as the Flaming Lips, which played for free in 2010.
The trajectory from single show to destination festival wasn't without turbulence, however. The event endured something of an identity crisis, and in its first four years underwent three name changes. But by 2012, 35 Denton had established itself as one of the best and most ambitious music events in Dallas-Fort Worth, booking national acts and up-and-coming buzz bands that traveled to Austin for SXSW. Alumni of 35D include Thee Oh Sees, the Jesus and Mary Chain, Big Boi, and Solange Knowles (before the elevator incident).
Those in the music community believed 35 Denton had the potential to be North Texas' version of Pitchfork Music Festival or CMJ Music Marathon -- a grass-roots moneymaker that champions indie music. But after the 2013 event, the festival lost two of its key organizers and one of its biggest investors, leading those in charge to call off the event for the following year. Some called it the end of an era, though founder Flemmons promised a comeback in 2015.
Festival director Wally Campbell says the hiatus allowed for staff reorganization as well as for construction to be finished on Williams Square, where one of the outdoor stages is traditionally located. The fest is now operated by a lean 10-person team of volunteers who spent the last two years developing the new community vision.
"We've been keeping a low profile," Campbell says. "We decided let's just wait ... let the festival speak for itself."
In the months leading up to 35 Denton's return, though, not all the talk has been positive. The Dallas Observer has repeatedly deemed the festival to be in a downward spiral. News about it has barely moved the needle on social media compared with other upcoming music events. And up until Feb. 24, organizers had released only half of the lineup.
Still, Campbell expects more attendees than in previous years -- about 5,000 per day -- because of a wide range of musical offerings as well as the events that start earlier in the day. According to social media director Andy Odom, ticket sales are stronger than in 2013.
Although Flemmons was unavailable for comment, Campbell was unabashedly optimistic about the future of the festival.
"We'll definitely be back in 2016, and people will continue to hear about us," he says.
March 13-15 in Denton at various venues. Single-day passes are $25 for March 13 and $35 for March 14 or 15; a three-day pass is $65 general admission or $100 for fast-track pass. 35denton.com. prekindle.com/promo/id /23837206150144939.
Follow Tiney Ricciardi at @tineywristwatch.
Editor's note: Camera Obscura has been removed from the story. The band was scheduled to play 35 Denton in 2013, but cancelled due to family illness.