There's been a lot of talk over the past year about the uncertain fate of Denton's music scene. After the closure of revered venues Hailey's, Rubber Gloves Rehearsal Studios and, most recently, the basement at J&J's Pizza, many entertained the idea that the city's role as an independent-music powerhouse had ended. How can a scene survive without concert venues to showcase its talents?
Organizers of a new music festival have one answer: Invite the bands to play in people's living rooms.
Band Together Denton is a two-day event that takes place at 10 residences turned music venues around the city. On Jan. 20 and 21, 60 local acts will set up in people's homes and invite music lovers to join them for intimate concert experiences.
Tiffany Youngblood, co-founder and director of operations for the festival, says the inaugural event is not so much a response to the series of venue closings, but rather a project to raise awareness about the plethora of places locals can still tap into Denton's live-music culture, often at no cost.
"If you just have those four or five venues that we have left, you're going to have a lot of bands with nowhere to play, and that's unfortunate," she says.
"The scene has its ups and its downs, but ... house shows and house venues are as much a part of the culture and history of Denton music as Rubber Gloves or as J&J's basement or as Hailey's."
To her point, local bands often get their start playing house shows. Not only do these rooms provide a safe space to practice performing, but they also help musicians cultivate a following and can act as steppingstones to bigger venues in Denton, Dallas or Fort Worth.
For fans, the incentive is simple.
A house show "is a great place to see new music," says singer-songwriter Claire Morales, who's based in Denton.
Youngblood, who works for Habitat for Humanity and blogs in her free time, had marinated the idea for Band Together Denton for several years, but decided to put it into action after teaming up with Emily Cline, another local blogger, to create a charity-focused event. (Both women now contribute to lifestyle blog The Dentonite.)
It helped that Youngblood had recently begun running her own residence as a venue, known as Dane Manor -- completely by happenstance, as she tells it. Youngblood wanted to celebrate the third anniversary of her move to Denton with a couple of friends over tacos and invited a band to casually jam. One band turned into three bands, and before they knew it, Youngblood and her roommates were keeping a PA system around and moving the furniture every couple of weeks to accommodate shows.
"The cops never showed up, nobody got hurt and the house was still intact, and it was totally awesome," Youngblood says of that first concert, "so we started talking about doing this on the regular."
House shows are usually free to attend, though hosts may put out a donation bucket -- you know, in case fans want to chip in for the cost of cleanup.
Band Together Denton, however, will have an overhead since it's a fundraiser. Tickets cost $25 for a weekend pass, $15 for single-day access or $5 for a single show, and should be purchased in advance, the organizers say. (Ticket purchasers will receive the venue addresses by email before festival weekend.) Proceeds benefit Mentor Denton, which works with several local nonprofits to match at-risk students with academic mentors.
The associated cause was just one reason musicians like Trey Price decided to participate in Band Together Denton, however. As keyboardist and saxophonist for Denton-based group Ella Minnow, which is coming off a three-year hiatus to play the event, Price sees the festival as a community gathering in "the spirit of rebuilding the good music scene up here in Denton," he says.
And Band Together could very well offer a glimpse into where the Denton scene is headed.
"These people, who are working on these house shows and venues, they're going to be the people owning and running music venues over the next decade in Denton," Price says. "They're hopefully going to stick around for the next phase of what the Denton music scene looks like."