DENTON (CBSDFW.COM) – Mere days before the 35 Conferette music festival kicked off in Denton, Hickory Street Lounge hadn’t so much as poured its first drink.
The bar sat more or less directly between the festival’s two main stages, one of which was built on the east end of Hickory, the other in a parking lot behind the large Wells Fargo just off the Downtown Square.
Ten area venues hosted official evening concerts aside from the main stages.
After the Black Box venue backed out of hosting its evening concerts, Lounge owner Ken Fallin scrambled to quickly open his humble watering hole before March 10, the first day of the event.
“It hit us right in the face,” Fallin said. “Just, we’re open, here we come.”
Being in the middle of a giant increase in foot traffic, Fallin’s business represents a goal of the festival organizers: To bring exposure to local storefronts by using music as a vehicle to wrangle thousands of concertgoers downtown.
“We’re excited that we’re getting people to see us and taste our product and we think we’re making a bunch of customers,” said John Parks, the owner of two-month-old Gio’s Pizza & Pasta next to Hickory Street Lounge. “From my perspective it’s been outstanding.”
But it was by no means an immediate event for the organizers. Last year brought some 10,000 listeners to a free concert featuring Midlake and The Flaming Lips at the city’s fairgrounds.
The original plan was to host that one downtown, but organizers say the city – understandably – got cold feet as attendance estimates continued to soar. In contrast, estimates show 4,000 to 6,000 people attended this year’s festival.
It wasn’t until Feb. 15, less than a month before its start date, that the Denton City Council OK’d this year’s plan to host music on outdoor stages on city property.
“There’s definitely been a shift in perception,” said Michael Seman, the festival’s daytime programming coordinator. “To be honest, the fact that the festival is operating the way it is shows that (the city) is listening.”
And Seman’s research of economic development is something that would make many city leaders stop and listen.
The adjunct UNT professor calls Denton’s vibrant music scene an amenity, something that young professionals look for when calling a city home.
“San Diego has the ocean, Colorado has the mountains,” he said, “in some ways, music festivals or music scenes are an amenity as much as a mountain or anything natural.”
Seman and his wife Jenny moved to Denton seven years ago, partially because of the music there, he said. And they’ve stayed. Both Seman and his wife are in the band Shiny Around The Edges, which opened for New York-based noisemakers A Place To Bury Strangers – which were so loud that the power at Andy’s bar blew out afterward – on the final night of the festival.
Having the support of his community has kept him in Denton, he said, and as he noted in an article published in a globally recognized research journal last year, “a comparatively young, mobile and highly educated workforce is likely to be attracted to locations high in amenities.”
“The music scene is here, and it’s going to happen anyway, and by corralling with the 35 Conferette, in some ways it’s a pretty effective tool for economic growth that isn’t very expensive,” he said.
Before festival headliner Big Boi took the stage Sunday night, the festival’s creative director praised the 173 volunteers – though the real number hovers around 250, volunteer coordinators Laura Kramer and Charlie Hunter say– and promised to use the festival to bring more permanent jobs to Denton.
It was a positive, if not odd, way to introduce a rapper who would soon be literally having bags of marijuana hurled at him from the crowd below.
“Love it, some of the best energy, man, some of the best crowds, they’re receptive – not saying other crowds aren’t – but it’s a little bit more loose,” Big Boi said of the festival. “It’s free flowing music and energy, all about a positive experience.”