Friday, April 27, 2012
Denton Arts and Jazz Festival honors city’s legacy
The festival runs Friday through Sunday.
Stacked signs cover the lawn outside of the Denton Women’s Center, bearing the words “Musician Parking,” “Artist Check In,” “Information,” and more. Workers in golf carts, with walkie talkies in hand, cruise by half-constructed tent frames and empty stages.
The beginning signs of the 32nd annual Denton Arts and Jazz Festival are in motion.
The free event, which takes place in Denton’s Quakertown Park, starts Friday and will run through Sunday. The festival is expected to bring out more than 225,000 people.
“It’s a community event,” said Kevin Lechler, assistant director for the Denton Festival Foundation. “It’s for the community, by the community, and I think people really feel an ownership in it.”
Not just jazz
This year’s festival will feature seven stages of continuous music, ranging from garage rock to jazz, Lechler said.
“It’s a multi-disciplinary music venue,” he said. “Our Friday night headliner is primarily reserved for jazz, and we feature many of the UNT jazz bands, but we feature all kinds of music.”
Three of the seven stages are community stages and will feature local dance and theater groups, as well as high school and middle school bands.
“We’re the largest tourist attraction in the Denton, North Texas area,” Lechler said. “It gives accessibility to fine art, arts and crafts, and music.”
The other four stages will feature performers such as UNT’s Grammy-nominated One O’ Clock Lab Band, Grammy-winning jazz musician Lee Ritenour, and the rock band Los Lonely Boys, whose song “Heaven” reached the Top 40 on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart in 2004.
“The UNT jazz bands are always my favorite,” said Lori McLain, a Denton Festival Foundation board member. “But I am excited about the Los Lonely Boys, especially because they will bring in a whole new audience.”
This year, the festival’s main stage has moved from City Hall to the north side of the park.
“The police were very concerned that we had outgrown that space,” Lechler said. “It’s a way for us to grow without necessarily having to move to a new location, because part of the charm of our event is this park.”
In addition to musicians, the event will feature vendors and artists from Denton and around the country selling sculptures, paintings, stained glass art, and handmade jewelry.
Gloria Shanahan, from Kansas City, Mo., has sold her intricate pencil drawings at the festival for seven years.
“The crowd is phenomenal, and the fun is crazy,” she said. “I love being here. It’s a home away from home for me here in Denton.”
Five food courts will be set up throughout the 20-acre park. Options include hot dogs, cotton candy, funnel cakes, burgers, roasted corn, shish kabobs, turkey legs, ice cream, and more.
There will also be activities for children in the Children’s Art Area. Children will paint, draw, sculpt and do woodwork at various stations. They will also have the chance to participate in what is called the Percussion Petting Zoo, a hands-on exhibit that allows them to explore different percussion instruments from around the world.
“So it’s exposing them not only to art, but to music and giving them the opportunity to be real hands-on with it, and that is part of our mission,” Lechler said. “We think that’s very important. It’s always been a family event. There’s something for everyone.”
The festival began in 1980 and was called the Spring Fling, located at the North Texas State Fairgrounds, Lechler said.
In 1990, Spring Fling combined with JazzFest to form the Arts and Jazz Festival. That same year, the festival found its home at Denton’s Quakertown Park.
The Denton Festival Foundation puts the event on every year. The foundation is overseen by a Board of Trustees made up of local business and civic leaders, and has two full-time employees. The foundation also hosts a group of about 400 “Top Hands,” or volunteers who work with setting-up and running the festival.
Lechler, one of the full-time employees, begins preparing 18 months in advance – planning, writing grants, and gathering sponsors who help fund the $500,000 event every year.
“It’s really grassroots fundraising,” he said. “The mission of the organization has always been to make music and art accessible to everyone in the community and not charge for it.”
Lechler has been working for the foundation for nine years. He said the most difficult part is simple logistics.
“Just finding room for everything,” Lechler said. “We don’t want to move out of this park because this park is part of our identity, and so we try and limit our growth to the physical boundaries of the park.”
Lechler said his favorite part is the satisfaction of seeing the event come together and knowing that he played a role in that process.
“It’s very interesting,” he said. “I drive through in a golf cart and I see people who you know are doctors and lawyers, and they’re sitting right next to and jamming down with two parents who have very young children.”
Pegasus News Content partner - North Texas Daily
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