It’d be possible to spend countless hours talking about why Denton’s music scene is exceptional—the openness to amateurs, the DIY attitude, the high talent density of the town’s population. But the best way to understand what makes Denton special is to just spend a Saturday night there. So that’s what I did.
8:02 p.m.—Ramen Republic, E Hickory St.
It’s August 11th. I’m in Denton on a Saturday night with Adam Holmes, my best friend from high school. The drive here is gorgeous—a two-lane farm-to-market road that meanders through 400-person towns and sprawling cow pastures.
We meet up with our friend Nick Rothouse, a percussion student at the University of North Texas who is also in Denton for the evening. Adam and I catch up with Nick over noodles at Ramen Republic, a mom-and-pop fast casual diner just off the square.
8:33 p.m.—Banter, W Oak St.
We start our evening at Banter, a small club on Oak Street. We splay ourselves on big leather couches under a corrugated-steel ceiling. The evening’s opening act is a blues outfit called Baloney Moon. None of the quintet’s members are under fifty years old. They’re playing on the stage of a venue that can’t be bigger than 6 feet by 10 feet.
And they are really good. The lead singer looks as though she could’ve been my first-grade teacher but she has the voice and the stage presence of a slightly less bombastic Wynonna Judd. At one point, she makes eye contact with me, breaks into a huge smile, and gives a little shimmy as she positively belts out one of the set’s most energetic songs.
She’s backed up by rhythm instrumentalists who clearly know what they’re doing; holding back to pull the small but rapt audience in before throwing down just enough to keep things interesting—but too much to elicit scoffs.
From where we’re sitting, we can see the street through Banter’s big glass windows. A young couple, dressed in formal clothes, is dancing outside in the fading sunlight, the man twirling the woman in time to Baloney Moon’s whiskey-slick twelve-bar blues.
8:55 p.m.—J&J’s Pizza, W Oak St.
From Banter, Adam, Nick and I head east on Oak Street to J&J’s Pizza, one of the Square’s mainstays. Upstairs, it’s a standard pizza joint. Downstairs, it’s a small, shamelessly dingy concert space, with a claustrophobic low ceiling and just enough floor space to make you uncomfortable at crowded shows.
We walk down the crooked staircase to a small crowd and a tall, muscular African-American man gyrating against the microphone. There’s a portrait of what I’m pretty sure is the Virgin Mary hanging behind the band, The Gypsy Hideout.
They mostly play energetic jazz-fusion songs with lyrics mostly about sex. The lead singer is mesmerizing, dancing seductively around the tiny venue, and ripping open his vest. It’s an energy unfortunately undeserved by the small space and sparse crowd. But we still have fun.
9:23 p.m.—Denton Courthouse