North Texas played host to a local classic this past weekend with the Denton Arts and Jazz Festival. “Jazzfest” (as it’s locally known) is a vibrant celebration of culture, creativity, and community held annually in Denton, Texas. Known for its rich blend of music, dance, drama, and visual arts, the festival is a cornerstone event in North Texas, drawing in thousands of attendees each year. Historically it has been in April, but now is hosted in October.
This free festival provides a platform for professional jazz and cross-cultural music across its six outdoor stages, but its offerings extend beyond just jazz. It also features Folk, Blues, Country, Rock, Tejano, Conjunto, and Tex-Mex genres, making it a diverse musical gathering. With its roots dating back to 1981, the Denton Arts and Jazz Festival has grown into an immersive, family-friendly experience that goes beyond music, encompassing arts, crafts, children’s activities, and a variety of food and drink options. Truly, it is a testament to Denton’s nurturing spirit for the arts.
Denton is a jazz mecca, with the most popular, most celebrated and highly rated jazz program in a public university. I’m speaking of the University of North Texas, which has birthed many successful musical careers, including the likes of Don Henley and Norah Jones. Live music can be heard pretty much any night of the week in town, and quality live jazz music can be heard several times a week if you know where to go.
The festival is hosted downtown in Quakertown Park, which is walking distance from the locally famous and historic courthouse square. Stages cover every corner of the park, which has a meandering path, lots of large old shade trees and bridges over creeks. All in all, it’s quite a scene.
Jazzfest is rife with fair food options, from both local area vendors and typical carnival food vendors. Corn dogs and funnel cake can be found at every turn, but you can also find some great tasting nuggets mixed in there, from Texas style BBQ to street tacos, Cajun, pizza and more. The food isn’t the start of the show, but it’s a nice touch. Beer and wine are welcome, either from local vendors, or you can bring your own.
Past headliners have included legendary names such as Dr. John, Taj Mahal and Al Jarreau. This year Dallas’ own Jimmie Vaughn took the main stage on Saturday night. He had played Jazzfest in the past with his rocking Fabulous Thunderbirds, but this year he was backed by his Tilt-A-Whirl Band. They definitely brought a more toned-down and jazzy sound.
One of the “can’t-miss” acts every year is the prestigious “UNT One O’Clock Lab Band”, featuring the best and brightest music students in the program. They are simply elite, and destined to all be professional musicians in some form or fashion. It is a highly competitive program, and these students are the best of the best. Expect dozens of musicians to perform jazz standards, with a complete brass section, vocalists, drums, strings and guitars.
I happened to catch a couple of fantastic shows, including the Mike Steinel Quintet. Mike and local legend jazz guitarist Fred Hamilton put on a masterful display of technique and artistry, complimented beautifully by Rosana Eckert’s guest vocals.
There is a large art vendor show located in the community center, which is a large rotunda filled inside and out with local arts, crafts and creations for sale. If you’re looking for something unique, local and handmade to adorn your favorite space, this event is a great place to connect with local artists of all varieties. You’ll find paintings, jewelry, sculptures, handcrafted kitchenware, and more.