Fairhaven retirement home served the Denton community for 42 years before it closed in 2007. (Photo by Simone Carter)

Published in the Denton Record-Chronicle on June 16, 2019.

After over a decade of dormancy, Fairhaven will again serve the Denton community as a retirement home. The building’s new owners opened its doors to the public Friday afternoon for a ceremony to mark the restoration project.

A modest crowd gathered outside the midcentury modern building, its jagged contours and graffiti-stained walls revealing years of disrepair. Several Denton City Council members attended the ceremony, and curious residents could explore the structure’s decrepit interior.

Holli Hasserodt, regional vice president of parent company New Haven Assisted Living & Memory Care, made the ceremony’s opening remarks.

“We are so excited to kick off the restoration of this historic building here,” she said. “We plan to keep as much history here in this building and continue the legacy of affordable quality care for seniors.”

Fairhaven Denton by New Haven, at 2400 N. Bell Ave., is expected to be complete by March 2020.

Much work remains to be done at Fairhaven, which closed in 2007. But developers say its structure is sound. (Photo by Simone Carter)

Since Fairhaven closed in 2007, vagrants and vandals have found shelter in the building’s cool interior. But its engineers built the structure to last.

Designed by famed Denton architect O’Neil Ford, with help from Roland Laney and Arch Swank, the original Fairhaven operated for 42 years. With its solid frame of brick and concrete, the building still stands strong.

Fairhaven reincarnate will marry the old with the new, said Justin Hobson, a real estate developer at Austin-based Investcor. Though the structure will stay true to its original design, it will also boast state-of-the-art appliances and modern amenities.

Hobson plans to install a library, sunroom, bistro, exercise room and private dining hall in the 47-unit building. Residents can anticipate meals made from fresh organic produce, yoga classes and trips to Fairhaven’s own beauty salon. A natural spring will feed into a small koi pond, which residents can admire during walks around the 3.3-acre property.

Even though the 32,000-square-foot facility will offer cutting-edge comforts, Hobson said Fairhaven packages will be reasonably priced. He estimates a housing rate of $3,600 to $3,800 per month.

“We’re not trying to be the Neiman Marcus of retirement homes, and we’re not trying to be like the Walmart,” he said. “We’re trying to be like the Target — a value play in the middle.”

Fairhaven, which is located at 2400 N. Bell Ave., is set to reopen as a retirement home in March 2020. (Photo by Simone Carter)

Hobson has worked closely with the head of the nonprofit Historic Denton, Randy Hunt, throughout Fairhaven’s reconstruction.

Retrofitting the building to its original design has been a tedious, grueling process, Hobson said. But with Hunt’s guidance, Investcor secured a 45% tax incentive from the city and earned Fairhaven a spot on the National Register of Historic Places.

Denton’s historic preservation officer, Roman McAllen, said the significance of the designation can’t be overstated.

“I know there are people in the country who would pay a premium to stay in a retirement home designed by O’Neil Ford that’s on the National Register of Historic Places,” he said.

While architecture buffs may marvel at the building’s unique history, Hobson prefers recounting Fairhaven’s lesser-known origin story.

During the mid-1950s, indigent elderly people in need of housing had very few options, he said. Most families without wealth had to send aging relatives to live in “poorhouses,” which offered a substandard quality of life.

Then in 1956, an industrious group of women led by Myrtle Richardson, president of the Denton Business and Professional Women’s Club, decided to change that.

Richardson orchestrated a string of fundraisers to open a new breed of nursing home — one where she’d feel comfortable placing her own mother. After years of effort, substantial donations, and robust community support, Richardson and company opened Fairhaven on Feb. 14, 1965.

“I think that is the bigger story: the collective community effort to create something for their seniors,” Hobson said. “It was very selfless, it was very inspirational, and it was done by a group of women in the 1950s.”

Fairhaven in its heyday, before it closed in 2007. (Photo courtesy of Denton Public Library)

According to a 1964 Denton Record-Chronicle article documenting the groundbreaking, Fairhaven’s finance chairman announced he hoped to someday erect a sign emblazoned with the words “Happiness Lives Here.” But Hobson said as far as he knows, that dream was never realized.

That’s why when Fairhaven reopens in 2020, Hobson will honor the home’s history by forging the sign that never was: Happiness Lives Here.

Historical preservation efforts are necessary to maintaining Denton’s character and culture, Hunt said. Although the renovation process has been riddled with many unforeseen challenges, Fairhaven’s proponents believe it will be worth it.

It’s buildings with stories like Fairhaven’s that make Denton worth living in, Hunt said.

“Denton has all these really cool [buildings],” he said. “And if we keep on tearing them down, what’s cool about Denton?”

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Blake’s Snow Shack owner Blake Pyron, who has Down syndrome, joined Gov. Greg Abbott on Friday in Austin as Abbott signed into law Senate Bill 753, which reforms Texas’ Purchasing from People with Disabilities program to require that all participating contractors that employ people with disabilities pay at least minimum wage. Abbott is shown holding a pair of custom-made socks displaying the logo of Pyron’s business. (Courtesy photo/Mary Ann Pyron)

Published in the Denton Record-Chronicle on June 10, 2019.

Texas workers with disabilities will now earn at least minimum wage thanks to Senate Bill 753, a bill that was passed by the Legislature in May.

Blake Pyron of Sanger helped make it official.

Last Friday, the 23-year-old who has Down syndrome, joined Gov. Greg Abbott and U.S. Rep. Michael C. Burgess, R-Pilot Point, for the bill signing.

Blake Pyron’s mother, Mary Ann Pyron, said she and her son have spent countless hours lobbying for fair wages for people with disabilities. Together, they’ve traveled multiple times to Austin and Washington, D.C., to petition lawmakers to revoke Section 14(c) of 1938’s Fair Labor Standards Act. The disputed section allows employers to pay disabled workers less than the federal minimum wage.

“As Texans, we brag about our strong economy and how well people are paid,” Mary Ann Pyron said. “We want that to include everyone.”

Over the years, the Pyron family has formed a close relationship with Burgess, who flew to Austin from Washington to attend the signing ceremony.

“All people have inherent worth, and this law makes certain that each person’s value is recognized,” Burgess said in a news release.

Blake’s Snow Shack owner Blake Pyron is joined by U.S. Rep. Michael Burgess, right, and family members Friday in Austin to watch Gov. Greg Abbott sign into law Senate Bill 753. From left are Blake’s brother, Mitchell Pyron, and their parents, Billy and Mary Ann Pyron. SB 753 reforms Texas’ Purchasing from People with Disabilities program to require that all participating contractors that employ people with disabilities pay at least minimum wage. (Courtesy photo/Mary Ann Pyron)

SB 753 will require all contractors to pay workers with disabilities at least $7.25 an hour, which is the current federal minimum wage. Texas employers could previously pay disabled workers pennies on the dollar when compared to their non-disabled counterparts via the state’s Purchasing from People with Disabilities program.

Mary Ann Pyron said the taxpayer-funded program allowed employers to get away with paying disabled workers as little as $2 an hour. Most people are unaware, she added, that many disabled workers earn less than half of the federal minimum wage.

Employers must adhere to the mandate by no later than Sept. 1, 2022, according to the bill. State Rep. Lynn Stucky, R-Denton, who was a joint sponsor of the bill, said the Legislature needed to ensure that all hardworking Texans are paid fairly.

“Companies that benefit from these state contracts will no longer be able to take advantage of Texans with intellectual and developmental disabilities by paying them less than minimum wage,” Stucky said in an emailed statement.

Blake Pyron is no stranger to the limelight. In 2016, he became the only person with a disability in Sanger to own their own business after he opened Blake’s Snow Shack, a snow cone stand. Plus, he was the youngest business owner in town.

Blake’s Snow Shack got a boost in publicity later that year after a Texas NASCAR team placed the business’s logo above its car’s rear tires.

Mary Ann Pyron said the pride she has in her son is immeasurable. He’s ecstatic to be leading the charge for fair pay for disabled persons everywhere, she said.

“We felt like we made something that was wrong for so many years; we turned it into a right,” she said. “There’s still more work to do, but at least we’re getting something done.”

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Beanbags come and go, but Al's Furniture endures

Clint Knowles lounges on some beanbags at his store, Al's Furniture. (Photo by Jeff Woo)

Published in the Denton Record-Chronicle on June 9, 2019.

Clint Allen Knowles has been in the furniture business for precisely 80 percent of his life.

His store, Al’s Furniture, is celebrating its 40th anniversary this summer; Knowles is only 50. As Denton’s oldest independent family-owned furniture shop, Al’s boasts a staying power rarely seen in today’s economy. It’s 40 years down, Knowles said, hopefully another 40 to go.

Knowles attributes the store’s longevity to his family’s tight-knit bond. His parents, Al and Linda, opened the store in 1979, and it’s been all hands on deck ever since. Knowles started selling furniture when he was just 13 years old. Plus, he came up with the idea for the beanbags — a longtime staple of the McKinney Street storefront.

Back in the ’80s, Knowles convinced his father that selling colorful beanbags would be a profitable hit. He was right. The trend skyrocketed, with some people buying them “10 at a time,” Knowles said.

Even though the fad has since fizzled, Knowles still proudly displays colorful beanbags in the showroom windows as a nod to yesteryear.

“It’s kind of like an old friend,” he said. “You don’t want to get rid of them. But that’s how we’re remembered: as ‘The Beanbag Store.’”

Knowles' father died in 2005, leaving him and his mom with store. When she died in 2011, Knowles took the reins. He co-owned the store for a time with his sister, Codi, before she and her husband moved out of state in 2017. Though Knowles is now the sole owner, he gets by with help from his best friend Michael Wallace, who works the floor.

“Family gets kind of thick around here sometimes,” Knowles said. “We’ve had our spats and our disagreements over the years, but you wouldn’t change it.”

Entire generations of Denton residents have shopped at Al’s, Knowles said, a trend that he hopes will continue. “My parents used to shop here” is a refrain heard regularly in the store’s showroom, he said. Last week, Knowles even discovered that his barber made his very first credit card purchase at Al’s.

Knowles’ father loved jigsaw puzzles, and the family would bond over solving them together. Upward of a thousand jigsaws once lined the walls of Al’s, a feat that Knowles said earned the family a write-up in the Denton Record-Chronicle. He still likes to solve puzzles at home because it helps him relax, he said.

On a couple of occasions, Knowles and his parents pulled all-nighters at the store after vandals broke in. Together, the Knowles family would guard the remaining merchandise until the sun came up and handymen could replace the windows.

“Thankfully that hasn’t happened in years,” he said with a laugh.

Over time, other furniture crazes have waxed and waned. Knowles remembers when futons were all the rage. Then came velvet couches and next it was waterbeds. Now it’s adjustable mattresses, or what Knowles drily calls “glorified air mattresses.”

But Knowles’ current favorite? Electronically powered reclining sofas. He’s got a couple of them at home.

Knowles said Al’s Furniture has been able to hang tough during economic troughs, but lately it’s been hard. Over the last five years or so, Knowles has noticed an uptick in online shopping. Even hefty, high-ticket items like furniture can be purchased with the click of a button.

“It doesn’t help our local economy when [consumers] buy things on the internet,” he said. “I don’t really blame the customer, but it kills our business.”

Even though Al’s Furniture is one of the few retail stores on East McKinney Street, Knowles said he’s never wanted to move. His business gets a fair amount of foot traffic because of its location on a busy road, he said. The area is seeing a surge in interest, he added, with new apartment and office buildings beginning to crop up.

While he hopes to keep the family business going, Knowles said fiscal success isn’t everything. To him, family trumps all.

Knowles spends as much time as he can at home with his wife, Rachel, and their son Allen James, known as A.J., and daughter Sadie. And while he said he’d be happy if one of the kids wanted to run the family business someday, he also hopes they go to college.

Either way, Knowles and Wallace will keep plugging away, selling affordable furniture to friendly faces. For Knowles, it’s the best way to honor his parents’ memory.

“I love what I do and I’d like to stay here a long time,” he said. “My parents’ legacy is alive as long as Al’s Furniture is open.”

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O. Deletron’s debut EP sets brainy, emotive music to old images.

Bartz (middle-right): “It’s kind of like looking back at the past and hanging out with your friends in your first apartment.” (Photo by Courtesy of O Deletron)

Published in the Fort Worth Weekly on May 29, 2019.

O. Deletron is your favorite ’90s band that never existed. Building atop a foundation developed by indie rock pioneers Pavement and The Sea and Cake, the Fort Worth-based septet’s new EP, Subscription TV, captures the decade’s sonic zeitgeist without ever sounding derivative. O. Deletron’s debut record is at once intellectually stimulating and accessible. With a laser-like focus on clever songwriting, cofounders Aaron Bartz (vocals) and Jason Flynn (guitar) — both of Tame … Tame and Quiet fame — crafted each track with surgical precision.

Songwriting isn’t the only item on this EP’s menu. Each song is accompanied by grainy home videos that Flynn shot on an 8mm camera years ago. The faces of friends of yore flash onscreen before ebbing into oblivion. Subscription TV’s throwback aural and visual aesthetic is one that the band worked hard to craft.

“It’s kind of like looking back at the past and hanging out with your friends in your first apartment,” Bartz said. “That’s the emotional tie that I make when I watch it.”

While these musicians covet a retro aesthetic, they’re not stuck in the past. Lush, crisp production lends a hand to Subscription TV’s warm, swirling soundscape. Each of O. Deletron’s seven members, Bartz said, is indispensable in crafting the band’s distinctive sound. There are even two keyboard players, one of whom, he said, “holds down” the rhythm while the other “does the bleeps and bloops.”

Bartz and Flynn focus extra attention on penning lyrics. Bartz does most of the wordsmithing, and Flynn adds input when necessary. The pair has an ongoing Google Doc to which they will upload new lines and stanzas as inspiration strikes.

“When I listen to bands I really admire, I feel like the lyrics are a huge focal point in the center of the music,” Flynn said. “I’ve never heard a bad song with great lyrics, but I’ve heard pretty good songs with terrible lyrics.”

With a serious penchant for poetry, Bartz wields his words like a literary pro in the EP’s anthemic closer, “At the Rate of a Flickering Film.”

“And the streetlights / Guide me while / The shadows grow and shrink / At the rate of a flickering film / That I’m living,” Bartz sings in his lilting, unaffected delivery. “Forgot all the words / To your favorite song / Perhaps you never knew them / And got them all wrong.”

Despite the gravity of their material, the seven guys in O. Deletron are hardly somber band dudes. They keep the atmosphere light by playing myriad practical jokes on one another. Last April Fools’ Day, for instance, Flynn informed the rest of the band they’d be welcoming a second bass player at their next rehearsal. Not everyone was aware of the date, and a chaotic ruckus ensued.

Not having any merch to sling at their first show, each member brought an unwanted item with them and slapped an O. Deletron sticker on it. It was part performance, part art installation, and part garage sale, Flynn said. “The music can be serious sometimes,” he added, “so I think it’s really important to have that humor side to it.”

Much of Subscription TV was recorded at Flynn’s home studio, but The Fibs’ Robby Rux tracked drums and bass at Cloudland Recording Studio. After Flynn and O. Deletron keyboardist Tyler Walker mixed the material, they shot off the EP to Jordan Richardson (Son of Stan, Ben Harper & The Relentless 7) for mastering.

On Friday, the band will play its EP release show at The Tin Panther. Sur Duda is set to open, and The Baptist Generals’ Chris Flemmons is slated to perform a solo set. Concertgoers can purchase O. Deletron’s debut EP, although not in a conventional format. Subscription TV will be for sale only on VHS, in addition to being available for digital download.

O. Deletron is already working on recording its first full-length album, Hold Music, which Bartz and Flynn hope to release later this year. Until then, the guys hope that their audience enjoys listening to Subscription TV as much as they enjoyed making it.

“I hope that it grabs everybody the same way that it grabs everybody in the band,” Bartz said. “That’s why we have this band.”

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Washed Up Rookie’s third EP is equal parts substance and style.

Cotton (right): “We want to give the idea of Washed Up Rookie as in a worn-out athlete that just couldn’t quite make it.” (Photo by Roy Rivera)

Published in the Fort Worth Weekly on May 15, 2019.

These dudes ain’t no lightweights. Washed Up Rookie’s third EP, Too Late, Pt. 2, is a veritable hat trick, the perfect soundtrack for a scorching Texas summer. Snake charmers of the modern-day attention span, these cats know how to lay down a nasty hook that’ll stick with you for days.

Drenched in reverb and fuzzy, muddied guitar, Too Late, Pt. 2 is rooted in a potent blend of garage rock and blues and propelled by an undercurrent of soul. Guitarist Colton Cogdill and drummer Madison Cotton grab the listener by the wrist, leading them down a back alley to either fuck or fight. An exercise in brevity, this three-song gem taps out in fewer than 10 minutes. And that’s by design.

“It’s only three songs, but that’s kind of how we roll,” Cogdill said while nursing a tequila soda at a bar on West Magnolia Avenue. “People have short attention spans. I don’t want to put out a full-length record that no one’s going to give a fuck about.”

Ever the showmen, Washed Up Rookie’s overall aesthetic is reinforced by a solid visual motif. Black-and-white photos of famous athletes and photogenic movie stars are peppered throughout the band’s social media. The branding-conscious duo even uses its own vintage-inspired mascot logo created by illustrator Matt Cliff, who’s designed work for neo-psych titans The Black Angels and Tripping Daisy. Style is even at the forefront in the pair’s songwriting. Cogdill said his writing is influenced by Quentin Tarantino’s über-stylized films and retro-philic soundtracks.

“We want to give the idea of Washed Up Rookie as in a worn-out athlete that just couldn’t quite make it,” Cotton said. “We try to tie the vintage sports team theme together, which is kind of who we are – just playing music and haven’t quite made it yet but still love what we do.”

Wary of ever turning stale, Cogdill and Cotton try to release a triad of songs each quarter. Why write a 12-song album, Cotton asked, when hardly anyone still listens to full-lengths all the way through? Even though they’re rapidly churning out new material, Cogdill said that most of his lyrics contain a recurring theme. Shame, guilt, and regret are omnipresent in the band’s catalog, he said. Case in point: the first stanza in opener “Photos Taped to a Mirror.”

“Shoulda known better, but I guess I don’t,” Codgill emotes through a thick fog of reverb. “I coulda done things, but I guess I won’t / If I had the money, I’d buy you a car / So when you’re driving with him down First / It’s still me taking you to the bar.”

Friends for over a decade, Cleburne-raised Cogdill and Cotton met back in high school. After bonding over music, sports, and films, the two formed a band, The Vibes, that would serve as the predecessor for their current outfit.

After high school, Cogdill briefly lived in Austin before returning to Fort Worth. Washed Up Rookie was born after the pair reconnected. They effortlessly picked up where they left off and even still rehearse at Cotton’s parents’ house — in the same room they did when they were teens. Cogdill and Cotton’s strong friendship makes the songwriting process a breeze, they said, but playing together live is even easier.

“We kind of have a musical telepathy where we can read each other and know exactly what’s going to happen next,” Cotton said.

Produced by Mean Motor Scooter’s Rebekah Elizabeth and Joe Tacke, Too Late, Pt. 2 was laid down at Cloudland Recording Studio. Elizabeth and Tacke contributed backing vocals, bass, and keys and will join the Rookies onstage Friday for their EP release show at Lola’s Trailer Park.

For now contented to play the occasional local watering hole, Washed Up Rookie nevertheless have their sights set on the finish line. The pair hopes to someday embark on a comprehensive regional tour. Until then, they’ll keep pumping out accessible songs for the intelligent listener and crooning for the lovesick barfly. Still, they wouldn’t turn down the chance to sign to a major label or play Madison Square Garden, Cogdill said.

“I’m shootin’ for the stars, baby. James Dean.”

Burning to respond to something you've read? You can email Simone at simonemcarter@gmail.com. Be sure to follow her on social media. Facebook: simcartwrites Twitter: @simcarttweets Instagram: @simcartshoots



DMAC board members Brad Steiger and Matt Mars work at a fundraising event at Armadillo Ale Works on March 31, 2019. (Photo by Simone Carter)

By Simone Carter

Published in the Denton Record-Chronicle on April 12, 2019.

Even household names aren’t immune. Famed surf rock progenitor, the singular guitarist Dick Dale, died last month at 81 after a long battle with the health care system. Plagued by an insidious suite of recurring illnesses, Dale couldn’t afford to retire. He had insurance to pay, plus $3,000 monthly for myriad medical expenses.

“I can’t stop touring because I will die,” Dale said in a 2015 interview with the Pittsburgh City Paper. “Physically and literally, I will die.”

Dale’s struggle with the health care system is a common theme in the musician community. Like many freelancers in the gig economy who don’t benefit from employer-sponsored insurance, a large percentage of professional musicians have limited access to affordable health care.

While there’s a general lack of data surrounding musicians’ health, one third of musicians were uninsured before the passage of the Affordable Care Act according to a survey by the Future of Music Coalition. And 86 percent of those respondents said it was because they couldn’t afford insurance.

That was certainly the case with Denton musician Brent Best. Though he made a decent living touring the world with his band Slobberbone, he couldn’t afford insurance for nearly three decades.

“I didn’t have health care since I moved out of my folks’ house at 17 I think,” Best said. “But you know, that’s the thing when you’re younger and in halfway decent health— you don’t think about it. And that can be problematic.”

Denton musician Brent Best shreds during a Slobberbone show at Dan's Silver Leaf on April 20, 2019. (Photo by Simone Carter)

But for Best, that changed after the conception of the nonprofit Denton Music and Arts Collaborative.

Founded in 2017 by its president, Nic Bagherpour, and vice president, Andy Knapik, DMAC formed with the goal of helping artists attain affordable health care. Best was one of the first musicians the organization recruited for its Health Insurance Subsidy Program, which helps artists subsidize their monthly premiums.

For Bagherpour, a solution to the health care problem was long overdue.

“We are the only industrialized nation that doesn’t have a single-payer health care system, a universal health care system,” he said. “And I think that speaks volumes about the way that our health care system works now.”

Bagherpour and Knapik worked closely with the nonprofit Health Alliance for Austin Musicians and modeled much of DMAC from it. Working off HAAM’s blueprints, DMAC has recruited 20 musicians for its Health Insurance Subsidy Program over the past two years.

The bulk of DMAC’s beneficiaries have never had insurance said Aubrey Mortensen, DMAC’s program director.

“I would say the majority of the people that I spoke with … had probably not gone to the doctor in the last 10 to 15 years,” Mortensen said. “And they probably had not seen a dentist in sometimes longer than that.”

Pearl Earl front woman Ariel Hartley is a beneficiary of DMAC's Health Insurance Subsidy Program. (Photo by Simone Carter)

Towns with large numbers of musicians, like Austin and Denton, typically have a higher-than-average percentage of persons without health insurance. Austin’s uninsured rate is over 50 percent higher than the United States’ average according to the Census Bureau’s website. Denton’s rate is two percentage points higher than Austin’s, or nearly double the national average.

While other factors may also be contributors, the correlation is hard to ignore.

Many freelance artists earn a yearly income that’s below the poverty line, making them ineligible for federal subsidies. And while the ACA helps insured musicians pay their premiums, they rarely visit the doctor because of expensive copays said Chioma Amadi, a community outreach team member at Health Services of North Texas.

But musicians have a greater need for insurance than the general population. Musicians are more injury-prone than people in other professions due to the repetitive and physical nature of their work, according to a 2016 article published in Johns Hopkins Magazine.

Cultural pressures also contribute to poor health among musicians. For some, frequent drinking and reckless partying come with the territory.

“People think touring musicians live a sort of a party lifestyle,” Best said. “Maybe it is for some people when they’re young. But … you can’t sustain anything that way.”

DMAC's Director of Operations Andy Folmer surveys items at a DMAC garage sale fundraiser at Armadillo Ale Works in Denton on March 31, 2019. (Photo by Simone Carter)

Musicians have shorter life expectancies and are more likely to develop drug and alcohol dependencies as a form of self-medication, according to a 2017 study published in the American Journal of Public Health. This is partly due to a lack of access to mental health care.

The state-funded Texas Music Office has helped DMAC by increasing awareness about its Health Insurance Subsidy Program. TMO Director Brendon Anthony said his organization provides resources to “Music Friendly Communities,” a title that Denton earned last year thanks in part to the launch of DMAC.

“Those efforts are saving people’s lives,” Anthony said. “And there’s really fewer higher callings in our industry than doing that nonprofit work.”

Though organizations like DMAC and HAAM are working to assist their respective communities, other famed music towns are behind the curve. Fort Worth has implemented a robust program to aid aspiring musicians, Anthony said, but Dallas has more work to do. Neither town currently has a program dedicated to subsidizing musicians’ health care.

But while other cities scramble to progress, DMAC is broadening its scope. The organization is teaming with Denton-based art collective Spiderweb Salon this summer to provide group counseling sessions to artists in need. DMAC also hopes to augment its roster to 32 beneficiaries by the end of this year.

The ACA certainly has its critics, but Mortensen said that most people are supportive of DMAC’s mission. Bagherpour agreed.

Helping local musicians is a cause that transcends politics, he said. It’s in Denton’s DNA to support the arts.

“I think the best thing about this community is its artistic, cultural fabric,” Bagherpour said. “If we can keep an artistic cultural center in this town and keep all the artists here, then Denton will still be a place worth living in.”

DMAC President Nic Bagherpour, PR Director Wally Campbell, and Program Director Aubrey Mortensen share a joke outside of Dan's Silver Leaf on Feb. 3, 2019. (Photo by Simone Carter)
DMAC Program Director Aubrey Mortensen said the organization is always looking for new ways to raise money. "A.B.F.: always be fundraising," she said. (Photo by Simone Carter)
DMAC's Director of Operations Andy Folmer attends a fundraising event at Armadillo Ale Works on March 31, 2019. (Photo by Simone Carter)
DMAC's Development Director Brad Steiger stands outside Dan's Silver Leaf on March 4, 2019. (Photo by Simone Carter)
DMAC's Secretary Bruce Burns stands outside Armadillo Ale Works during a fundraising event on March 31, 2019. (Photo by Simone Carter)
“I would just like to see [health care be] more accessible. I don’t know why we can only have open enrollment for three weeks here. Why can’t someone just sign up right now?" - DMAC's PR Director, Wally Campbell. (Photo by Simone Carter)
DMAC's Media Director Andy Odom stands in front of Boca 31 during a fundraising event at Armadillo Ale Works on March 31, 2019. (Photo by Simone Carter)
Musician and graphic designer Tony Ferraro is a beneficiary of DMAC's Health Insurance Subsidy Program. (Photo by Simone Carter)
Benny the Cat on the prowl as his owner, musician Tony Ferraro, plays guitar in his Denton home on April 9, 2019. (Photo by Simone Carter)
Tony Ferraro and Aubrey Mortensen pose with their cat, Benny, in their Denton home on April 9, 2019. (Photo by Simone Carter)

DMAC co-founder’s legacy lives on

The city continues to mourn his loss. Andy Knapik, co-founder and vice president of the Denton Music and Arts Collaborative, died on Jan. 21, 2019, after a five-month stint in the hospital. He suffered a heart attack in August and eventually received a heart transplant, but later succumbed to various complications.

His death hit DMAC hard.

“Andy, he was the heart of our organization,” said Nic Bagherpour, DMAC’s co-founder and president.

People who knew Knapik say he dedicated his life to serving others and possessed a philanthropic ethos. A husband and father to three adopted children, he worked full-time and was pursuing an MBA in Nonprofit Management at the University of North Texas.

It was his lively spirit and can-do attitude that impressed his wife the most. Heidi Mlakar-Knapik said her husband continually inspired her and set a wonderful example for their children. Knapik’s love of music was unparalleled and he reveled in helping the musicians he admired, she said. She hopes to pass his love of volunteerism on to their children.

“That is my goal in life now,” Mlakar-Knapik said. “To take Andy’s death and make sure that the kids and I are fired to go and make great things happen.”

Burning to respond to something you've read, seen, or heard? You can email Simone at simonemcarter@gmail.com. Be sure to follow her on social media. Facebook: simcartwrites Twitter: @simcarttweets Instagram: @simcartshoots

Grief's harvest

Enigmatic musician Sarah Ruth is a force

Denton musician Sarah Ruth Alexander draws inspiration from the woods behind her home. (Photo by Simone Carter)

Published in the Fort Worth Weekly on Jan. 23, 2019

Musician Sarah Ruth Alexander is a second-generation child of the Dust Bowl. Born to a family of cotton farmers outside a tiny Texas town called Lakeview, she grew up listening to her parents’ stories about the devastation the dust storms wrought. Much like the dust that engulfed homes in the 1930s, Alexander’s suburban Denton home is completely submerged in art. Packed bookshelves strain under their load, photographs and paintings cover the walls, and recordings and potted plants rest on every available surface.

At 5-feet-11-inches and clad in all black, Alexander exudes a commanding presence. With jet-black hair and deep brown eyes, she holds direct eye contact and makes broad gestures to emphasize important points.

Alexander’s intensity is perfectly matched by her music. Her last album, The Shape of Blood to Come, is dedicated to her friend, musician Nevada Hill, who died from cancer in 2016. In it, Alexander mines her grief and distills it into song. Beautiful operatic singing morphs into controlled, guttural screaming. Her eerie dulcimer and foreboding harmonium transport you to a world of pure black nothing.

“It was therapy to get through a thing that I really didn’t discuss with anybody,” she said of the songwriting process.

The Shape of Blood to Come features a seasoned cast of Texas musicians including Daron Beck (Pinkish Black), Frank Cervantez (Sub Oslo), Beth Dodds (Bukkake Moms), Will Kapinos (Dim Locator), Paul Slavens (Ten Hands), and Jon Teague (Pinkish Black).

She’s known Fort Worth-based musicians Cervantez, Teague, and Beck— the latter of whom was also her roommate for several years— from crossing paths in the music scene. You can hear Beck’s colossal keyboard timbre, Cervantez’s guitar serrations, and Teague’s punishing drums flecked throughout the album.

But “album” is an unfair classification— “opus” might be more accurate. Alexander created a running theme, a heartbreakingly beautiful melody that reinforces the composition’s structure after it spins into chaotic improvisation.

Alexander shies away from writing lyrics because she thinks they’re too subjective. Her main goal is to affect her listener viscerally, she said, and she doesn’t need language to do that. There are no lyrics on the album save for one spoken word excerpt on “A Theme and Variations (Blastoff).” The sole stanza shines.

“In regards to magic, magic is real and beautiful,” Alexander says, her voice cloaked in distortion. “But the chemistry, the chemistry can be quite volatile / Explosive at times, calming at others / Basking in the passionate confines of such extremes / We reap our poetry.”

She’s educated and it shows. As a student at the University of North Texas, Alexander had to pass a piano proficiency, analyze a sonata, and write an exposition to a fugue to obtain her music degree. Even still, she said some people don’t take her seriously as a musician because she’s a woman.

Over the course of her lifelong career, Alexander’s had to brush off slimy concertgoers who yell vulgarities at her while she’s performing. Some sound guys dismiss her and instead ask her male bandmates how to mic her instruments. One sound guy ignored her completely, speaking only to her husband about her upcoming set even though he wasn’t in the band.

But Alexander takes it in stride.

“Women have to work extra hard because we’re under more scrutiny,” she said. “Men can be mediocre, but women can’t. Which I take as a good thing.”

Alexander does work extra hard. On top of gigging frequently, she also co-owns the family cotton farm, works part-time at an aquatic plant farm, DJs on Denton radio station KUZU, and freelances as a music teacher.

This Friday, she’ll play at Division Brewing in Arlington to benefit the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services, a nonprofit agency dedicated to providing migrants with legal assistance.

Last Saturday, she flexed her improvisation chops at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth in conjunction with the Laurie Simmons exhibit. Taking cues from the avant-garde Feminist Improvising Group, Alexander’s ensemble used hairdryers, kitchen timers, pans, and other domestic appliances as instruments.

Whether it’s solo or with a band, the atoms in the room galvanize into lightning when Alexander performs. She loses herself to trance, she said, as soon as she hits the stage. She lives for the moments when her performance strikes someone, when it moves them in an unexpected way. Using her platform to connect with her audience emotionally, Alexander specializes in conjuring catharsis.

“I want people to feel cleansed of something,” she said. “Something that was maybe hard to communicate. Maybe there’s a release, like I could be a vessel for that.”


Why I'm boycotting Amazon

(Photo by Simone Carter)

Published in The Denton Record-Chronicle on Jan. 15, 2019

The pain was excruciating.

Last year, 49-year-old Vickie Shannon Allen sustained a workplace injury at an Amazon warehouse in Haslet. She severely injured her back at a workstation that was missing a piece of safety gear, leaving her disabled and unable to fulfill her shift duties. Even though Amazon was entirely at fault, the company refused to pay Allen during the three weeks she couldn’t work.

Living off a diet of canned goods and prescription pain medication, Allen tried desperately to raise enough money for rent. But her landlords evicted her when she fell short.

She now sleeps in her car in the Amazon warehouse parking lot.

“I hope you can sleep well at night knowing what you do to people, Jeff Bezos,” Allen said in a YouTube video. “I hope you have a good, clean conscience when you lay your head down on your Egyptian cotton pillows.”

Until today, I used Amazon all the time. I would charge my card at least once a week for purchases big and small. Need a cheap used textbook? Amazon has it. Need some slick new Nikes? Amazon has them. The site even carries the particular brand of biodegradable, lavender-scented waste bags that I use to pick up after my dog on our daily walks.

Amazon chief executive Jeff Bezos has concocted a seductive equation for the modern American consumer: Convenience plus instant gratification equals necessity. He’s convinced us that we need same-day shipping, we need cheaply made products for increasingly lower costs. Click, buy, repeat.

But while you may have just shaved 5 cents off a knee-jerk purchase, Amazon’s warehouse workers struggle to afford the most basic necessities. Meanwhile, Bezos is raking it in: Every nine seconds, the world’s richest man makes another $28,638. That’s more than what the median Amazon worker makes in an entire year.

Income disparity aside, low-level employees liken working conditions at Amazon to “modern slavery.”

A records request filed by the U.K.-based general trade union GMB revealed that over 600 ambulances have been called to Amazon warehouses in the past three years. Seven factory workers have died on the job since 2013, either from accidents or natural causes triggered by heinous working conditions, according to a report by the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health. This shameful track record earned Amazon a spot on 2018’s “dirty dozen” list compiled by NCOSH.

Workers are subjected to grueling, near-impossible production goals. “Order pickers” are expected to process 300 items per hour, or about one item every 12 seconds, forcing some to sprint to meet their quota.

Here, workers are faced with a Kafka-esque scenario. Supervisors punish employees who don’t meet their impossible daily output goals, but they also punish them for running. Needless to say, turnover is high where even the fittest can’t survive.

Amazon harbors a paranoid workplace environment by implementing a rigorous points system. Workers lose points for a multitude of minor infractions. It’s six strikes, and you’re out.

Sick employees lose points if they take a day off, even if they have a doctor’s note. Undercover author James Bloodworth reported that some workers urinate in bottles since bathroom breaks impede meeting breakneck productivity expectations. One Amazon employee also told Business Insider that some warehouse workers use trash cans as urinals.

With such nightmarish working conditions and impossible standards, it’s clear that Amazon regards its employees not as people but as animate robots.

Far from being a man of the people, Jeff Bezos is a wolf in Prada jeans. He is a rags-to-riches cliche, the human embodiment of the tired American dream. Though he may be a poster boy for crony capitalism, he is lacking basic human empathy. He is complicit in preventable workplace injuries and the deaths of underprivileged employees.

While I’ll certainly miss Prime’s lightning-hot sales and the benefit of same-day shipping, I’ve decided to boycott Amazon. Until Bezos raises employees’ wages and drastically improves warehouse working conditions, I’m going to live like it’s 2005.

They say you can’t put a price on a human life, but I can. It’s the cost of a Prime membership: $119 a year.


Gollay's new single will rip you to shreds

Single artwork by Mary Toscano

Published in Fort Worth Weekly on Jan. 9, 2019

Don’t even think about messing with Gollay. In “White Stag,” the first single off the Fort Worth five-piece’s upcoming album, frontwoman Rachel Gollay and company shake you out of your contented haze and gear you up for war.

A sharp shift from their last two releases — 2014’s indie-sounding Built for Love and 2018’s experimental EP Player — Gollay’s new single is punk as hell, with gritty guitars, syncopated hooks, and spacey synths. Referring to “White Stag” as a “sonic punch in the gut,” Gollay told me that the band decided to make the tune their first release because it acts as an introduction to the next wave of songs they’ll be releasing.

“It’s kind of an upbeat rocker, sort of a party,” she said.

In Celtic lore, the white stag is a harbinger of change. A messenger from the otherworld, a white stag would materialize to signify that a major taboo had been broken. Gollay’s “White Stag” was written in the turbulent aftermath of the 2016 presidential election and the dawn of the #MeToo movement.

Though she insisted that her latest arsenal of songs isn’t overtly about politics, Gollay said she works through many of her politically induced anxieties during the songwriting process. Due out Friday, the tune boldly charges at the patriarchy.

“You tell us who you are / In no uncertain terms / The marathon’s on fire / But no reaction when it burns,” she brusquely sings. “A fake apology / That’s how you know it works / On someone else’s back / When is it gonna be her turn? / My turn?”

Gollay’s expressive lyrics reveal her academic background. An avid reader and active writer, she puts her English and media studies degree from Texas Christian University to use by penning high-impact, illustrative verses to accompany her singular musical style.

But literature isn’t Gollay’s only muse. She also finds inspiration in more unconventional places. She said her latest album is equally influenced by her fascination with true crime shows and HBO’s Westworld, which she binge-watched while battling an illness.

“I was taking a lot of cough medicine, so I was having these weird, in-and-out-of-sleep fever dreams about artificial intelligence and androids,” she said, laughing.

Though Gollay is the main songwriter, bandmates Russell Jack (keys), Joshua Ryan Jones (drums), Billy Naylor (bass), and Taylor Tatsch (guitar) also contributed to the creative process. Jack, who co-wrote the album, recorded the bulk of it at his home studio in Fort Worth. The band laid down the rest of the overdubs at Tatsch’s AudioStyles in Dripping Springs.

The band will drop a new single each month before unveiling the entire album, Override, later this year. Gollay said she also plans on incorporating multimedia elements into the band’s future live shows and hopes to embark on a regional tour.

With an emphasis on clever instrumentation and keen lyrics, Gollay said she thinks that people will be challenged by her band’s upcoming record. She also hopes that Override will serve as a beacon of reassurance.

“The election shook me and a lot of people out of complacency about where we stood as human beings, I think, in our country,” she said. “Hopefully, some of these songs provide a light at the end of the tunnel.”


Stefanie Lazcano, Bailey Chapman, Chelsey Danielle, and Ariel Hartley of Pearl Earl (Photo by Simone Carter)

Published in the Dallas Observer on Dec. 28, 2018

It’s 11 p.m. on a stormy Friday in Denton when band practice finally gets going. Intermittent claps of thunder and the unmistakable shriek of feedback pierce the tranquility of a quiet neighborhood.

Guitarist Ariel Hartley sets up the closet-sized rehearsal space in the back of her cozy rental house. She deftly untangles serpentine cords, plugging them in to their corresponding amplifier input jacks. She’s done this before.

Bandmates Stefanie Lazcano, Bailey Chapman and Chelsey Danielle laugh loudly in the kitchen, downing their last swigs of beer before filing in to join Hartley in the cramped practice room. It’s time to rehearse.

Hartley founded neo-psych band Pearl Earl in mid-2014 with Chapman and Lazcano; Danielle joined two years later. Their unique sound and colorful aesthetic quickly earned them a sterling reputation in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex.

“I’ve always gravitated towards psychedelia and prog rock and glam rock, and then synth pop,” Hartley says in an airy voice and lilting cadence. “I like guitars that sound like synths and synths that sound like guitars.”

Pearl Earl’s work ethic and business sense are unparalleled. The band gigs constantly, going on tour as frequently as their respective day jobs permit. When they’re not writing new material, they’re working on promoting their brand.

Earlier that day, the group worked diligently on sending out new band T-shirts to fans across the country. Later this month, they plan to premiere a music video for “Captain Howdy,” the latest single off their eponymous debut album.

While they may take the band seriously, that doesn’t mean they take themselves seriously. The group shares a bulletproof bond and an infectious joie de vivre.

“We’ve done a lot of really fun, crazy and dumb things together,” drummer Chapman says candidly. “We’ve had wrestling matches with people we literally just met.”

Hartley nods vigorously.

“I’ve run into manatees with these people, I’ve been cuddled at night by these people,” she says.

Bassist Lazcano laughs before launching into a story about how they celebrated her birthday a few years ago.

“They surprised me with cake and a piñata that was full of all sorts of adult goodies,” Lazcano says. “And then afterwards— late at night— we decided to go to the pool and everybody was skinny-dipping. There were like 30 people there.”

Chapman chimes in: “Lots of naked times together, lots of fun times together.”

While the band might be happy-go-lucky in their free time, they sometimes struggle to get people to treat them like professional musicians when they’re on the clock. Pearl Earl often battles a trite stereotype: Girls can’t play rock and roll.

“I forget half the time that I’m a chick until I’m pleasantly reminded by a dude,” keyboardist Danielle says, a tinge of frustration coloring her voice.

“One comment I’ll get is, ‘Man, you guys are good for a girl band.’”

Pearl Earl have become pros at diverting unwanted attention and interrupting the male gaze. They’re used to guys inserting themselves where they’re not wanted.

Men frequently ask if they need help carrying heavy gear. The answer is always “no.”

Master tightrope walkers, the band carefully treads the line between familiarity and professionalism. If they’re too standoffish they’ll be dubbed as “bitches,” and they can’t afford to be too nice. One slight misstep— a half-smile or polite laugh— and a person could get the wrong idea.

“It’s hard to be cordial with some guys; they’ll think, ‘Oh, she likes me,’” Danielle says. “And then it gets out of hand and all of a sudden you get a weird random message and you’ll be like, ‘I’m sorry, we don’t play music anymore.’”

Sometimes the unwanted attention is relatively harmless, like being held captive in a one-sided conversation or a too-long hug. But sometimes it can be scary.

Hartley says that a year ago, a middle-aged fan started stalking her. For several months he sent her threatening messages via social media and her personal email with increasing frequency.

The likelihood of an incident seemed imminent as the accused stalker, who has a license to carry, began bringing his gun to Pearl Earl gigs. This prompted Hartley to file a complaint with the Denton Police Department, but she says they weren’t much help.

“I was really afraid because no one was listening to me at the police station,” Hartley says. “No one was taking me seriously.”

Chapman nods somberly, adding, “They said nothing could be done until something bad happens.”

Though they still fear for their safety, Pearl Earl continues to play regular gigs both in Denton and across the country. One “delusional” fan won’t keep them from their passion: playing catchy psychedelic cuts to an appreciative, rapidly expanding fan base.

Pearl Earl plan to embark on a three week long West Coast tour in 2019. They also look forward to recording new material.

Hartley says she ultimately hopes to inspire a new generation of fearless female musicians. Because women musicians, she says, aren’t going anywhere any time soon.

“Females have always been making music,” Hartley says frankly. She takes a sip of her homemade old-fashioned cocktail and cracks a wry smile.

“This isn’t a new trend. We’ve always been there.”

"I’d like everyone to be more androgynous and trans and mixed race— that’d be cool. It’d be really cool if we could all just form into neutral aliens where we don’t have sex parts and we all have the same color skin." —Guitarist / vocalist Ariel Hartley on her hopes for the future. (Photo by Simone Carter)
Drummer Bailey Chapman uses her banana phone to make an important call. (Photo by Simone Carter)
"I feel like we get a lot of random people who trickle into our shows because we’re female. And then they end up liking it." —Bassist Stefanie Lazcano on the perks of being a female musician. (Photo by Simone Carter)
Keyboardist Chelsey Danielle shows off her half-eaten baklava. She says it was delicious. (Photo by Simone Carter)



People of all ages celebrated the holidays at Friday’s annual Denton Holiday Lighting Festival on the Square. The crowded festival boasted live music, arts and crafts, vendor booths, food trucks and a toy drive. Severe thunderstorms shut down the festival prematurely, but not before Denton County Judge Mary Horn introduced the town’s new Christmas tree. A Nellie R. Stevens holly, the imposing tree is named after the first female Denton County commissioner, Lee Walker.



Canvasser Isabel Deniz registered hundreds of new voters ahead of the midterms including a new American citizen and a 60-year-old first-time voter. (Photo by Simone Carter)

In the ruby-red state of Texas, there may be at least one sapphire standout this midterm election: Denton County could turn blue. Fueled by a divisive national political climate, residents who are frustrated with the current state of affairs are flooding the local polls.

Republican incumbent Senator Ted Cruz and his challenger, Democratic Congressman Beto O’Rourke, were tied after early voting ended in Texas on Friday.

Isabel Deniz, 24, is a voter registration canvasser for the non-profit Jolt Initiative, an organization that aims to increase the number of registered Latino voters in Texas. She said that this year has seen a sharp increase in voter participation, particularly among young voters.

“There were a lot of young people who were really excited,” Deniz said. “Even when I was poll greeting, 75 percent of that line were young college students. Which is amazing because any time I’ve ever early voted it’s been me and like, senior citizens.”

Records are being broken left and right. The Dallas Morning News reported that early-voter turnout has more than doubled in some North Texas counties ahead of this year’s midterms. Similarly, the Denton Record-Chronicle reported that Denton’s early voting numbers have already surpassed the vote count from the entire 2016 midterms.

Denton voters had to wait in line anywhere from 40 minutes to around an hour and a half every day of early voting, Deniz said. She registered hundreds of new voters ahead of the midterms and said she was proud to have registered a new American citizen and a 60-year-old first-time voter.

According to a poll conducted via Google Drive, O’Rourke carries a strong lead among Denton respondents. Over 50 percent of respondents identified as Democrats, with a third identifying as independents. Sixty-three percent voted early, and 93 percent cast their vote in favor of O’Rourke. The most salient issues for Denton voters are health care, national politics, immigration, education and climate change.

Election day is Tuesday, November 6. Polls are open from 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. Denton County Brewing Company and Dan’s Silver Leaf will host election watch parties that night.

North Texas Residents Flock to the Polls

"I like what Beto stands for," said 47-year-old Thorpe Griner. "He wants to bring people together rather than divide."
"Since Trump has become president, it seems as though people have become ok with and tolerant of hate," said 27-year-old teacher, Britny Barnett. "People are pitted against each other, and this can not continue. We need a person to represent Texas that cares about people and will vote to take care of us."
"It's very important to vote and try to get a Democratic House that can push back against and investigate the corrupt practices of the current administration," said 58-year-old Denton resident, Curtis Smith. He added that one of the things he likes about candidate O'Rourke is he "played in a band with Cedric Bixler-Zavala."
Independent Alex Alexander, 38, said voting in the midterms is "a simple, sanctioned way to communicate to govt officials how much power they have/don’t have." He added, "If the republic survives this shit show long enough, Beto might make a good presidential candidate."
"Local politics have a greater impact on your everyday life than national politics," said Denton resident Denise Clyne. She added that the biggest factor determing her vote is "republican’s favoring the upper class at the expense of the environment, working class and healthcare."
"Republicans are ruining everything again," said 35-year-old Andy Cunningham. It's his first time voting in the midterms. "Things can’t continue the way they are."
Denton resident Hannah Hansen, 27, said she tries to vote in every election. "I agree with most all of Betos views," she said. "He cares so much more about the people of Texas and the issues we face."
"[O'Rourke] makes sense when he speaks and can articulate on many subjects," said 56-year-old Flower Mound resident, Jack Pier. "He's smart and he doesn't take donations from PACS or lobbyists."
Alicia Claytor, 28, is voting for Beto O'Rourke. She said, "I agree with his political views on the environment (combating global warming), business & economy, education (increasing federal aid/less emphasis on high stake tests) drug policy (decriminalization of possession and sale of small amounts of cannabis), veterans, gun policy(universal background checks/ban on assault rifles), and social issues (marriage equality, universal health coverage, pro-choice, racial equality)."
"Democratic control of congress is the only hope we have of keeping Trump from enacting fascist policies. Theoretically," said 44-year-old independent, Jason Lee.
Emily Leekha, 25, said it is "dire" that people vote in the 2018 midterms. "This is a time when America has become aware that our leadership doesn't care about us," the Corinth resident said. "We need to change that. By the people. For the people."
"I'm voting because I feel under represented in a growingly progressive state and it's time to be heard," said 29-year-old Denton resident James Hoger.
"Anyone is better than a capitalist pig," said 24-year-old anarcho-socialist Mik Barnett. "[O'Rourke] doesn't seem to be a fascist so far."
"I feel that Beto has already and continues to change how this country views politics," said Mansfield resident Sarah Pinyan. "We need more compassion in politics. Instead of fighting over who we need to hate next."
"Beto wants to fights for marginalized groups in Texas and as a member of one of those marginalized groups, I felt compelled to vote in my own interest," said 23-year-old University of North Texas student, Ethan Chunn.
Aimee Tullos, 50, is excited about Candidate O'Rourke. "I voted for Beto because he feels like a real person to me and because he obviously cares deeply about people and their lives & safety," she said. "Also: I hate Ted Cruz with a visceral passion."
Travis Michael, 34, believes it's important to vote in this year's midterms. "It is our chance to let our voices be heard," he said. "If we want change, we have to vote for change!"



8:17 p.m.: The second showing has ended. Happy Halloween, everyone! 🎃#halloween⁠ ⁠ #Charliebrown #denton #untmojof18

7:54 p.m.: Alfredo Sanchez is asking people if they’ve voted yet. Sanchez, who was once a candidate for Denton ISD School Board, says “I’m out here because there’s a lot of young families. I want to make sure that they vote for the future of their children and their education.” #untmojof18

7:43 p.m.: Surprise! They just announced they’re playing the movie again in five minutes. A church representative said, “Tell all your friends to get here!” #charliebrown #untmojof18 #halloween⁠ ⁠

7:37 p.m.: Show’s over, folks! #halloween⁠ ⁠ #charliebrown #denton #untmojof18

7:36 p.m.: Some people dressed as characters from the film. Jake, dressed as Charlie Brown, is Cross Timbers Church’s student pastor. “It’s not everyday that you see a church put on a Halloween-themed event,” he says. “It’s been great doing this for the local community.” #untmojof18 #denton

7:28 p.m.: Some fans of the film lounge on lawn chairs as they watch. It’s a little more comfortable than the ground. #snoopy #halloween⁠ ⁠ #untmojof18

7:25 p.m.: The Courthouse lawn is packed! #halloween⁠ ⁠ #untmojof18

7:23 p.m.: It’s show time!!! The movie has finally begun. #halloween⁠ ⁠ #untmojof18

7:22 p.m.: A representative of Cross Timbers Church welcomes movie watchers to the show. The Denton County Courthouse and Atomic Candy partnered with the church to put on the event. #halloween⁠ ⁠ #denton #untmojof18

7:14 p.m.: Major correction! I previously wrote that the movie was scheduled for 7:45. It was actually scheduled for 6:45. #sorry #untmojof18

7:10 p.m.: Atomic Candy employee, Amy, says that today has been good for business. “Last year the weather was pretty bad on Halloween so not as many people came in,” she says. “A lot more people are coming in today.” #halloween⁠ ⁠ #denton #untmojof18

6:50 p.m.: Officer Hurd of the Denton Police Department loves working this event. “It’s great that kids and families are able to come out and treat or treat in a safe environment like this,” she says. “And I love seeing all of the fun costumes!” #halloween⁠ ⁠ #denton #dentonpd #untmojof18

6:42 p.m.: A showing of the Halloween classic, “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown” will happen at the Courthouse at 7:45 tonight. The treat crawl and movie showing were originally scheduled for the 31st, but were rescheduled due to a high chance of rain. ⛈#Halloween⁠ ⁠ #untmojof18 #denton

6:36 p.m.: John Williams, owner of East Side, and manager Kregg Ross enjoy passing out treats. Ross, in the banana suit, says this year’s Trick or Treat fest has been busy. #halloween⁠ ⁠ #denton #untmojof18

6:26 p.m.: Just arrived at the Denton Square, where excited costumed youngsters are participating in a Halloween candy crawl 🍭🎃. #halloween⁠ ⁠ #denton #untmojof18

Out of the shadows

Cirque Du Horror rises from the grave

(Photo by Simone Carter)

It was all work and no play. Back in 2009, Denton-based composer David Pierce was in a stubborn musical rut. He was keeping busy as a band director, private music teacher and freelance composer, but he still felt unfulfilled. He was stuck creatively and wasn’t producing anything for himself.

Sensing his frustration, Pierce’s wordsmith uncle slipped him a couple of lines of macabre poetry to serve as a source of inspiration:

Out of the shadows that tickle me,

Thorny and horny and smelly as brie.

It did the trick.

“Basically that was the big bang moment,” Pierce said. “As soon as I read that it just made sense to me what I had to do. And you know, the pen couldn’t go fast enough.”

That year, Pierce masterminded what would become a legendary Denton Halloween tradition: Cirque du Horror. Hosted each year by Dan’s Silver Leaf, the spooky show boasts a witch’s brew of vaudeville, musical theater and dance. Pierce transforms into a demon conductor, leading his “Orchestra of the Undead” through original songs while actors delight a captive audience.

The orchestra is comprised of first-rate local musicians, many of whom are alumni of the University of North Texas’ prestigious College of Music. Brad Williams has played piano in Cirque du Horror since its inception in 2009. Even though he’s a seasoned musician, some of Pierce’s songs still stretch his musical chops.

“He’ll try and push all of our limits a little bit,” Williams said. “He knows what I can do and so he’ll write something that’s just a little harder than I want it to be. So I’m really concentrating on playing.”

Each musician has their own busy schedule. Some play in the Dallas Opera or in symphonies around the Metroplex. But reenlisting them each year is never a problem.

“The joke is that they keep their skeleton outfits as security so that I’ll ask them back,” Pierce said with a laugh. “So that always makes me feel good.”

Though Pierce has a handle on his undead orchestra, he needs a lot of help behind the scenes. That’s where his visual director, Tara Linn Hunter, comes in.

Hunter works tirelessly each year to manifest the show’s uniquely ghoulish set, distilling the essence of Halloween down to its purest form. She rejects the grotesque in favor of a more subtle, eerie vision.

“I’m really not interested in haunted houses or like, gory Party City Halloween stuff,” she said. “I draw a lot of my inspirations from film noir, that time period where shadows and darkness, there was a real dark beauty to them.”

The show is reconceptualized each year through new skits, tricks and effects. This Halloween, Hunter and a team of dedicated volunteers created life-sized puppets to flesh out Pierce’s stories. The ultimate goal is to move Cirque du Horror to an actual circus tent.

Until then, Pierce is contented playing ringleader to a motley tribe of local musicians, actors and volunteers at Dan’s Silver Leaf. The joy it brings him isn’t going away any time soon.

“Over the years, Cirque has remained my release,” Pierce said. “It’s still magical to me. No matter how tired or how stressed I am, when I’m in a rehearsal or when I’m at a performance, it’s literally the most fun that I have all year making music— hands down.”

Cirque du Horror composer and ringleader, David Pierce, before Thursday night's dress rehearsal. (Photo by Simone Carter)
Pianist Brad Williams has played in Cirque du Horror since it began in 2009. (Photo by Simone Carter)
"We have all year to celebrate the bright and happy and cheerful things. But it's fun once a year to dive into the darker aspects of life." – Tara Linn Hunter, visual director (Photo by Simone Carter)
David Pierce conducts his undead orchestra during Thursday night's dress rehearsal. (Photo by Simone Carter)
Jessica and David Pierce wait in line for a drink at Dan's Silver Leaf in Denton. (Photo by Simone Carter)
Poster by Ashley Young.

Beautiful Nightmare

Daniel Markham is one of the hardest working musicians in town. (Photo by Simone Carter)

It’s a chilly Thursday night in October when musician Daniel Markham pulls into the parking lot of Denton’s premiere outdoor music venue, Harvest House. The 37-year-old songwriter begins to load in his gear, the gravel crunching beneath his black Converse with each step. Sporting a black leather jacket and a black Danzig shirt, the monochromatic Markham has arrived. He came here to rock and roll.

Markham moved to Denton for his music career in 2011 and has been a formidable presence on the scene ever since. He’s found his musical niche in Denton and stays busy playing in five bands, including his solo project. Though touring is one of his passions, it can be hard to attract an out-of-town audience. But he loves playing, even if it’s only to a crowd of one.

“Honestly, sometimes it feels like nobody cares at all,” Markham says. “So if there’s one person that cares about your band, hell yeah. That’s way more than none.”

Over the years, he’s collected a few tour horror stories. In Joshua Tree, he swears he saw a man shape-shift before sprinting into the pitch-black desert. In Salt Lake City, a drugged-out David Cross look-alike in a pink robe stepped on his face while he slept on the floor. In Birmingham, he pulled up to his gig at a famed club only to realize they had screwed up his name.

“We got there and the marquee said ‘David Markham Live,’” he says with a laugh. “Which I thought was great. I have a cousin named David Markham so I took a picture and sent it to him.”

Between touring, teaching private lessons and slinging vinyl at Mad World Records downtown, Markham still finds time to write. He tries to release a record every year, and he usually makes good on that goal. He unveiled Hyperspeed earlier in 2018 and just finished recording another album, Burnout, due out next year.

Markham works countless hours behind the scenes. And while he may not be a household name yet, as far as he’s concerned, he’s already made it.

“My dream job is doing exactly what I’m doing,” he says. “My dream job is a nightmare, but it’s a beautiful nightmare.”

He came here to rock and roll. (Photo by Simone Carter)


Rock Lottery XVII to descend on Denton

Rock Lottery morning ceremony host Scott Porter poses with committee director Chuck Crosswhite. (Photo by Simone Carter)

What do a cheese grater, a saw, members of the Dallas Cowboys drumline and a bare bottom have in common? They’ve all been used as instruments in the auditory extravaganza that is Rock Lottery. Part musical marathon, part visual circus, Rock Lottery will return to Dan’s Silver Leaf in Denton on Saturday, Oct. 13, with all proceeds benefitting radio station KUZU 92.9 FM.

Scott Porter, 44, is the host of this year’s morning ceremony and has participated in the event both onstage and behind-the-scenes.

“Rock Lottery is Denton prom; it is the biggest party of the year,” he said. “Everybody makes friends, and the music scene gets a little smaller with every Rock Lottery.”

During the morning ceremony, 25 brave musicians are randomly grouped into five bands. They then have 12 hours to come up with three to five songs, only one of which can be a cover. That night each band must play its brand-new tunes to a sold-out crowd.

Rock Lottery is a labor of love for its committee director, 32-year-old Chuck Crosswhite. For the last six months he’s led a team of dedicated committee members who have donated countless hours to planning this year’s incarnation. It’s a lot of work for no pay, but Crosswhite doesn’t mind.

“I think the main reason I do this is because I love this town,” he said. “I love the music scene, the community, the people in it.”

Martin Iles, 46, co-founded the event in 1997 with his colleagues at the Good/Bad Art Collective. It has since touched down in cities like Los Angeles, Brooklyn and Seattle and attracted bona fide rock stars as participants.

While the yearly event invigorates a rabid audience of local music fans, it can also petrify prospective musicians. But Iles believes participants should lean into the proverbial trust fall: Denton’s audience works exceptionally well as a safety-net.

“So often the musicians come into the experiment nervous,” Iles said. “What we tell them is that you’re never going to come across a more supportive audience because everybody in the audience knows the circumstances you’re in. You’re still going to get amazing applause.”

Local musician Scott Danbom, 45, participated in the inaugural Rock Lottery and experienced firsthand how unnerving it can be. Some musicians get paralytically nervous and some have flat-out bailed. But quitting, Danbom said, should never be an option.

“You don’t have very much choice,” he said. “You signed up. So shut up and play.”

Keyboardist Scott Danbom played in the first Rock Lottery. (Photo by Simone Carter)
Musician Scott Danbom outside his home in Denton, Texas. (Photo by Simone Carter)
Martin Iles co-founded Rock Lottery in 1997 with his colleagues at the Good/Bad Art Collective. (Photo by Simone Carter)
"We have a great deal of fondness for Dan's and Dan himself. And as far as I'm concerned, [Rock Lottery] lives here as long as Dan wants it." -Martin Iles (Photo by Simone Carter)
The Rock Lottery sorting hat, better known as the Sacred Hat. (Photo by Simone Carter)
Rock Lottery XVII Poster by Alexander Revier.

The grind of being a booker:

It's less glamorous than you think

Garrett Gravley books shows at Dan's Silver Leaf in Denton, Texas. (Photo by Simone Carter)

Perched atop an ancient swiveling office chair, 25-year-old Garrett Gravley stoops over a cluttered desk, a cold Dos Equis beer in hand. Blinding fluorescent lights flicker overhead as he stares at a calendar on the desktop computer. It’s here in the cramped office of renowned Denton music venue Dan’s Silver Leaf that Gravley feels most at home.

Gravley began booking bands at Dan’s Silver Leaf in 2017 and has spent many late nights in the office making last-minute calls and sealing deals. But he didn’t start out dreaming about coordinating shows. Like many kids, Gravley wanted to be a rock star when he grew up; like many kids, he didn’t quite get there.

“Whenever you’re young you want to start playing music, but I was never really any talented,” Gravley says with a laugh. “So I wanted to get involved without having to be a good musician. I’m not even good enough for punk, to be quite honest.”

Gravley cut his teeth booking shows while he was still a student at the University of North Texas. He quickly made a name for himself in the DIY scene and moved on to work at beloved punk venue Rubber Gloves Rehearsal Studios until its closure in 2016.

Since then Gravley has worked full-time for a corporate drug wholesaler to supplement his booking habit. And though he works nearly non-stop, Gravley isn’t exactly raking in the dough. Booking shows is a risky business.

“If a band doesn’t have many streams or good PR, it’s a big gamble to give them a guarantee,” Gravley says. “But if they have a good history in the market then it’s a safe bet. It’s a gamble for sure, but you do what you can to mitigate as much risk as possible.”

On some nights he pockets a modest sum after covering expenses, but some nights he loses big. Much like gambling, booking shows is an addiction for Gravley.

While it may not be a profitable part-time position, it is a fulfilling past-time. Live music is his passion— one that he loves sharing with others. And that’s enough to keep Gravley from throwing in the towel just yet.

“One thing that always brings me back [to booking] despite the grind of it is there’s always that one show that you do that’s so life-affirming,” Gravley says. “I love giving that to other people.”

Interview with Miniature Painter Robert Zimmerman

Humans of Denton

“I have to pretend I’m straight for safety sometimes, like when I meet new people or I’m in a new environment. I try to lower the octave of my voice and make conscious steps to act more heterosexual because I don’t know these people. I don’t know how they’re going to react. And that’s wild. I don’t think a lot of heterosexual people realize that gay men and gay women do performative heterosexuality for safety reasons. You’re not looking to cause any problems and it’s safer and easier. And slowly you can let your other voice back on. Performative heterosexuality is a whole can of worms to unpack. I do it subconsciously. Well, part of it is a conscious choice to act ‘less gay’ until I find an ally I can be gay around. You just learn what you can and can’t say with certain people. It’s a skill, but it becomes second nature because when your brain sees new people it puts on a different version of yourself. Any time I’m surrounded by straight men, I go into full-on panic mode. It doesn’t feel like a safe environment for me. I know what world we live in, and I know we’re in the South.” — Ethan Chunn
“I’m a sucker for movies with talking animals, specifically if it’s talking dogs or talking bears. Even if it’s really bad I’ll try to watch it and drive my wife crazy with it. It’s just funny to see the things humans think animals would say, you know? Plus, I like the idea. It would be amazing if you could actually speak to your pet like that for a day. I think I would ask my dog Jake what’s up with him. He’s a very anxious dog. I would ask him what happened to him in the past that got him this way and try to talk to him about it. Like, ‘Who did you wrong, Jake?’” — Harlan Anderson

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