Four years ago, he was just another kid with a dream. He loves and plays music. He’s been booking gigs for years. In fact, booking bands is how it all began. It is Oaktopia, and the then-kid-now-producer is Matt Battaglia.
It was August 2012. A couple of bands were looking for gigs on the same upcoming November weekend. Matt did what he does. He checked availability in Denton venues and found numerous openings. On a whim, his long-held dream of producing a multi-genre music festival in Denton got real. Matt withdrew his personal savings, borrowed money, assembled a team, booked bands in those open venues, and the first Oaktopia was born.
Being a first-time producer and launching an inaugural event inside of three months sounds like a crazy mission. They pulled it off quite successfully, but with a lot of help from their friends, including the big boys in town. “35 Denton is the granddaddy of multi-genre music festivals,” Matt said. “And we share the same vision.”
That shared vision is celebrating the myriad musical subcultures burgeoning in Denton, giving them a platform while also attracting famed names to join the lineup. The hope is those big names will share their stories highlighting Denton as a great scene and place to play. The 35 Denton staff coached Matt on things like logistics and volunteer coordination. There was and continues to be volunteer crossover between the two festivals, a bond that strengthens both.
35 Denton’s spring date was established to sandwich up to Austin’s SXSW, the idea being to draw on the international talent traveling through North Texas to and from the mega-fest. So in year two, Matt and his team moved Oaktopia to September to mirror what the granddaddy had done, and draw on the fall mega-event Austin City Limits. When Matt hit the pavement in search of sponsors, he struck gold.
“I was impressed with Matt, his team and their spirit,” said Sparky Pearson, owner of LSA Burger and Barley and Board. Sparky is a man of vision. He retired young, ready to come home to Denton, from a successful career in real estate development where his focus was on “creation of concepts” like the new Discover Denton Welcome Center he helped the CVB build on the square. “Creating concepts is my artistic outlet,” he said. “I look around and think, ‘What are we missing, what else could work and be cool?’”
He recognized the same kind of vision in Matt along with right motives, good work ethic, and desire to collaborate. More than anything, though, Sparky saw heart. “I love young people, listening to their dreams and helping them realize those dreams,” he said.
Instead of mere sponsorship, Sparky suggested a partnership to facilitate Oaktopia and grow it together. This was Matt’s gold.
Sparky’s resources are more than cash. He reeled in business partner and Midlake lead-singer Eric Pulido whose music festival experience spans more than a decade across the globe. Together, the three built a dream team of varying ages and backgrounds representing expertise in every arena necessary to boost Oaktopia up the ladder in a short time.
Now going into Oaktopia’s fourth year, that team is working like a well-oiled machine. Attendance will be at its highest ever this weekend. UNT alum and national sensation Norah Jones headlines Petty Fest on Thursday night and on the UNT Main Stage on Friday. Ninety-six bands and 440 artists will play between Thursday night and all day Friday and Saturday, with about a 75 percent local to 25 percent national ratio among the talent.
Petty Fest on the UNT sponsored Main Stage will be an original, independent kind of different event in itself. A dynamic mix of phenomenal artists playing Tom Petty tunes together will be as special on stage as it will be for the audience.
Remember the giant DENTON sign we created as a community during Oaktopia last year? Participative art is part of the lineup again, but the theme and medium remain a secret until Thursday.
Sparky’s heart in the matter of Oaktopia is simple. “Art should be a place of respite, of appreciation of life, “he said. “I hope somehow we (Oaktopia) communicate that and encourage people to stretch themselves. You paint your canvas red and I paint mine black. We express differently, and that should be okay.”
Matt’s heart is Denton. “This is the most amazing town on the planet,” he said. “And it’s the people and talent that make it. This is a weekend of celebration for Denton and of discovery for people who don’t already know what’s here.”
Oaktopia will be in various downtown Denton venues September 22-24 with outside main stages located on Oak Street between Locust and Bell across from East Side. See Oaktopia.com for schedules and tickets.