Fort Worth’s Fortress Festival helps build Denton’s musical reach

Fort Worth’s Fortress Festival helps build Denton’s musical reach

Fort Worth’s Fortress Festival helps build Denton’s musical reach
May 03
13:22 2018

Residents and visitors of North Texas awaited in anticipation for more than an hour around the main stage of the second annual Fortress Festival, all in an attempt to get just a little closer to the festival’s headliner — the Father, John Misty himself. The crowd continued to swell as it neared closer and closer to his set time. After much anticipation, he took to the stage followed by a roar of excitement from the crowd — but many UNT students and Denton locals were excited to see another familiar band.

“I’m very excited that Pearl Earl is here repping Lil’ D,” said Xander Stubbs, creative writing junior at UNT. “I’m excited to see them. I have heard nothing but amazing things, so I’m looking forward to it very much.”

Pearl Earl is an all-female Denton based rock band that was founded in 2014. Since then, the group has progressed through the Denton music scene and has expanded to other regions, winning over many fans along the way. The group recently performed at Levitation, a three-day music festival in Austin, and afterward came directly to Fortress Festival to perform the second set of the second day.

“We have actually never done back-to-back festivals like this before,” said Ariel Hartley, lead vocalist and guitarist of Pearl Earl. “We are super used to having to hit the road and go. The trick is that we definitely cannot party too hard, which we love to do at festivals, and have to regulate ourselves on the booze.”

MB9S6218Father John Misty headlines Fortress Festival on April 29, 2018 in Fort Worth.IMG_8682MB9S4978MB9S5375MB9S5454MB9S5592
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The Texas Gentlemen performed a set at the Wildcatters Network Stage on Sunday, April 29 at the festival. Fortress Festival took place on Saturday, April 28 and Sunday, April 29 this year.
[Photos by Ashley Gallegos]

Pearl Earl fans are used to seeing the band perform around Denton at house shows, bars or venues like Midway Craft House, but seeing them perform on a large festival stage is a new and exciting experience.

“I’ve seen them quite a few times in Denton,” marketing senior Haley Banner said. “I’m pretty excited to see them again. I actually think the first time I saw them was in a frat house, so it’s definitely a big step up.”

Pearl Earl is just as loyal to Denton as the Denton-based fans are loyal to Pearl Earl.

“I definitely think the music scene in Denton is responsible for our existence as a band in general,” Hartley said. “I personally discovered my ‘music self’ in Denton. When I discovered the house show world, my life really opened up in a way I never knew it could, and then I picked up a guitar. We’ve been super lucky to be a part of a scene that is so open and fun gives us the confidence to go beyond the local region.”

With appearances at festivals like South by Southwest and Fortress, Pearl Earl has served as an inspiration for Denton musicians and fans alike, proving that a small-town Denton band can make it to the big leagues.

“When I saw they were on the lineup it was really cool,” journalism senior Natalie Martinez said. “They’re selling their merch, and it’s so professional. It’s crazy. I think it’s really good for Denton music in general.”

Fortress formation

Fortress Festival held its first rendition in 2017 with more than 9,000 attendees and several well-known headliners, such as Run the Jewels and Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats. The festival was founded by two Dallas Fort-Worth natives as an answer to the lack of diverse festivals in North Texas.

“I think we just noticed there wasn’t a major multi-genre music festival in North Texas,” festival co-founder Alec Jhangiani said.  “And there should be. We did a film festival before this, so we kind of knew the economics of it and luckily found some really supportive investors and people to work with.”

While headliners like Father John Misty and Chromeo being the obvious draw of Fortress Festival attendees, Jhangiani sees festivals as a great opportunity for people to discover exciting new music they may not be familiar with.

“We come from film festival backgrounds, and that was very much the role the festival played helping unknown films find a platform,” Jhangiani said. “I think music festivals are the same, especially these days when film and music [are] deteriorating, so where it used to be critics who were finding those bands and bringing them to the forefront, I think it’s [a] festival’s job now.”

Several patrons of Fortress Festival agree that while the draw of the festival may be the headliners, the experience lies within discovering unexpected new music throughout the day.

“I think that’s one good thing that comes out of any festival,” Martinez said. “You are exposed to a lot of bands you wouldn’t necessarily go and see. I think festivals like this where they have showcases [for] smaller bands is nice. You get people to come [for] bands like Father John Misty or Courtney Barnett, and then people get to come [for] the smaller bands.”

Jhangiani is already looking toward the future of Fortress Festival with his vision for 2019’s lineup, including his desire to incorporate hungry and growing artists into the festival.

“I think sort of genre-wise we started to shift,” Jhangiani said. “We would [have] actually [liked] to do more hip-hop and, not necessarily electronic, but electronically influenced music this year. Some of those bands didn’t work out. We would love to just keep working with innovative groups, so maybe some unexpected people  just the real progressive musicians out there.”

The founders’ efforts of diversifying the lineup are already off to a great start.

North Carolina native Rapsody incorporated the audience into her performance by bringing up a single male to the stage to dance with her during her set. She also performed one of the most political performances of the festival, mentioning issues such as the shooting of Michael Brown and the Ferguson protests and riots. 

Long-time fans of Wu-Tang Clan threw the iconic Wu-Tang hand sign for the founder of the Clan, RZA. The crowd went wild as he broke into “Wu-Tang Clan Ain’t Nuthing Ta F’ Wit,” one of the rap group’s most well-known songs.

While it could be assumed that the larger the crowd, the higher the anxiety level of the performers, it’s larger crowds that actually make some artists feel less nervous and more comfortable.

“We definitely are able to enjoy the festivals,” Hartley said. “For me personally, I enjoy festivals more after we play because I don’t have any performance anticipation left, and I can let loose, relax and watch other people do their thing.”

Featured Image: Australian Singer-songwriter Courtney Barnett performed at the CG Northern Stage on Sunday, April 29. Fortress Festival took place on Saturday, April 28 and Sunday, April 29 this year. Ashley Gallegos

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Slade Meadows

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