Alittle Texas heat — OK, a lot of it — hasn’t kept the crowds from gathering outside the historic Courthouse on the Square on Thursday evenings for 20 years now.
Twilight Tunes, a free weekly concert for all ages in late spring and early summer, began as both a celebration of Denton music and an attraction to bring people out to the city’s revived downtown Square.
“We are seeing about 500 people each week,” said Denton Main Street representative Christine Gossett. “Julie Glover started this event in 1994. I started working on it in 2003. I used to think it was a great night when 150 people showed up. Now, 400 people is normal.”
The Twilight Tunes formula is fairly simple: Bands from Denton and the Dallas-Fort Worth area perform on the courthouse lawn at sunset. Gossett said the trick is to recruit bands and artists who have a broad appeal. Today brings a pop act — the Poor Kings — to the stage. Next week, local Tijuana Brass tribute act A Taste of Herb will make rock-pop trumpet cool again.
“There is a certain genre of music that works for Twilight Tunes,” Gossett said. “It tends to be a little of country music, a little folk and some pop. It has to meet broad tastes.
“We like to expose an audience to something they haven’t really heard, and we do like the focus to be on the area.”
In recent years, the series has added Latin music to the mix. Denton’s Bubba Hernandez y los Super Vatos have attracted hundreds to the concert.
Gossett said Main Street officials attribute the surge in Twilight Tunes’ popularity to a few factors: the growth of the city and county, word of mouth and social media.
“A lot of people have moved here and found out about it,” she said. “I have to say that I noticed a difference when we got on Facebook. I noticed it getting mentioned a lot more.”
Gossett said presenting sponsors have made the event more welcoming, too. The University of North Texas athletic department started bringing its bounce house out to some of the concerts about three years ago. That’s been a hit with children. People can check the Main Street website to see when the bounce house will be out at the show.
“We’ve also been featuring our presenting sponsors more. If the sponsor for that night is a restaurant, they might bring a booth out to the concert,” Gossett said. “The only thing that has kept Twilight Tunes going for 20 years is our sponsors. I don’t think a lot of people think about that. Our sponsors are a huge reason for this event being here as long as it has, and we couldn’t have grown without them.”
Sponsors provide the means to pay the musicians and to provide the sound system for their performances.
Ben Holt, drummer of the Poor Kings, said the Denton band was all too happy to get the Twilight Tunes gig.
“For us, this is going to be like a reintroduction to Denton,” he said.
Holt and Poor Kings keyboardist Michael Armstrong have played in big venues. Both have toured, and a number of the band’s musicians have been first-call studio players. Lead guitarist Erik Herbst owns Panhandle House recording studio in downtown Denton and has produced Grammy-winning albums.
Though the Poor Kings’ lead singer, Mike Marshall, is probably the least experienced in playing for bigger crowds, Holt said today’s concert should be “pure fun.”
“A lot of us in the band go into restaurants and venues where the sound is turned down, and the management is telling you what to play. At Twilight Tunes, we don’t have the sound restrictions, and we can play what we like to play,” Holt said.
They like to play music with a commercial sound, Holt said, and with familiar themes: love, life and women.
“We don’t cross the line,” Holt said. “We say we play pop because we lean toward songs about love and life. We aren’t political or anything like that. We’re looking forward to this show. We’re like, ‘This is DENTON, the best small town in the United States!’ We’re stoked.”
Gossett said the event has been popular among bands and musicians.
“Oh, we get bands calling us really anxious to get a spot on the schedule,” she said. “We have more bands interested than we have dates.”
Case in point: Last year, Brett Coleman, the man behind Bone Doggie & the Hickory Street Hellraisers, announced how pleased he was to get the band on the Twilight Tunes stage for the first time.
“I’ve been knocking on their door down at Main Street for years,” Coleman said during an interview last year. “This is a big deal for us. Huge.”
Gossett said Twilight Tunes has become a tradition for some locals.
“I know people who go every week and bring eight people with them,” she said. “And that’s what we want. We want this to be a good time for everyone.”
What: Free music for the whole family, presented by Main Street Denton
Where: In May, concerts are on the Elm Street side of the Courthouse on the Square lawn. In June, concerts move to the Locust Street side of the Square.
When: 6:30 to 8 p.m. every Thursday through July 4
Details: Select concerts include a bounce house for kids. Bring lawn chairs, blankets and visit downtown restaurants for take-out on the courthouse lawn. Concerts happen rain or shine. To find rain-out venues, check www.dentonmainstreet.org .
May 9: The Poor Kings (singer-songwriter/pop)
May 16: Jeff Glover, Joe Pat Hennen and Brian Houser (Texas singers and songwriters)*
May 23: A Taste of Herb (Herb Alpert tribute band)
May 30: Chris Watson (Southern soul)*
June 6: Charlie Shafter Band (American roots/acoustic rock)
June 13: Gravity Feed (jazz/funk/pop)*
June 20: The Fun Addix (’70s and ’80s classic rock)*
June 27: Bonnie & Nick Norris Band (country/acoustic)
July 4: Sol Tax (folk/rock), 12:30 to 2 p.m. for Fourth of July only
* indicates the University of North Texas bounce house will be set up, weather permitting.