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David Minton

Festival off to jazzy start

Profile image for By Britney Tabor
By Britney Tabor

Al Jarreau gives surprise performance as attendees stake out spots

Sherri Niesen of Corinth arrived early and planned to stay late on the opening day of the Denton Arts & Jazz Festival, one of the city’s largest parties of the year.

Niesen and her family staked out a spot under a shade tree at about 11:30 a.m. Friday for 15 to 20 people to hear Grammy-winning jazz artist Al Jarreau, who was the day’s headliner for the event. Arriving early paid off, she said, because she was able to see Jarreau perform a two-hour jam session before the festival’s first official performer went on.

“It’s our whole weekend — great music, great friends, drinking,” she said. “It’s free and it’s a good way to hear great music and all your friends come together and you have a great weekend.

“The music is No. 1, though.”

The festival is an “all-day event” where Niesen and her family enjoy breakfast, lunch and dinner and even a midnight snack. The family plans to return bright and early today to get a good spot again to listen to festival performers.

The Niesens weren’t alone. With folding arm chairs in bags hanging from their shoulders and blankets in hand, several festivalgoers arrived early Friday to stake out spots to hear the musical lineup. Alongside the visitors were vendors preparing their tents, unloading boxes of merchandise and firing up ovens to cook food for Day 1 of the three-day festival.

The Denton Arts & Jazz Festival, which runs through Sunday, is expected to draw more than 200,000 people over the course of the weekend and include more than 2,000 musicians, artists and performers from across the country.

The festival is a can’t-miss event for Niesen’s daughter, Brandi.

“I always make sure I never miss and I’m always here,” Brandi Niesen said. “I always take off work on Friday so I can be here.”

Linda Eaddy, who toted lawn chairs and other amenities to a nearby spot, said there wasn’t one thing she could single out that she enjoyed most about the festival.

“I love the music, the food ... just sharing the event with friends ... being outside,” she said. “It’s just a great fun event.”

For the second year, Tulsa, Okla.-based Dutchess Chocolates, a fudge and chocolate factory, is at the festival to sell its products. On Friday around noon, workers began unloading approximately 50 plastic tubs of chocolate treats and other baked goods inside the Denton Senior Center and had nearly everything in place for the weekend by 4 p.m.

“It’s a wonderful festival,” said Jennifer Brandt, master chocolatier for Dutchess Chocolates. “We enjoy being here with all of the people, the arts and the music.

“We did very well [last year]. That’s why we’re back this year. There’s a lot of different people, a lot of variety.”

Marvin Self, a Denton High School alumnus who now lives in Waxahachie, has shown his artwork at the festival the last two years. He said he taught himself to paint about four years ago at age 58.

For vendors, he said, the event is very good. He said for him, being at the event is not about turning a profit but meeting the people.

“I like it. I like it a lot,” Self said. “It’s just like Denton has always been. It’s a hippie town is what I’ve always called it, and I mean that in a good way.”

Gwen Coleman, who helped Eaddy stake an early spot, said the festival is an event she tries to attend as often as she can. She said she was looking forward to this year’s festivities.

“We’ve had such a cold winter — this should be a wonderful weekend,” she said.

BRITNEY TABOR can be reached at 940-566-6876 and via Twitter at @BritneyTabor.