The Denton Blues Festival, presented by the Denton Black Chamber of Commerce, has come a long way since its conception 19 years ago.
Back then, musicians were broadcast through a lowly PA system, bought from a pawn shop and held together with glue.
“We didn’t have, say it with me, ‘No money!’” John Baines, 65, said into a microphone on the main stage, describing the free-to-all festival's first year. Many in the crowd of hundreds echoed the phrase.
Baines, this weekend's master of ceremonies, has been at the stage’s helm introducing artists from the festival's beginning. He said this year, the festival organizers raised more than $100,000 and had help from more than 75 volunteers assisting in the weekend’s events, compared to nearly no money and about 15 to 20 volunteers that first year.
He was keen to let people know of the festival’s humble beginnings on Saturday afternoon.
“We were broke!” Baines said.
Smells of barbecue pit smoke, fried alligator, funnel cakes and cigarettes danced in the air. Fedoras bounced atop happy festivalgoers’ heads. And heavy, spirited blues music vibrated throughout Denton’s Quakertown Park.
Families were out with their children and pets, enjoying the sunshine and live music. Patrons walked and lounged around in the grass, enjoying sounds from two stages and various foods and drinks from local vendors.
On display at the Denton Parks Foundation table, however, was the tainted memory of a locally revered blues musician, Tom “Pops” Carter, who frequented the festival with his band the Funkmonsters before his death in 2012. The recently vandalized Pops Carter stained-glass memorial sculpture sat in plain view so all could see the holes and shattered remnants strewn about within its casing.
“The formal plans for this [sculpture] are not known yet. They’re still being discussed,” said Molly Tampke, executive director of the Denton Parks Foundation. She sat beside the artwork, collecting money for its replacement or restoration. “But we know it’s going to take some money to restore and we wanted to help in doing that [fundraising].”
The parks foundation raised $500 by Friday, and by Saturday afternoon there was an additional $250 and counting, Tampke said. She said she’s not sure how many more public appearances the stained-glass work will make because every time it’s moved, bits of glass fall apart.
“I can’t tell you how many people have come up and seen the statue and said, ‘That just breaks my heart,’” Tampke said.
People still enjoyed themselves Saturday. Carter’s memory lived on, especially within the Funkmonsters — now a Pops Carter tribute band.
“I’m mad as hell,” the Funkmonsters' lead vocalist and bassist said onstage, voicing his opinion on the vandalism. “Please leave the monuments alone. Buy you one and break it, but not the one that we did.”
While the Funkmonsters played their blues, the crowd clapped and danced.
“Pops never made a lot of money doing the blues,” Baines said. “He was kind of the patron saint of the underclass.”
Baines said he’s hopeful organizers will see an emergence of talent in the future of the Blues Festival, especially since, like Carter, many of the musicians who were alive during blues music’s original wave of popularity are either dead or dying.
Baines said his “dream ticket,” as he called it, would have been to have B.B. King and Willie Nelson play atop a Denton Blues Festival stage. But King died in 2015, and the last Baines heard, Nelson is “forgetting his words.”
But for Baines, that doesn’t mean the blues is dead, or that more great blues-influenced music can’t still be made.
“We are looking for that next great level of talent to say, ‘We were here at one time,’” Baines said.
After the Funkmonsters finished their set, keyboardist Robert “Gaahn” Power reminisced over the years spent with Carter on stages at the festival and elsewhere.
“Pops always had a nickname for me. He’d call me Fat Man,” said Power, who joined what was then Pops Carter and the Funkmonsters in 2004. “So I’d flip him off and he’d flip me off. And that’s just how things went.”
He remembers Carter was full of laughs and had a power of his own when he played, adding, “He’s a silly man and when he got onstage, he owned [it]. I was honored to sit 5 feet from him.”
When told about the funds already raised to restore or replace Carter’s statue, he expressed his optimism.
“That’s awesome,” Power said. “That’s what this town’s about. That’s what this town’s always been about.”
The festival continues Sunday, with headliner Dana Fuchs set to perform at 7:30 p.m.
KYLE MARTIN can be reached at email@example.com and via Twitter at @Kyle_Martin35.
FEATURED PHOTO: The Funkmonsters, Pops Carter's former band, performs Saturday at the Denton Blues Festival.
Denton Blues Festival
What: The Denton Black Chamber of Commerce's free festival concludes today.
When: Quakertown Park, 321 E. McKinney St.
On the web: www.dentonbluesfestival.org
1 p.m. — Those Guys
2:30 p.m. — Little Elmo & the Mambo Kings
4 p.m. — Bendis King
5:30 p.m. — Fingerprints
7:30 p.m. — Dana Fuchs