For the last twenty years of my life I have resided in the small North Texas town of Denton Texas.
When I wrote “Keep Denton Beard?” a lot of people misconstrued my message and thought I was hating on Denton.
Quite the contraire, what I was cussing was a trend I have seen of apathy and slacking going on. I am very social and I go out all the time and perform all the time so I know what’s going on, especially where I live. I can’t help it. I love to be alive and be around “the scene.”
I wouldn’t have lived here for twenty years if there wasn’t some great things going on here and cool stuff to do.
So I thought I would riff today on a few great things about this town.
1. The UNT School of Music.
I know that UNT is growing like crazy and they are spending all kinds of money on a gigantic football stadium and apartment complexes are popping up like cancer cells around here, but let’s be honest what’s truly put this town on the map. It’s all the interesting creative characters that are drawn by the culture of art and music and former events like the Fry Street Fair. Honestly I don’t see UNT’s energies well spent in trying to compete with Texas A&M and UT Austin football. It’s going to take decades and that money would be much more well spent focusing on what this school raised the bar on years ago. However, that’s just my opinion, and I’m sure I’ll get some email hate for saying this much. I just know Brave Combo, Eli Young Band, Norah Jones, Mike Pope, Clint Strong, Fred Hamilton, Ed Soph, and all the other great cast of characters that have put this town on the map have done so more than football ever will.
This one is personal. I have known Kei for twenty years and our relationship developed over time. Kei is a quiet, reserved person who takes a while to get to know. He prepared traditional Japanese cuisine at my birthday party once a year in Denton for several years before we really, truly got to know each other. Then as our vision for him opening a small, high quality Japanese bistro materialized Kei said to me “Eric, I want to move to Denton and open a small Japanese Bistro” I made a deal with him that he could rent a room in my home in Denton so we could figure this out. When he got here I had a dream one day that told me to contact Scott Brown properties. I woke up at 7 AM and told Kei. He said “OK” and we went over there and met this great realtor named Chuck Levack. That day we found a great location. I was wise enough to tap into the wisdom of our mutual friend Teiichi Sakarui to help us with the final strategy and stages of changing the landscape of cuisine here forever. The bar has been raised and unequivocally, without a doubt, this is the best restaurant in this town. Nothing even comes remotely close. Remember- how you do anything is how you do everything.
3. Shaolin Death Squad
An overnight success in the music business takes thirteen years. Blue October is a great example of this phenomena. Shaolin Death Squad has been at it for a long time, and I respect that. Perseverance is what it takes to be great, and I remember the first time they got on my radar in a major way was at an event Eric Delegard held at The Hard Rock Cafe in Dallas. Every time I see this band they get better and better and better. Constantly sharpening the saw. Great musicianship, great songs, great live shows it’s all there, the entire package.
4. Paul Slavens
Paul Slavens is such an icon in North Texas creative circles, many just call him P-Slave. He also calls The Jupiter House “The Ju-Ho” which I think is hilarious and shows how sharp his sense of humor is. He is always doing something cool with music, his various bands, acting, and his radio show. When I moved here the band he fronted, Ten Hands, was phenomenal. Their performances at the Fry Street Fair were legendary. What I like most about him is that he doesn’t rest on his laurels. His frequent improv gig that I’m going to tonight is to die for. Especially if you want to die laughing. As I mentioned in a previous blog, I have had some of the most memorable, entertaining nights of my life at those gigs.
5. Brave Combo
Carl Finch, the founder of Brave Combo, has balls of steel. I grew up in a Czech household with polka music all around me. I can tell you the polka I grew up with was not cool. On that fateful day I first saw Brave Combo perform at Rick’s Place with 700 kids stage diving and dancing and jumping off the speakers to my mothers favorite traditional polka’s fried every circuit I ever had. I remember calling my mother and trying to explain to her what I just saw, and her telling me “I told you all along, you should start a polka band and play my music.” Carl became a friend and a mentor shortly thereafter and the energy and spirit that created his band, I don’t think could’ve happened anywhere except Denton Texas. Things are not important to me in life experiences are because no one can ever take those away from me. One of my most cherished experiences in life was having Brave Combo play at my parents 50th wedding anniversary. We held it at Bill Mraz Polka Hall in my hometown of Houston, TX the exact place my Mom and Dad met 50 years earlier. It was absolutely perfect. Another cherished memory from that evening is Bubba Hernandez sharing with me after the anniversary how great he thought it was that I came from such deep Czech Polka roots. My aunts all got up and sang with them and I don’t think Bubba fully realized what I came from and my appreciation for my family, polka and Brave Combo until he saw that firsthand.
6. Cafe Garibaldi
I love food, real authentic food, made by people who care and who are not driven by profits. My friend Ada Fort, who owns Cafe Garibaldi, is a shining example of this. Her Ceviche is amazing as is her fish tacos and Nachos Garibaldi. Every girl I’ve ever dated completely fell in love with her restaurant. It’s all hand made, as it should be, and hardly anyone knows about it. That’s what makes it cool, but also sometimes can be a challenge as it is hard to compete with chains who market their mediocre muck-jaw to the masses. Go to-
1813 N Elm
Denton Texas 76201
You will be glad you did.
7. Siam House
Russel and Noon Mills have had their wonderful Thai restaurant in Denton as long as I can remember. I used to walk there for the Pad Prik Fish from Bruce Hall. They get it on every level. Great food, fresh ingredients, and wonderful people. Everybody eats there, and I am glad to be one of them. They also love music and people and what more is there to life than great music, great food, and great relationships. Try the angel wings, they are legendary. I love this place.
209 W. Hickory Suite 104
Denton TX 76201
8. Rockin’ Rodeo
I think the Rockin’ Rodeo, owned by Lloyd Banks is one of the best live music clubs in Denton Texas. Lloyd gets it, and he gets it on every level. Great venue, great music, great employees, cold AC, and even colder beer. Unfortunately Lloyd has to deal with the snobby so called “Hipsters” who think they know everything that’s cool and who are so cheap in every facet of their life (including buying razors) that they wouldn’t know a good time if it hit them in the face. If your idea of a good time is not paying cover and standing around and staring at each other while drinking Papst Blue Ribbon then God rest your soul. Get a life. If they would just give the club a try, my assistant Melissa just pointed out, they have 50 cent margaritas on Wednesdays.
9. The Denton Police Department
This one may crack a few of you up because so many people have misconstrued beliefs about law enforcement. My best friend Jim Taylor is a twenty year veteran of the Houston Police Department. I was the best man at his wedding. Retired Denton Police Department officer Hock Hochheim was my first Jeet Kun Do instructor. I have lived in Denton for twenty years and have always felt safe here. The culture and focus The City of Denton places on the importance of public safety is top notch. Even the few times I found myself on the wrong side of the law I was treated with dignity and respect. With what I went through recently I saw first hand what a great police force we have here. They take protection of our city and citizens very seriously. When somebody’s crazy there’s not a lot you can do about that and I still feel safe here.
10. Sid & Sid
I like people who know how to live and have character. These two guys take the cake. I have had more fun eating their food, hanging out with them in all their various incarnations in Denton, it’s just too impossible to speak of Denton and not have them come up. Even their latest creation Bagheri Hookah Lounge attracts some of the coolest young people that know how to have a blast any given night of the week.
11. Reeltime Audio
Twenty years ago Terry Slemmons, a great sound engineer, found out I was looking to do some recording. He lived next door to this great bass player and recording engineer Eric Delegard. He introduced us and I liked him from the get-go. Eric is of Norwegian decent and also has a great first name of Viking origin. We’ve all heard the saying “If these walls could only talk.” We are great friends and I always joke with Eric that he should start a museum. It’s often when we are joking that we are the most serious. Eric’s body of work speaks for itself and he knows everybody and has recorded some of the coolest albums in the business. People come from all over the country to Denton just to have him produce their record. This is why it was so important to me to include him here. He brings as many cool people to Denton as anyone.
12. Rick Reid
The legendary live music venue everyone talks about in this town is always Rick’s Place. My good friend Rick Reid founded that venue and it was always about the music and fun there. I still miss it and Rick has went on to subsequently open Muther’s which is now The Garage, as well as a great new venue with his friend Trey called RT’s. Rick gets it on every level. He hires great employees who remember you and treat you well. The AC is always chillin and his venues are spotless. There’s always a great crowd and the bartenders know how to make a drink.
13. Dan’s Silver leaf
Dan’s a great guy and he gets it. He has created a venue that is the heart and soul of this town and it shows. I have had some great shows there and I have booked so many fun intimate evenings of entertainment there. I even had Blowfly play my 40th birthday at Dan’s. I arrange for my friends Allan Holdsworth and Clint Strong to perform there as well in various incarnations. I like to support live music and up and coming bands, and his venue is the perfect size for doing just that. He also, like Lloyd Banks, realizes that a bar is not a real bar if it does not carry Coors Original. Any beer that has three nicknames (Colorado Kool-aid, Yellow Bellies, Banquet Beer) and has a movie made about it (Smokey and the Bandit) is worth taking a look into.