Texas is big – really big. Bigger than many nations throughout the world. Yet, there’s more to the Lone Star State than Houston, Dallas, Fort Worth, San Antonio, and Austin. With our Texas City Guides series, we’re going to explore some of the smaller and more far-flung parts of the state. We hope you come to appreciate the variety of local color you can find across Texas.
We’ve already visited two very cool and colorful college towns in Alpine and San Angelo, so we wanted to continue the trend with a stop in Denton, home of the University of North Texas and Texas Women’s University. Located less than an hour north of both Dallas and Fort Worth, Denton is a big step away from those large North Texas cities. Instead, it exemplifies the aura of a small town in Texas while allowing plenty of big music and creative culture to emerge.
A Town for Music
Far from the reaches of Austin and its claim as “The Live Music Capital of the World,” Denton holds its own progressive orbit in the realm of music, and it’s the sort of town where you can feel like the odd one out if you’re not a musician.
The University of North Texas’ College of Music has the second largest enrollment of any music institution, accredited by the National Association of Schools of Music. The program is no joke. If the measurement of the success of a school is based on what its graduates do in the real world, then UNT proves its merit with alumni that go on to win Grammy Awards, sing in the Metropolitan Opera, and perform with major orchestras.
Artists as diverse as Don Henley, Norah Jones, Lecrae, Emily Pulley, Roy Orbison, and Pat Boone are just a few artists who studied here. And with the cycle of students coming and going from the universities, the musical talent is always fresh.
This is an active musical town. Denton has several venues to see live music all within walking distance of the town center, and hundreds more lying beyond its reaches. Taco shops, art studios, and fast food joints become venues with the flick of an amplifier.
Rubber Gloves Rehearsal Studios has become a bit of a local legend, a place that opened in 1997 to give local musicians a place to rehearse. Needing to fill a void in town to show live music, they opened their doors and started pouring beer. With a list that is long and glorious for all those who love indie rock, folk music, or offbeat musicians like the harpist Joanna Newsom, you’ll see why Rubber Gloves is one of the best places to see live music, and where national tours stop in for a night.
More than 15 large music festivals and over a hundred smaller ones are hosted throughout the year. The Denton Arts and Jazz Festival, a free festival happening at the end of April each year, is the heartbeat of Denton’s festival scene, and includes over 2,500 performing musicians. And 35 Denton directly competes with SXSW each March, achieving a feel reminiscent of the Austin festival’s heady early days.
Get to Readin’
We talk up the Marfa Book Company in our Texas City Guide for Marfa. But let the record state clearly: our favorite used bookstore in all of Texas is Recycled Books. Located in an old opera house, this is a multi-storied wonderland holding the smell of a book collector’s bad habit. And it’s a bookstore for all generations that also sells used CDs and records.
With more than 400,000 books in house, the thrill of the hunt is real. In fact, one of the most famed authors in Texas history – Larry McMurtry of The Last Picture Show and Lonesome Dove fame – has been spotted shopping here for volumes to fill his own bookshop in Archer City, TX.
It is a dream to wander the aisles like a child, full of wonder, as you wait for the words on the spine of the book to reach out and grab your attention. I can personally admit to buying an Antoni Tàpies book at Recycled Books, a collection of his lithographs I’d never come across before, and haven’t since. In a time where we are so often reading on phones and computers, the warm hug of a used bookstore is most welcome.
Time to Eat
In a college town where musicians thrive, there’s got to be some of those good dives where one can fill up on tasty food and drink without breaking the bank. And since we’re in north Texas, we’re going to our favorite barbecue spots.
Rooster’s Roadhouse is a local favorite, a down-home spot with a bar and booths serving baskets of pit barbecue and burgers, along with house-made chips. It’s the sort of spot where your eyes can wander throughout the meal, whether you’re watching the décor or the people.
Our next stop is Bet the House BBQ, another local hot-spot where the pulled pork sandwiches are your best bet. Barbecue is served on paper (like good barbecue should be), and once it’s sold out, it’s sold out. Sure, the restaurant is located in a strip mall, but don’t let appearances fool you.
The next time you’re heading to North Texas, we recommend you bypass the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex and head straight to Denton. Old books, tasty barbecue, and great live music await you!
Up Next in our Texas City Guides series: Corpus Christi!