From Denton to Austin

Former Dentonite, Chase Spruiell, discusses his experience as a musician living in both Denton and Austin, namely the differences and similarities he’s observed in each music community.

Chase Spruiell | 28 January 2019

photo by Bruno Cervera (CCO Unsplash)

       As a traveling musician, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been on tour and heard from a stranger about how much they love the music scene in Denton, TX, about how they had the best show of their lives at a long-gone house venue called Macaroni Island or in that one basement of the pizza place on the square. From punk houses in Jacksonville, Florida to DIY music venues in the Midwest to dive bars in San Diego, California, people know about Denton, TX. But why? What is it about this little town in Texas?
       Sure, everyone knows about Austin. The live music capital of the world. Where you can throw a nickel into a crowd of people and you’re most likely to hit an amazing guitarist. Where 6th Street is known to tourists as the place to be and known to locals as “dirty 6th.” Everyone who knows about Austin either wants to visit Austin or has visited Austin. I’m not kidding. Literally every single person I have had a conversation with about Austin, and it usually comes up when meeting new people. No one has ever said “Austin? Naw, sounds dumb.”
       What people usually don’t know about Austin is that it used to be much like Denton. Talk to any local Austinite that was born here (which is a rare occasion) and they will tell you how Austin used to have that “small town feel.” The population of Denton, TX is around 134,000. The population of Austin in the early 70s was around 250,000. Now, it’s around 930,000. There’s a Richard Linklater film about Austin in the earlier days called Slacker. If you haven’t heard of Richard Linklater, maybe you’ve heard of a little film he did called Dazed and Confused. In Slacker, Linklater tries to capture the true vibe of Austin in the late 80s, early 90s: everyone knows everyone, a sense of small and shared community, non-corporate bliss, hipster-before-hipster, leaving your front door open, local wanderlust with an air of casual purpose, when Austin was, in fact, “weird.” This aura is very much the same as what you would experience hopping from house to house on a weekend night out in the Denton music and arts scene.
       On a closer look, though, there are mighty differences. Denton is a college town, and with each fresh new wave of students, usually every 3-4 years, it erupts with new blood, new ideas, a new creative energy sustained by that youthful college kid agenda to “experience life in full for the first time.” This is when the music scene is at its finest. Kids are putting together house shows, organizing events, combining art and music, thriving in the their newfound freedom of DIY, and most of all – trying to cultivate a sense of community.
       For Austin, sadly, this is not the case. It seems that the bigger a city gets, the more spread out and separated everyone seems. The music scenes in Austin are so scattered, that they seem to not exist. The population rise of Austin has increased by 180,000 in the past 10 years. There are new musicians moving to town nearly every day, along with business men, hairdressers, tattoo artists, computer programmers, entrepreneurs, college students, and taco shops. The Austinites who dislike this shift decide to move away to a better, less populated city. We’re like a city of electrons, all mistaking each other for protons, but always disappointed.
       The reason that everyone remembers their experience in Denton fondly is the exact reason why the Austin music scene seems disjointed. When you catch that beautiful stride of the Denton music scene, that beautiful moment, when you’re at a packed house show, smiles covering the crowd, no one yet jaded from a grueling marathon of adulthood, drinks in hands, volcano of music erupting through the street, having too good of a time to care if the cops will show up: it’s too great of a moment to even suggest to yourself that it could ever happen again, and you don’t want it to end. That’s the magic of Denton, Texas. That’s why people remember.


photo by Bel Luevano

Chase Spruiell was born in Denton, Texas. He grew up playing basketball, earning a full athletic scholarship at St. Edward’s University. He has a bachelor’s degree in Digital Cinema and currently resides in Austin, Texas where he writes poetry and music for his two projects: Half Man and Free Kittens & Bread. 

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