Denton: North Texas Town Rocks

by Betsey McCaul in Fall 2016
joel Cross denton article photo by Daniel Davis

Historic. Quirky. Academic. Equestrian. Denton is certainly all these things, but this two-college town is also known for its homegrown musical talent.

The majority of Denton’s musical roots sprout from the long-respected, thriving music program at the larger of the city’s two colleges, the University of North Texas (UNT).

“You have kids from all over the country bringing their talents and culture to Denton, so you end up with a very eclectic and organic melting pot,” says North Texas singer-songwriter Jon Christopher Davis. Davis’ downtown burger joint, LSA Burger Co., fills its rooftop stage several nights a week with Denton-based musicians.

Here’s our selection of Denton and North Texas-based musicians appearing around town.


One of the earliest-established bands to be firmly entrenched in the Denton music scene, Midlake is a folksy and progressive rock band formed in 1999 by a group of UNT jazz students. They were among the earliest performers at NX 35, a music festival that started as part of SXSW, moving to Denton in 2009 when it was renamed 35 Denton.  


Four UNT music grads seeking a new outlet for their eclectic musical tastes and talents formed TOMKAT. By mixing pop, rock and R&B with technology, the quartet produces a unique electronic sound that makes TOMKAT a popular act both in Denton’s live music venues and on Dallas-area radio stations.

J.R. Byrd

Born in the Pacific Northwest, singer-songwriter J.R. Byrd became a part of the Denton music scene by way of a high school musical production of “Grease” and his studies in the jazz department at UNT. J.R.’s talent playing acoustic guitar and writing witty lyrics earned him a spot among the handful of mainstays in North Texas venues and especially around his Denton stomping grounds.

Joel Cross

Joel Cross, another product of the UNT jazz department, is a singer-songwriter with a voice compared to Bill Withers and John Legend, with an acoustic bluesy sound. Cross has come a long way from his start in gospel music at age12—recently his performance of a cover of Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off” went viral on YouTube.

Vince Lujan Project

The Denton-based, five-member Vince Lujan Project fuses funk, Latin, pop and soul to create their own brand of Texas sound, shared with audiences across Denton and Collin counties and points south since 2002.

Crystal Yates

One popular Denton performer who isn’t a product of UNT is Crystal Yates, a Florida native now based in McKinney. Winner of the $100,000 Texas Country Showcase in 2014, the singer-songwriter’s soulful voice infuses country and Christian themes into her bluesy performances from Collin County venues to downtown Denton’s LSA Burger Co., as well as Cross Timbers Community Church in neighboring Argyle.

Denton’s mix of venues that both nurture emerging local artists—LSA Burger Co., Harvest House and more—and bring nationally-touring indie artists to the city (Dan’s Silver Leaf and Rubber Gloves Rehearsal Studio, for example)—set the stage for Denton’s continued growth as a unique, hip community of musicians. Denton also hosts several long-standing music events that shine a spotlight on local talent and reflect Denton’s grassroots musical environment.

“It’s a blue collar town, so it has a non-slick factor built in that young artists dig,” LSA owner Jon Christopher Davis,  says. “Think Austin in 1975. That’s Denton.”