April 29 – May 6th
What began as a birthday party for Scott “Starfire" Lunt in 1999 has turned into the largest showcase of local bands in the area with almost 140 acts performing at 19 locations over eight days.
“Three-quarters of us have played Homegrown every year since before it was officially homegrown," Tim Nelson, former organizer of Homegrown and member of Boy Girl Boy Girl said. “Jen and I performed in the band Gild, and Brad and I were a part of Father Hennepin. It was the party at the Park Point Beach house where it all started. The next year it was at the Norshor Theatre and we had 10 bands! I still have the shirt."
After a few years of running the festival, Lunt nurtured it from 10 bands to over 70. This made the annual event too much for one man to manage and so he sold it to Tim and Brad Nelson in 2005. They increased the band total to 90 that year and found it to be too large to remain a non-profit organization. The Nelsons ended up donating the festival to the Bridge Syndicate, a local non-profit organization that promotes cultural opportunities in the Twin Ports area.
With growing sponsorship the event has improved in all aspects of what a festival should be for the community. The real event sponsors are the bands, who play for next to nothing, and are the main attraction of Homegrown 9.
Mat Milinkovich plays drums in three of the bands performing at Homegrown 9, The Farewell Tour (Friday, May 4, 11:30 p.m. @ R.T. Quinlan’s), Cars & Trucks (Friday, May 4, 12:30 a.m. @ R.T. Quinlan’s), and Portrait Of A Drowned Man (Saturday, May 5, 11p.m @ Pizza Luce’.) Their music is a wide variety and is grounded in solid musicianship.
“Paul Connolly, Paul Lundgren and Donny Ness (along with countless others) have done a great job with changing the festival to a committee run system," Milinkovich said. “It is way more organized now and people actually went to the festival last year."
Things have changed a lot in the past 9 years and the festival grows beyond what anyone could have imagined.
“The term “planning commission" is pretty funny given the place and time of the first Homegrown," Nelson said. “But I was there in Scott's apartment as the dreams and schemes unfolded."
Tim and Brad Nelson, who ran Homegrown for one year, also have a band playing the festival called Boy Girl Boy Girl. Veronica Nelson and Jen Jones round out the group that has been kind of quiet as of late. They play on Friday (May 4) at 11 p.m. at Pizza Luce’.
“Boy Girl Boy Girl has been laying pretty low recently, but we are super psyched about Homegrown," Nelson said. “Every year morphs into the next. We had a really fun set in the main room of the Norshor Theatre one year as a member of Gild. The band had a big sound and there was a full house."
One aspect that has improved the festival is the addition of a trolley running between the shows that are spread out over the entire Twin Ports area. “The addition of the trolley was genius," Milinkovich said. “To me, that was one of Homegrown's biggest drawbacks, the distance between venues. There are so many bands playing at one time that it was really easy to miss 10 bands just from the time it takes to walk from one performance to the next. Aside from a need to scale things back a bit, the committee has done nothing but good for Homegrown. I honestly think if it wasn't for them, it would have died after 2005… things are only going to get better."
Gus Watkins, a local performer agreed with that sentiment. “It seems like Homegrown gets bigger and better every year," Watkins said. “It's also great to see new venues added each year."
Watkins is playing Saturday, (May 5) at 11:15 p.m., at the new Tap Room , relocated to downtown Duluth, above the Duluth Athletic Club. “We're doing an ambitious brand-new set with material no one has ever heard before," Watkins said. “We're going to try to keep the whole thing upbeat and (dare I say) danceable since we're at 21 North (A.K.A. The New Tap Room)."
Homegrown 9 is not just about rock and roll with many other genres of music performing. One addition is a hip-hop night being added toward the end Homegrown 9.
“This year is going to be absolutely fabulous with the free trolley rides for people to go from venue to venue so they will be able to have a safe journey to all the performances," Legitimit of Kritical Kontact said. “There also is a special night for hip-hop on Thursday, May 3 at the Twins Bar. We got to play with Crew Jones and Prince Paul last year, who also had amazing performances. Crew Jones had a Packed house and the show was awesome I must say. This year I hope is twenty times as fun, which I am sure it will be. We will be performing with Die (ODE), Smokey Bogart and Cannon. All very talented, high energy artists."
For many local performers this is a great opportunity to showcase their talents to a larger audience and gain some new fans. “We have officially made Blaze It Records into a Company and to go along with that we are releasing our new album. It will be available at the electric fetus, at shows, and online at www.myspace.com/kriticalkontact," Legitimit said.
One of the larger drawing bands right now around Duluth is The Alrights playing on Friday/Saturday morning at 2 a.m. at Pizza Luce’(May 4). They really like the festival and the opportunities it presents for local music.
“It always ends up being one of the best gigs of the year for us, we X the first weekend in May off the calendar at the beginning of each year to leave room for it," Toby Churchill of The Alrights said. “They try to make a bigger deal out of it each time around, and they should, given Duluth's size, it's as legit a festival as one may find. As far as our slot this year, I won’t believe we could have a bad Homegrown experience, until we have one."
Boku Frequency, a Duluth funk/rock band, is always an entertaining show to see. They have played the past four Homegrown festivals, but did notice one drawback this year.
“We have always liked the homegrown set up, as we do this year too," Boku’s Manager Val said. “The only thing that was missing this year was that the Homegrown book had a narrow view of band photos being included. Most bands had a photo next to their bio in the years past, but that was not the case this year. Boku plays Friday, May 4 at The New Tap Room/21 N. at 12 a.m."
Boku Frequency adds diversity to Duluth’s sound, but are making a bigger buzz in Minneapolis recently. They won the Emergenza Music Fest and will play at Station 4 next. “The band’s new CD, LiveGirls will be out for Homegrown with the best of Red Eye Dread on lead vocals and guitar, Too Sharp's Velvet Voice and bass, and Tony D. is the stick Specialist," Boku said.
Getting everyone to be happy with their timeslots, venues, and other aspects of Homegrown is a difficult job for the committee who plans the event. Milinkovich knows too well what can happen if the event is run poorly.
“One of my bands actually broke up because of how poorly everything was done in 2005," Milinkovich said. “Bands were actually boycotting playing that year. There were very few people at any venue, with the exception of maybe Pizza Luce."
Many people assume there is an exclusive “club" that controls the event. If you are not a part of the in “club" you either don’t get to play the festival or are given a less than desirable timeslot or venue. Milinkovich disagrees with that, is friends with a few members who plan the event, and is going to be a part of the committee next year.
“All I can do is speculate, but venue-wise, it's simply just an extension of the bars, clubs, coffee houses, etc. that have shows and support local music on a regular basis," Milinkovich said. “As far as figuring out what bands play where, having been good friends with Paul Connolly, figuring this out sounds like a nightmare. I really feel bad for those involved with scheduling. They get mass amounts of $#!t from every direction. With nearly 140 bands and 19 venues, someone's bound to get stuck playing at a venue they don't want to play at. Someone's going to get stuck playing that $#itty 6:30 p.m. slot."
Milinkovich has played his way up from the less than desirable venues and timeslots. He feels that it is something that everyone must do at some point.
“I think a lot of people blame the fact they aren't put at "cool" venues (presumably Pizza Luce’ and R.T. Quinlin's) on not being part of this so-called "clique" when, in fact, I think the reality of it is that bands are placed at those venues because they can draw enough people to have earned them a spot in that venue," Milinkovich said. “You wouldn't book trampled by turtles at Beaners Central and you wouldn't put some band playing their second show at 12 a.m. at Pizza Luce. That's just not the way it works."
Working your way up can be difficult for some bands, and many times people will complain. Milinkovich agrees with that and thinks it is wrong that bands just expect to be top dog without earning their way to the best times and venues.
“Some people think they should just be handed everything, no one wants to earn anything anymore," Milinkovich said. “I personally think that every single band should be grateful they weren't one of the 50 bands that had to be cut. Just be glad you’re playing. Yeah, you might be stuck playing Friday at 6:30 p.m., but look on the bright side... you've got the rest of the weekend to check out any band you want and drink as much as your body will allow."
Sometimes playing a new venue can work out in a band’s favor. Number One Common, playing at Midnight on Saturday (May 5) at the Red Lion, gained many new fans that last time they played there.
“Playing the Red Lion last year was a lot better than I expected it was going to be," Number One Common said. “There were tons of cool people that normally come to our shows, but there also seemed to be a lot of cool people that hang out at that bar in general. LET IT ROAR!"
On the lighter side, most of the bands participate in a kickball tournament to “kick" off the festival. Each year the game grows longer and larger.
“The kickball game is always a hoot," Tim Nelson said. “Two games were memorable for me, the year at Wade Stadium and the hellacious rain storm game at that park on the hill by Emerson stand out. I am definitely an outfielder."
Milinkovich feels that it is tradition to meet Saturday morning at Chester Bowl for the single game of kickball.
“All of Duluth's finest musicians can showcase their complete lack of athletic ability," Milinkovich said. “There's usually a lot of alcohol there and the occasional person vomiting in the woods. Controversy seems to arise over the outcome each year because we're all too busy getting drunk to accurately keep score."