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Homegrown Music Festival: Musician’s plea to festivalgoers - Don’t forget about us

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It’s a common refrain during Homegrown, but it’s not a musical one. A musician stands in a room stuffed wall-to-wall with sweaty revelers and remarks: “Where are these people the rest of the year?”

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The answer has not been presented to us by science, yet, but those of us who live around here and play music on a regular basis in the area’s venues know what it is. It’s: “Not at our shows.”

Before anyone accuses anyone of grumpiness or jadedness or dissatisfaction with one’s lot, let’s be clear that this is a phenomenon that most musicians experience. It’s the Homegrown bump. Many speak of it positively — “It’s the biggest crowd I get to play to all year!” — others say the same thing, but with a sad lilt.

What’s the deal? Shouldn’t everyone be excited to play to a packed room? Well, sure, but the question presents itself in the harsh light of day, after the kickball has been deflated, the headaches have subsided and the last sound engineer takes out his ponytail holder. Where are these people, the rest of the year?

Somehow, it’s the word “festival” that makes everything different. It’s a word that connotes good times, great friends and miles of smiles. People just love them, like they love proms and bacchanals and wedding showers and keggers and balls. People like to see bands, sure, but when you throw a bunch of them together and call it a “festival,” well, now it’s a social event. And people go to those to see and be seen. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

But the Homegrown Music Festival started as something smaller, a more communal celebration of the creativity of local musicians, and a showcase for the ones who have made the most meaningful connections with music fans throughout the year via their insistence on loading amps and drums into dives and playing in front of whoever shows up: 10 people; 50 people; 200; three.

It used to be that not every venue was “packed,” as is said of almost every Homegrown venue today. It used to be that, if a group had a line out the door, everyone would say “good for them. That’s awesome.” But it was also tinged with disbelief: those guys sold out a venue? What’s happening?

My own band, we’ve played lovely Homegrown shows to teeming masses of people for many years in a row. It’s great fun. But you know that once the festival is over, you’ll go back to the way things were. Those masses are there for you in the moment, but it’s a one-night stand, and you’re left doing the walk of shame back to your seedy rehearsal space.

By way of example: My group had about 600 Facebook “likes” on our page before we played to many hundreds at Grandma’s Sports Garden, this year. Several days after our gig, that number stood at 604. Many of the attendees at our show probably already were in our “likes” list, but for a band to play in front of a full Sports Garden and only gain four new likes, one has to wonder if the music is what people are there for, or if they’re there for the social aspects of the event.

(Or, of course, our band is terrible, and nobody likes us. There’s always that possibility, but why would they keep letting us play this thing every year, then? It’s not because we’re handsome.)

The truth is, it’s a great gig. But it’s an illusion, an oasis in the desert. It’s a fleeting glimpse of something every band wants to see in the crowd at their every show. Most of the year, musicians play good shows and bad shows and big shows and small shows. Most of the year, the venue isn’t “packed.” But the people who make the music are still there, lugging the gear in and out, taking every opportunity they can to communicate with the people who, just maybe, will comprise their future regular audiences.

So, to those big crowds that pack the venues during Homegrown, don’t forget, we’re all out here, all the time. We know that you’re all not gonna be there the next time we play, but we’d sure like to see you on a more regular basis, good lookin’.

Tony Bennett is in the band Cars & Trucks and reviews music for the News Tribune.

Today’s Homegrown schedule Pizza Luce 11 a.m.: Hannah McDaniel

Noon: Rick McLean

Canal Park Brewing Co. 1:30 p.m.: Group Too

2:30 p.m.: Holy Hootinanners

3:30 p.m.: The Silk Sheiks

Chester Creek Café 2 p.m.: Homegrown Music Video Festival, encore

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