'It's more grown up': Homegrown Music Festival celebrates its 20th year of local music
Every good festival has 20 good years in it, Scott "Starfire" Lunt thinks a younger version of himself might have thought. You make it 20 years, and it's sold out and over.
"I'd be surprised that it's run by a competent group of volunteers, mostly, and that they actually get sh— done," Lunt said recently, considering Homegrown Music Festival, the event he started as a relatively modest birthday party for himself. "I would be surprised that the NorShor Theatre is all brand new and nice and that downtown is bustling.
"It's more grown up," he said of the eight-day, two city, mostly-music festival featuring almost 200 bands with local ties. Homegrown kicks off at noon Sunday with a children's music showcase at the Great Lakes Aquarium, before segueing to the official proclamation from Mayor Emily Larson — who will be honored with her own Dave Hoops-brewed beer from Hoops Brewing — and the new music showcase. (Elephant Hotel, anyone?)
Week-long and single day wristbands are available at participating venues and Electric Fetus.
Music was crucial. In the late 1990s, Lunt was running a pop-up radio station out of his East Hillside basement. Random Radio was local music, live performances, drop-in guests. With a milestone birthday on the horizon, a friend advised him to go big.
His 30th birthday party, in retrospect, was the Homegrown-before-Homegrown.
He rented Lafayette Community Center on Park Point, brought in some musicians — including his own fresh alt-country band Father Hennepin — candles, two kegs, his friends and family.
Singer-songwriter Amy Abts remembered a mellow vibe, people wandering in and sitting on the stage as she played one of her first non-coffeeshop public shows.
"It was all brand new for me," she said.
Set-up and take-down was a lot of work for a couple hours of partying, Lunt recalled, but within a few months, he was plotting another go-round. By then he had been to SXSW a few times, and he was envisioning something similar.
"I loved that vibe of lots of different bars having the same thing," he said.
The next year, Homegrown Music Festival was a two-day, 10 band event: Father Hennepin, Giljunko, Max Dakota, Black Labels, Amy Abts, Gild, Crazy Betty, Ballyhoo, 2 Sleepy People and First Ladies.
"I think this thing could grow to be a multi-venue event in the future," Lunt told the News Tribune.
As for Random Radio — the FCC put the kibosh on his 100-watt station.
IN THE MEANTIME
In its 20th year, Homegrown Music Festival will feature sets by nearly 200 bands at dozens of locations in Duluth and Superior. There will also be videos, visual art, fire dancers, poets and, on the final weekend, a festival DTA trolley that bumps along the downtown route.
"It just grew every year," said Brad Nelson, a local drummer whose alt-weekly Ripsaw was charged with creating the Homegrown Field Guide for a few years. "It just started with a nucleus of musicians hanging at the NorShor who had a collective common vision of original music. That's what we wanted to hear more than we wanted to cover a band that was already on the radio."
Nelson described the scene as "self-perpetuating" with no sign of stopping. His daughter, he said, takes piano lessons from Ingeborg von Agassiz — an electric folk musician who just released her lauded debut album "O Giver of Dreams."
As for the fest, the scene's original musicians consider it part reunion.
"The older you get, the fewer opportunities you get to see these old friends," said Alan Sparhawk of Low and Retribution Gospel Choir. "You run into people you love. It's important that you see them."
A NOD TO STARFIRE
Lunt considered setting up a special show at Lafayette again this year, to mark the milestone, but when the NorShor Theatre reopened, it seemed like the perfect place for "Starfire Tonight: A Homegrown Jam." The special event (4:30 p.m. May 5, no wristband required), emceed by Paul Lundgren of Perfect Duluth Day, will include skit set at the 75th Annual Homegrown Music Festival. The whole gang is living at a nursing home on Park Point.
"It's a lot of jokes about being old," Lunt said.
There will also be music: Jerree Small, Amy Abts, Toby Thomas Churchill, Mark Lindquist and Father Hennepin.
Lunt hasn't been involved with organizing Homegrown Music Festival for years. He opted out in the mid-aughts. He still feels an attachment to it. He gets a lot of "thank yous," he said, and he gets a lot of birthday greetings.
"It's a magic time of year," Lunt said. "Everyone starts to feel better at that time of year. It's a little warmer, there's more sun. Everyone's got more energy."
IF YOU GO
What: Homegrown Music Festival
When: Runs April 29-May 6
Where: Dozens of venues in Duluth and Superior
Tickets: $30, week-long wristbands; Single-day bands are also available
Schedule: go to www.duluthhomegrown.org for the most complete, up-to-date listings
Online: Follow the News Tribune's daily coverage at www.duluthnewstribune.com and on twitter, @dntane.
NOTE: The location for Sunday’s children’s events was moved to the Great Lakes Aquarium after printed schedules were released.