Here is a Homegrown Music Festival lesson: Some of the best moments of eight-day marathon of sights, sounds and glitter bombs aren't even, officially, part of the fest. Consider the curious case of the Wrong Notes Pep Band. This collection of musicians with marching band nostalgia is an outfit that cropped up just 'cuz.
They aren't listed in the Homegrown Field Guide, the festival's official collection of schedules, band bios and kickball play-by-play, but the crew's formation is in the spirit of the event.
"There are so many of us ex-high school band students from the area that terribly miss having a pep band," said Breanne Tepler, who played trumpet in Duluth Central's band and now fronts Breanne Marie and the Front Porch Sinners.
Tepler credits Kala Shepersky, tuba, with organizing the group that made its debut during last year's Homegrown kickball match. The musician, who is also in the punk polka band Winzige Hosen, started the Facebook group, got music and organized practices - one at the Rose Garden, one at Tepler's backyard fire pit.
Among the band's hits: "The Final Countdown" and "Crazy Train." They led the seventh inning stretch and tried to incorporate some marching band-style marching.
"It was pretty epic," Tepler said.
This year, the group has grown to include more musicians, flags and batons.
Homegrown Music Festival, in its 21st year, started as a modest birthday party for Scott "Starfire" Lunt of Father Hennepin and has grown to a more than week-long sample-pack of about 200 bands and other music-related arts at venues in Duluth and Superior. It starts Sunday morning with the Children's Music Showcase at the Lake Superior Zoo and ends with a set by Actual Wolf on May 5 at Canal Park Brewing.
HOW TO HOMEGROWN
A theme among tip-offering Homegrown-going pros: Go find something new. That's how Ryan Nelson landed on Cars & Trucks in the mid-aughts.
"I remember being nuts about them," said Nelson, a drummer whose new band Mallards (a mix of garage and Americana) play Sunday at Pizza Luce and old band, The Farsights, didn't realize it was playing its final show during last year's festival. "I was blown away."
This area has a lot of names that extend beyond the local music scene: Trampled By Turtles, Low, Charlie Parr, the Hobo Nephews of Uncle Frank and Gaelynn Lea.
"But there is so much more to it," Nelson said. "And people who work just as hard and are just as talented as everyone else. They're playing just as much throughout the year, but they don't have that name recognition. Go to a weird place you've never been and check out some music.
This is advice festival-goers could have used during Nelson's Homegrown debut with Hotel Coral Essex in 2006. After begging his way into the bar - he was 19 - he faced with a wall-to-wall crowd of "100,000 people," he said. "I thought, 'This is insane.'"
Turns out all those people were there to see the shock-rockers Bone Appetit and didn't have time for the newbies who followed. Plus, one of the big-time local bands was playing down the block.
"I think eight people stuck around," Nelson said.
Gene McKeever has hit nearly every Homegrown, she said, and she suggest traveling solo.
"I think I have the most fun going by myself," she said. "There's always someone that I know. I can leave when I want. I can meet new people. I think that's what's so energizing about it all. Toward the end, you start to see the same people over and over and over."
Erin Tope, whose burlesque group Duluth Dolls performs Saturday at Rex Bar, offered a practical tip: hydration.
"Drink so much water," she advised. "It's a long week of drinking every night. It doesn't hurt to skip that one beer and drink some water. Your body will love you the next day."
For Tope, preparation for the fest began months ago as she and the other members of the troupe scout dance-able tunes.
"We do try very hard to stick to local music," said Tope. "We spend a couple months researching Duluth musicians and finding new music in town and making sure we have a broad spectrum."
Tepler, too, is focused on bringing something new to a potentially new audience. She and the Front Porch Sinners have been working on a setlist and transitions in addition to streamlining set-up and take-down.
"It's our one chance to showcase who we are as a band," she said, adding you never know who is going to be in the crowd. "Could be somebody from Trampled or somebody who did a music video for a band in the (Twin Cities). Or a reporter from The Current or the City Pages. We have to bring our A-game from beginning to end."
For Kim Curtis-Monson of The Fish Heads, prep is more modest:
"I have a chicken I'll clip to the end of my guitar," she said. "We don't do anything special other than just come and play. We're asked to play because of how ew sound. We play what we play."
The Fish Heads have been playing Homegrown for years, Curtis-Monson said, but this might be the last.
"It's time to slow down and visit some National Parks with a guitar and mandolin," she said.