General 4-15-2006

The Chicken Lives! Homegrown in Duluth

Duluth's Homegrown Music Festival (the logo is a raffish chicken) spans 8 days , 16 venues, 113 musical acts and 121 performances, April 30 to May 8. The famous kickball game will happen, and the new film festival looks great. Christine Dean previews.

Black-eyed Snakes
Audience at MAC
Junk Drawers

Expect full coverage of Homegrown as the first installment of “Mix Tape,” our new monthly music series. Chris Godsey will be on the scene. But here’s Duluth music writer Christine Dean’s history of the fest:

The Bayfront Blues Festival may attract the biggest crowds, but no music event in Duluth inspires more hometown pride than the Homegrown Music Festival. This annual showcase of local talent has become a vital spring ritual in a town itching for a release after a long, gray winter.

It all started in 1998 when Scott “Starfire” Lunt decided to throw himself a 30th birthday party at a local community center. Five local bands, including Lunt’s own Father Hennepin, played to a crowd of Lunt’s friends and family.

By the following year, Lunt had decided to make his private birthday celebration a public showcase of Duluth’s music scene, and the Homegrown Music Festival was born. Year one featured 10 bands over two nights at the NorShor Theatre, at the time the epicenter of Duluth’s original music scene. By year two there were 23 bands and 3 stages. The festival continued to mushroom until, in 2004, Lunt announced he needed a break.

Horrified at the prospect of losing what had quickly come to feel like an essential component of Duluth’s music scene, the Twin Ports Music and Art Collective (MAC) and the now-defunct alternative weekly the Ripsaw News stepped in to share the burden and the festival went on. In 2005, Lunt sold Homegrown to the Ripsaw’s owners; after a year they passed it on to a new group made up of local community leaders, musicians, and artists.

Much has changed since that first Homegrown in 1999. The festival is now a non-profit entity and such un-rock-and-roll terms as “fiscal agent” and “steering committee” are tossed around. The NorShor and the MAC have both closed (although the ‘Shor will host one event, Thursday’s Low show). Although Lunt will be part of the festival, spinning tunes at Starfire Lounge at Fitger’s Brewhouse, for the first time Father Hennepin will not be playing.

Despite those losses, fears that Duluth’s music scene is on the decline are balanced by the fact that a record number of Twin Ports bands-more than 100- have signed up to perform, while new venues and new bands have sprung up to take the place of the old. The event has been stretched to eight days to accommodate new features like a 5k run and a film and poetry night.

Most importantly, the spirit of creativity and community that inspired Homegrown and that every year has folkies, rockers, punks, and hip-hoppers rubbing elbows and sharing stages is still there, strong as ever.