1990s: The Incubation Period
By Paul Lundgren
According to the abridged history of Homegrown, generally summarized in a single sentence every year in the festival’s Field Guide: Scott Lunt had five bands play at his 30th birthday party in 1998, then decided to hold a festival in 1999 called Homegrown.
The full story, of course, is much more complicated. Asked about it 15 years later, Lunt sums it up this way: “It’s the guitar, man.”
In the mid-1990s Lunt spotted a green Guild Starfire guitar in a newspaper ad and bought it, setting off a chain of events that slowly changed Duluth’s music scene in ways few could have imagined.
At the time, most of the bands in Duluth were playing 1980s heavy-metal covers. There were a handful of acts playing original music at R.T. Quinlan’s Saloon and at an underage venue in the old Bell Telephone building, called the RecyclaBell. Other venues, like Le Petit Espresso House in Superior and the Urban Ground Café, hosted periodic shows, but the makings of a viable music scene barely existed. The Fitger’s Brewhouse and Amazing Grace Bakery & Café had just opened.
A new Duluth trio called Low was gaining an international audience, but in the band’s hometown it was a virtual unknown.
Lunt was fairly new to Duluth. An Austin, Minn. native, he arrived by way of Owatonna in 1992. Cloquet native Mark Lindquist graduated from Hamlin that spring and soon found himself in Duluth as well.
Lindquist had begun recording music on a 4-track in his apartment, and eventually met Patrick Nelson to form the beginnings of the band Giljunko. He remembers going to shows at R. T. Quinlan’s to see Minneapolis bands and quickly discovering a small crop of Duluth talent.
“It was a revelation,” he says. “Down in the Twin Cities we all just played really loud and never considered vocal monitors because no one was going to hear your vocals anyway. In Duluth, there were guys like Eric Swanson working the sound.”
Three bands from the era that stuck out for Lindquist were Puddle Wonderful, the Fromundas and Swivelhead.
“I saw Puddle Wonderful and they just sounded so good,” he says. “They walked that fine line of being raw and aggressive, but the guys could play. I did not expect to find that. I thought Duluth just had cover bands and blues bands — which there were a lot of back then.”
Over at J.D.’s Java, a little coffee shop on East Superior Street where Designer Dogs is located today, the house music consisted of mix tapes, many of which were made by Lunt. When Lunt gave a mix tape to his friend John Hartley, Hartley sent Lunt a thank-you note referencing Lunt’s new green guitar and the disc-jockey skills displayed on the tape: “Thanks DJ Starfire.”
“He probably didn’t put too much thought into it, but the name really inspired me,” Lunt says. “And then one thing begat the next.”
In the summer of 1997, “DJ Starfire” took his mix-tape-making skills to the local airwaves, launching Random Radio, a pirate FM station broadcasting 80 to 90 watts of random music from his Central Hillside duplex. Dozens of friends volunteered to take shifts at the station, coming and going at all hours. Bands from around the region would stop by Lunt’s home to guest host Random broadcasts, such as Matt Wilson of Trip Shakespeare and members of Low and the Surahoolies.
Lunt also began recording bands that performed live during his broadcasts, like Gild, 4 lbs. of Pretzels, Biochemical Characters, Purple Ivory Shadows, Detroit and Julie Doiron.
“Like the first night he was on I took my truck over there with the Giljunko boys and harassed him for a while,” Lindquist says. “I thought it was one of the coolest things I ever saw. No one had Internet then, so you listened to the radio to get the music you wanted to hear. Starfire was playing stuff that was relevant to people who were really into music.
“He took a general interest in what other people were up to. When I was down in the Cities I didn’t often find that. People kind of had their cliquish friends; they didn’t want any outside influences. In Minneapolis they used to make fun of you if you gave them your demo tapes. Starfire wanted people to give him their demo tapes.”
The “Starfire” moniker started to truly take hold when Lunt came home and found at the top of his stairway a cassette tape Alan Sparhawk of Low had left for him. It had the word “Starfire” written on it, and contained a demo of a song that bore Lunt’s nickname and later appeared on Low’s 1999 album Secret Name.
“I popped that into my stereo and I remember listening to it several times in a row,” Lunt remembers.
Around the same time, Lunt started regularly spinning music at Fitger’s Brewhouse on Thursday nights. Dubbed the “Starfire Lounge,” the gig lasted six years and gave the name “Starfire” everything it needed to stick.
As Lunt’s 30th birthday approached, his friend Mike Lowe happened to mention how “everybody should have a big 30th birthday party.” Having recently attended an event at Lafeyette Community Center, Lunt thought that would be a suitable venue for a rawk and/or roll bash.
“It’s funny how all these little things fell into place,” Lunt says.
Having assembled his first band, Father Hennepin, he decided to hold the group’s debut performance on his birthday. He also invited Jon Olson, Amy Abts, Mark Lindquist and Gild to perform.
“It was during finals,” Abts remembers. “I was in my second or third year studying theater at UMD. I couldn’t get any of my friends to come with me. I showed up with my guitar and was, like, whoa, it’s a big party, for Scott! Lafayette Square was all festive — candles and Christmas lights (in May). Snow drifts were melting down on the sand near the lake.”
Lindquist remember playing an acoustic set and joining in with other bands, including a song with Father Hennepin that also brought to the stage Lunt’s grandfather.
“I’ve never seen Starfire so happy in his whole life than playing with his grandpa on stage,” Lindquist says. “And grandpa was good, too.”
The show would be Starfire’s first time playing in front of an audience.
“I had a lot of family there,” he remembers. “People had no idea if I could do it.”
He could do it. Starfire, Father Hennepin and the Duluth music scene were on their way up.
Then came a warning letter from the Federal Communications Commission. Lunt faced fines as high as $100,000 if he continued his Random Radio broadcasts. As it turned out, he was ready to stop anyway.
“I got sick of it being in my house,” he said. “It kind of got out of control.”
There was still the matter of producing a CD of live recordings from the Random Headquarters, however. Setting up the release party meant doing something that terrified Lunt: talking to Rick Boo.
Boo and two partners had taken over management of the NorShor Theatre, which had been an on-again off-again music venue for years. Boo and his partners were focused on showing independent films, with maybe a jazz trio performing here and there. To Lunt’s surprise, Boo was receptive to having the Random Acts of Radio CD release at the NorShor.
By then, Lunt already had designs on making his birthday party an annual music festival. He was sitting at his dining room table with his roommate, Bryan “Lefty” Johnson, drinking coffee and playing cribbage, when the name popped into his head — the Homegrown Music Festival.
“Once I had a good name I just couldn’t not do it,” Lunt said.
The South by Southwest festival in Austin, Tex., served as Lunt’s model, though the landscape of Duluth would bear a stark contrast. The capital city of Texas has 10 times the population of Duluth and promotes itself as the “live music capital of the world.” While SXSW would feature over 700 bands in 1999, Lunt set his sights at 10.
Tim Nelson, a critical player in developing the first Homegrown, remembers using the Misery Sessions in Houghton, Mich., as a more scaled-down model and an example of how a town with one-tenth the population of Duluth could pull off a music festival.
Meanwhile, Tim’s brother Brad Nelson had started a monthly newspaper with Cord Carbert (better known as ©rd R. Dada) called the Ripsaw, which featured a weekly column about local music titled “the Buzz.”
“I remember sitting down at Uncle Loui’s (a café in Duluth’s Central Hillside) and talking about what Duluth needed to make a cool scene,” Tim Nelson says. He felt Duluth could pull it together if it could get the bands, clubs and an alternative newspaper all working together. The paper was critical, because there were no blogs, no Facebook and no Twitter at the time.
“It was all very intentional,” Brad Nelson says. “We knew that if we were going to build a following for local music, that group would need to be somehow edified, because it’s hard to get interested enough in a band to go out and see a show if you don’t have any inroads to it. That’s what the Ripsaw was for.”
The Nelsons say Lunt was the perfect guy to rally the whole thing together.
“Starfire was the idea guy,” Brad says. “No one had better ideas.”
“And he surrounded himself with people who could help him achieve it,” Tim adds.
Brad Nelson’s partner in creating the Ripsaw also ended up playing a critical role in developing Homegrown. Carbert drew the first chicken.
“I wasn’t given any direction,” Carbert says. “The concept was local musicians playing music. I was given the task to find something that was homegrowny.”
He found a sourcebook image of a chicken standing on top of a basket of eggs, and used that as his inspiration.
“It was a photograph and I turned it into an illustration,” he says. “We had a few things we were looking at. Starfire liked the chicken and thought we could use a different farm animal every year, but I got busy doing the Ripsaw and it’s been a chicken ever since.”
The venue for the first Homegrown would be the NorShor Theatre, which at the time was unable to open its main theater due to fire code issues. That was fine with Lunt, who wanted to cram as many people as he could into the building’s mezzanine rather than have the crowd seem sparse in a large theater. The smaller space also allowed set designer Doug Odlevek to really make an impact, decorating the space to create a festival atmosphere.
“When we loaded in, I was shocked at the size of the sound system they had rented,” Lindquist remembers. “I thought, ‘no one’s going to show up to this thing, why did they spend $1,200 on this gigantic P.A.?’ But it turned out to be a good idea, because the place ended up pretty packed.”
Who was the very first act of Homegrown?
“Amy Abts opened,” Brad Nelson remembers. “People were crowding into the mezzanine, sitting on the stairs and on the floor by the stage. It was a great feeling to know that we were filling that room.”
Although there was some established camaraderie among the musicians, Abts remembers feeling that she didn’t know many people.
“I tried to get my theater friends to come see my set at Homegrown,” she says, “but all they cared about was Crazy Betty,” a band that played the following night.
When she finished her set she went to the bar for a drink and met a guy from New Orleans who asked her to sign his Homegrown poster.
“I was like, ‘what?’ she remembers. “I laughed at him but I signed it. Then some other people followed. I was starting to enjoy myself. I felt part of a community and it was celebratory.”
Abts’ set was followed by a new band, the Black Labels, and a reggae artist who was somewhat new to town, Max Dakota. Then came Giljunko.
“We were used to playing at places like the Pacific Club, where the audience either just wanted to hear the next band or wanted us to stop playing completely,” Lindquist recalls. “Quinlan’s and the NorShor mezzanine — particularly Homegrown — were kind of my first experiences where people wanted to hear what we had to play.”
Starfire’s Father Hennepin closed out the first night.
“It wasn’t just another show,” Lunt says. “Bands picked it up a notch that night. Lots of genres were represented. There was an awesome vibe. Everyone was so happy. It was so affirming. The NorShor mezzanine was just so full of people.”
The lineup for day two consisted of the First Ladies, 2 Sleepy People, Ballyhoo, Crazy Betty and Gild. Although four of those bands would go on to become established local favorites, Lindquist remembers 2 Sleepy People stealing the show.
“They were great,” he says. “It was a really cool mixture of different styles — rock, hip hop, jazz, lounge — all mixed into one. Good performers in that band — people you wanted to watch on stage.”
As would always be the case with Homegrown, however, some had to sacrifice their fun for the greater good.
“I didn’t get to see a lot of shows those first couple years because I was working the door and running logistics,” Carbert remembers. “I had to do that because I was the only one not in a band. So I was working it next to Rick Boo.”
Over two nights the first Homegrown drew about 700 people. Lunt knew he was on to something, and there would be more Homegrown to come.
“There is something about that weekend that is perfect,” he says. “There’s an energy that first week of May, because summer is right around the corner. Duluth comes out of its hibernation for Homegrown. Everything is lighter. We have this jubilant week together.”
2000 to 2005: Halcyon Days to Near Disaster
2000: Homegrown 2
It’s not clear whether it was due to the advent of Homegrown, the turning of the millennium or something in the water, but a solid crop of new bands had emerged in Duluth by May 2000, including the Black-eyed Snakes, Both, Accidental Porn and Bone Appetit. Musicians who had left the area were starting to drift back, like Jerree Small, Jamie Ness and the Dames.
The NorShor had opened its main theater, and with 23 bands ready to play Homegrown, organizer Scott Lunt felt comfortable expanding the festival to three stages, so he added the Fitger’s Brewhouse as a venue, along with the two NorShor stages.
One month prior to the second Homegrown, the Ripsaw ramped up to weekly publishing and dedicated a special issue to previewing Duluth’s second-annual music showcase. The issue served as the predecessor to what later became the Homegrown Field Guide.
The new master brewer at the Brewhouse, Dave Hoops, created a special batch of beer called Homegrown Hempen Ale, a recipe he has since continued to revive every year for the festival. Musicians and fans gathered at the Brewhouse on the Thursday before Homegrown to taste the new beer while Lunt spun local music during the Starfire Lounge.
Another tradition begun in 2000 was the kickball game between the bands that play on Friday night and the bands that play on Saturday night. The inaugural game almost never happened, because Stella, the hyperactive dog of the Ripsaw’s then-copy-editor Tony Dierckins, destroyed the game ball before the opening kick by biting through it. Fortunately, a back-up ball was available. Saturday won by a score of 7-6 in a game that came down to the final kick.
“I was really dialed into Homegrown 2 because any idea seemed possible,” Lindquist remembers. “You could tell everyone wanted to be involved in it. People were prepared for it and hyped up for it. It was more of an event than the first year.”
Although there were a number of great Homegrown 2 performances — among them the Black-eyed Snakes performing with Alan Sparhawk’s father sitting in, Bone Appetit cock-rawking the NorShor’s main stage, the First Ladies saving Homegrown from the villain Hu Phlung Pu, and Father Hennepin playing with a 10-member choir — the show that seems to stick out is Giljunko’s set, which offered no theatrics, but brought the crowd to a frenzy.
“I think that never have so many people freaked out so hard for so long in the NorShor mezzanine,” Ripsaw contributor Barrett Chase wrote of the Giljunko set. “People were even crowded into the bar area to dance, and the wall of mirrors in the lobby actually fogged up like a bathhouse mirror. Everyone was completely soaked through their clothes.”
2001: Homegrown 3
The new crop of acts for the 2001 Homegrown included Mary Bue, Teague Alexy, If Thousands, Mayfly, No Room to Pogo, Charlie Parr and James Moors (then known as Sterling Waters). Two new venues were welcomed into the fold — Beaner’s Central (the West Duluth coffee shop Jason Wussow opened the summer after the first Homegrown) and the Red Lion Bar (where the Black Labels had already served for a year as the resident band on Wednesday nights).
In all, 38 bands were featured, including the first Homegrown appearance by Low (though bassist Zak Sally did not perform with the band; he was in Louisville watching the Kentucky Derby).
Low had just returned from a successful European tour, and the band’s new album Things We Lost in the Fire had hit number one on the College Music Journal’s chart in February.
Lunt took time off from organizing Homegrown to serve as a nanny on Low’s tour, taking care of Alan and Mimi Sparhawk’s then-1-year-old daughter Hollis. To fill the void, Ripsaw arts page editor Tim Anderson handled the task of coordinating the festival.
“It was already well formed at that point,” Anderson says. “The structure was all there, but that was the year it kind of exploded. Expanding from three stages to five was a big step, and the number of bands nearly doubled, which it had the year before and then it did again the next year.”
Anderson says that although there was a lot to do in a short amount of time, the strong support for the festival made it possible.
“Starfire would kind of blow into town for about a week and we would do some rush coordination and make a lot of calls, then he’d disappear and I’d take those threads and make things happen,” he remembers. “Most of it was pretty easy. Rick Boo gave us a wide open for the NorShor. Talking Kelly Jo (Messina) into letting us use the Red Lion was certainly not a problem at all.
“Beyond that it was just beating off bands with a stick. All of the sudden everyone in town knew that because Starfire was out of town I was the person who was in charge of the festival. Every band in the Twin Ports area was tracking me down, begging to be in Homegrown.”
Anderson said by his memory the festival turned a small profit that year, which he split with Lunt.
“We made like $100 each or something,” he says. “Four months of work rewarded!”
Although a regular video festival wouldn’t become part of Homegrown until 2006, there was a tie-in in 2001, when the NorShor Really Independent Video Festival was held on Thursday night prior to the Starfire Lounge. The event was coordinated separately, and the videos were not related to music.
Another first: Duluth Mayor Gary Doty signed a proclamation declaring Homegrown Music Festival Weekend in Duluth.
“Donny Ness actually wrote the proclamations,” Lunt says. Ness was a city councilor at the time, and would later serve as Homegrown’s festival director, and then, of course, as mayor of Duluth.
Perhaps the most significant thing that happened in 2001, in terms of the ongoing history of the festival, is that it was the year cartoonist Chris Monroe drew the Homegrown chicken for the cover of the Ripsaw. Although a number of artists have illustrated the plucky cock over the years, Monroe’s rendering has served as the iconic logo of Homegrown ever since.
2002: Homegrown 4
In its fourth year, Homegrown had what could be considered the strongest batch of new bands in its history. Crew Jones, Dukes of Hubbard, Farewell Tour, the Keep Aways, Jackie & the Ripoffs, the State Champs, Stel & Lefty, Baby Grant Johnson, Malec, the Undesirables and Haley Bonar all played the festival for the first time.
Starfire tapped Giljunko’s Mark Lindquist to create the schedule for Homegrown.
“People forget I booked that thing like a well-run fantasy football team for years.” Lindquist says. “Some of the bands started to get pissed when they weren’t booked at midnight at the NorShor. I always wanted to make sure there was a well-known band at each venue. It’s supposed to be about the bands you haven’t heard of. It’s not supposed to be about the four popular bands.”
The fourth annual Homegrown expanded to include 67 acts playing four nights at eight venues. A change in city law prior to the festival allowed Pizza Lucé to obtain an extended cabaret license, permitting dancing past 2 a.m. This allowed the new restaurant to host shows that didn’t start until the wee hours of the morning — such as Crew Jones on Friday and the Black-eyed Snakes on Saturday.
The capacity crowd for the ’Snakes performance flowed out into Superior Street and up Lake Avenue, with people watching through the windows, several of them flashers who gave the audience an eye full. Inside the building, what many believe to be the first documented case of crowd surfing at a pizza restaurant occurred.
The Black-eyed Snakes actually played Homegrown twice in 2002 — in the same night for that matter — the first of a mere handful of times a band has been double booked for the festival. The purpose was to give younger fans a chance to see the band at an all-ages venue, Beaner’s. The ’Snakes made that a memorable show as well, wearing horse-head masks for the majority of their set.
Those who thought the Black-eyed Snakes couldn’t be upstaged were wrong. The Dames followed them with a set that front man Tony Bennett wasn’t happy with, saying later that he and his band mates “weren’t feeling it that night.” So, how did he compensate for it? He ate a Limp Bizkit poster on stage.
“The bits that I couldn’t get in my mouth went down the back of my pants and marinated in my ass crack,” he told the Ripsaw a year later. “I then pulled those poster pieces out and threw them at people in the crowd, who scrambled with Matrix-like speed to duck out of the way.”
Paul Connolly, attending his very first Homegrown, cites this event as his introduction to the Duluth music scene.
“I also remember the Black Labels showing up in a limo at Beaner’s to watch the Dames,” Connolly remembers. “I was just a junior in college, damaging my brain cells.”
Lunt remembers Homegrown 4 as the year it started getting difficult to organize. He forgot to reserve Chester Bowl Park for kickball and had to quickly find an alternate venue, and amps were blowing out at multiple venues.
“My phone was ringing off the hook,” he says. “I remember playing kickball at Observation Park, talking on the phone under an umbrella while running bases and drinking a beer.”
2003: Homegrown 5
There weren’t a lot of new bands in the 2003 Homegrown, but one of them would later become Homegrown’s biggest draw — Trampled by Turtles. The group was a four-piece at the time and hadn’t come up with its name in time, so the show was listed in the schedule as “Dave Simonette Band.”
Also new at Homegrown in 2003 were the DTs, Words to a Film Score and Boy Girl Boy Girl. The latter band, comprised of Tim and Brad Nelson, Jen Jones and Nikki Moeller, was excited to play its first show ever at the Red Lion during the festival. Unfortunately, they blew the power out and spent more time standing in the dark than playing music.
Homegrown expanded to five days for its fifth year, and included 77 acts. Starfire was seemingly in high spirits, having had his hair shaven into a chicken-like mohawk. Capt. Dan Edholm created a giant replica of the Ariel Lift Bridge over the NorShor’s main stage, which was the last time any serious degree of decorating took place at the festival.
Another unique twist to the 2003 Homegrown: Starfire rented a storefront at 1 W. Superior St. (where the Double Dutch store is today) and used it as Homegrown’s headquarters, calling it the “Chicken Shack” and selling festival merchandise. In recent years, the Chicken Shack has returned at different locations, but these days it exists for band and volunteer coordinating, not for selling T-shirts and CDs.
The Homegrown Kickball Classic was played on a softball field outside Wade Municipal Stadium after Lunt’s plan to hold the game inside the historical ballpark was nixed by the city’s parks and recreation director, Carl Seehus, who said that sort of use of Wade would “never happen.” He retired in 2007.
“I think one thing that’s easier now about running the festival is that the adults want to play, too,” Lunt says. “The suits didn’t quite believe in it back then.”
2004: Homegrown 6
In the months leading up to the sixth Homegrown, real adversity began piling up for the first time. Rick Boo had closed the NorShor Theatre in October 2003 because of mounting debt. The Ripsaw was struggling, and at the end of the year switched to a monthly magazine format in an effort to make it profitable.
Then, in March 2004, Lunt sent an e-mail to musicians, friends, press and club owners to inform them he would no longer organize Homegrown.
“I have been pondering ways to scale back the festival and I have come to the conclusion that I can no longer muster the enthusiasm needed to organize an event of this magnitude,” he wrote. “I want to thank everyone who has helped over the years and I hope that out of the ashes of Homegrown can grow something bigger and better. Duluth has so much talent and potential. I have no doubt that brighter days are in the future.”
Darker days would come before the brighter ones, but there would still be highlights along way.
A conversation at the Brewhouse between Lunt, the Nelson brothers, Don Ness and Christopher Halverson led to an agreement in which Lunt would run the festival one more time, as a collaborative effort involving help from the Ripsaw and a new nonprofit all-ages venue Halverson and Ness were working to open on First Avenue West.
The Twin Ports Music and Arts Collective, commonly referred to as “the MAC,” was created as a performance and gallery space, initially funded by donations and the proceeds from benefit concerts featuring Duluth bands.
The first performances at the MAC were during the 2004 Homegrown, with no fewer than 16 bands playing there over two nights. A memorable show by the Black-eyed Snakes included a crew of men dressed as Denfeld High School basketball players taking the stage to shake maracas and tambourines with the band.
Former disc jockey Tim Hartt and graphic artist Pete Stuller took over the NorShor Theater in April and opened the mezzanine for Homegrown, but audiences there were thinner than usual.
Homegrown broke into Superior for the first time with shows on Wednesday night at Twin Ports Brewing Co. (which is now the Thirsty Pagan).
Three of the new bands that played the festival in 2004 — Boku Frequency, the Alrights and Sweetgrass — would each go on to play the next eight years straight (but none of them are together for this year’s Homegrown).
The sixth annual Homegrown would be the last one organized by Lunt. It was also the first year the number of bands decreased, with a roster of 74 acts, down three from the previous year. Lunt lost about $3,000 on the festival, which was about the total cost of paying bands at the time.
“I obviously didn’t get into it to get rich,” Lunt says, “but I sure didn’t want to lose money working that hard.”
2005: Homegrown 7
Following the difficult 2004 Homegrown, a deal was reached where the Ripsaw would take ownership of the festival, buying out Starfire for the sum of $3,000 — roughly what he had lost the year before.
“The Ripsaw was in the tissue with Homegrown anyway, so it seemed natural,” Brad Nelson says. He owned the paper at the time with his brother Tim, who had bought the majority of Cord Carbert’s share in 2001.
“We just didn’t want Homegrown to die,” Tim says.
“We had a lot of the organizational infrastructure in place to run Homegrown,” Brad notes. “We had an office, salespeople, writers, artists. It seemed like all the components were there. It made sense.”
The Ripsaw’s experiment with publishing as a monthly magazine ended with its December 2004 issue, and four months passed without a new edition. The Nelsons were planning to bring the publication back in time to promote Homegrown, with issues occurring every-other-month thereafter.
Meanwhile, the NorShor transferred management again, with J. P. Rennquist replacing Craig Samborski and Chip Stewart as the theater continued to struggle. The music scene had already experienced the loss of the MAC in January, when it closed after failing to raise money or draw crowds.
The Nelsons headed to England during the tail end of the Homegrown planning process, where Brad was playing drums on tour with the Black-eyed Snakes. While overseas Brad got an e-mail from Ripsaw music-section editor Brandy Hoffman indicating bands were upset and pulling out of the festival following the announcement that Homegrown would no longer offer paychecks to its musicians.
“A lot of people assumed we were going to make a lot of money on the festival,” Brad says. “Everything blew up.”
As it turns out, the Nelsons got the idea of not paying bands from knowledgeable source.
“I suggested not paying bands,” Lunt says. “I could have maybe gotten away with that. It was my fault. The pressure of having to pay for everything just grew every year.”
Although the amount bands had been paid over the years for playing the festival was always the same meager rate — $50 per band or $25 for solo artist — it was something that had come to be expected, though it also grew in total as the number of bands continued to increase.
“It turned out to be a bad idea,” Brad says in retrospect. “We thought nobody cared about $50. For a lot of bands, that’s $10 per person. We thought, let’s just be honest and say the money isn’t there. We’ll put together packets for the bands with T-shirts and beer tickets and they’ll be happy. It didn’t work out that way.”
At first, the bitterness was mutual.
“We felt burned,” Tim Nelson remembers. “We thought we were part of a movement.”
But when the Nelsons returned from Europe and started talking to musicians, most of them understood, and the festival went on as planned. There were 84 acts at Homegrown 7, including new bands like the Hobo Nephews of Uncle Frank, the Little Black Books, Portrait of a Drowned Man, Sleepfarmer and Retribution Gospel Choir (a replacement for Low).
The only band to stick with the boycott was the Black Labels, a group that had played every Homegrown up to that point.
“Everyone has made up and we’re all good now,” Brad says.
Still, it was Homegrown’s lowest moment. By the end of the year, the Ripsaw was out of business, the NorShor was closed yet again due to fire code violations, and the Nelsons were through with running Homegrown.
Fortunately, Don Ness was ready to roll up his sleeves and turn the festival into a nonprofit. Homegrown’s biggest years were still ahead.
“I do think it belongs in a community group,” Brad says. “In the long run it makes it sustainable.
Despite the lumps, the Nelsons hold on to fond memories and big expectations for the future.
“Those days in the early 2000s of Homegrown and the Ripsaw defined our present culture and will be part of it for a long time,” Brad says. “We’re honored to have been part of that. Those will always be the wonder years.”
2006 to Eternity: The Mustache Years
By Paul Lundgren
By the end of 2005, Homegrown had been passed off from private ownership into nonprofit hands — on paper fiscally managed by the Bridge Syndicate and organized by a steering committee comprised of artists, but in reality handed off to Don Ness, who would have to find those committee members and shepherd them.
2006: Homegrown 8
Ness put together a large steering committee, chaired by Alan Sparhawk and Amy Abts, with a variety of subcommittees. By the time the festival was near, the steering committee was down to 10 people and the subcommittees were reduced to two.
“It was critical to start with a broad group,” Ness says. “They were committed to the health of Homegrown. They got a sense of what was going on, took that and went out and told their friends. That built credibility for what the festival was going to be. When it came time to do the work, the group got leaner, but we had to cast a wide net to find those people who were willing to work.”
Ness was bold with his vision, vastly expanding the festival right out of the gate. Under Ness, Homegrown would grow from being a four-day event to an eight-day event, and for the first time include more than 100 bands. There would be poetry, videos and visual arts. The festival would return Superior to the fold, this time significantly. Themed shows like New Band Night and Experimental Tuesday would emerge.
The first Homegrown Field Guide, a 36-page magazine promoting the festival, was also published to compensate for the loss of the Ripsaw’s coverage.
While the Homegrown off-season lacked the Ripsaw, the void in music-scene coverage was filled by numerous upstarts, including the Perfect Duluth Day blog (founded by Scott Lunt and Barrett Chase in 2003), the Transistor (published weekly by Adam Guggemos since 2004), High Plains Drifter (published monthly from 2006 to 2008 by Jimi Sides) and …And the Heroin Screams Help! (randomly published by Paul Connolly and Mat Milinkovich from 2005 to 2007).
Digital photography exploded in 2006, and Homegrown was suddenly crawling with photographers who shared huge galleries of images on Flickr.
New bands performing in 2006 included Cars & Trucks, the Acceleratii, Batteries, Kritical Kontact and Mr. Kickass — all of which would become Homegrown mainstays and are on the schedule for the 2013 festival.
The NorShor Theatre had been closed for eight months due to fire code violations, but Ness gambled that the issues could be resolved in time for Low to play a show on the main stage during Homegrown. At 9:30 a.m. on the day of the concert, he got the call from then-fire marshal Erik Simonson indicating the show could go on. Over 400 people showed up. Within a month, however, the mezzanine of the building would be turned into a strip club.
Sacred Heart Music Center hosted its first Homegrown show, featuring Orley Francois, Charlie Parr, the Three Altos and Trampled by Turtles. It was the first time a space that large had been used for a weekday show during Homegrown.
At Bone Appetit’s “Farewell Reunion” Homegrown set at R. T. Quinlan’s (one of the band’s many last shows ever) a character known as “Max Blast” introduced the band wearing a powder-blue suit and sporting a thin, black mustache that was drawn on with a Sharpie marker. That was the moment Chris Whittier had unleashed the first Homegrown Sharpie mustache on the world.
Further indication that Homegrown had entered a new era: Father Hennepin didn’t play the festival for the first time. Through 2005, Lunt’s band had been the last act to remain together and play every Homegrown.
“That year was a turning point,” Ness says. “We expanded to eight days, we put out the first Field Guide, we established nonprofit transparency. It was when we developed the expectation and understanding of what Homegrown was going to be. It was a good first year. People embraced the weeklong format. That was a big risk. I would say expanding the reach of the festival is the thing I’m most proud of.”
2007: Homegrown 9
The ninth Homegrown would go down in history for a number of things unrelated to music.
For the first time in Homegrown history, the Friday bands finally defeated the Saturday bands at kickball, winning 4-3. Bone Appetit’s Cory “Hotrod” Ahlm celebrated by simultaneously drinking Snow Storm Wintergreen Schnapps and Pennsylvania Dutch Egg Nog. The invention of said cocktail was proclaimed a “Homegrown miracle.”
This was also the final Homegrown before Minnesota’s ban on smoking in workplaces took effect, so it was the last time bar venues were filled with a nicotine haze during the festival — other than in Superior, where smoking was permitted until after the 2010 Homegrown.
Renegade Comedy Theater produced a live show called the Renegade Radio Hour, which was broadcast live on KUWS Radio. In addition to sketch comedy, it featured music by Jamie Ness and Charlie Parr.
Twins Bar became a Homegrown venue for the first time, hosting a hip-hop showcase that filled it to capacity.
The Tap Room had moved out of the Fitger’s Brewery Complex to a spot on Fourth Avenue West above the Duluth Athletic Club Bar & Grill, where Trampled by Turtles played to packed house. It was the only year TBT didn’t play at Pizza Lucé during its first seven Homegrowns.
Ness relinquished his position as festival director following the 2007 festival, announcing he was planning a run for mayor. That fall, he was elected.
“Local music has played a big part in my life,” Ness says looking back. “It kept me grounded in this community in a different way than school did. Without local music I might have moved to the Cities. Meeting those people meant a lot to me during that time in my life.”
The Homegrown steering committee appointed Paul Connolly, guitar player for Portrait of a Drowned Man, to be the next Homegrown director.
“I didn’t play in a popular band,” Connolly says, “but I was willing to do a lot of work for no money, so I was qualified.”
Under his direction, the first CD compilation of Homegrown bands was released at the end of the year. Homegrown Rawk and/or Roll: Starfire’s Mix included 15 tracks by bands that helped make the festival famous.
2008: Homegrown 10
“I pretty much took Don’s model and tried to expand it out,” Connolly says. “I didn’t want to make it bigger; I wanted more quality and to add an extra layer of communication with the bands. I didn’t have ambitions to take on extra stuff. It was a lot to take on.”
The tenth annual Homegrown featured 150 bands at 23 venues. Connolly managed to lead the organization of the festival while holding down a fulltime job as a graphic designer.
“I was running the festival on my lunch breaks and late at night,” he says. “It wasn’t a well-oiled machine by any means. The budget was tight, so when the festival started, the checkbook was pretty much at zero.”
A new tradition that started in 2008 was a Monday-night photo show featuring images from previous Homegrowns. The exhibit was coordinated by the Duluth Photographer’s Guild, which had formed one year earlier and thoroughly documented the 2007 Homegrown experience.
The first Homegrown shows in Duluth’s West End neighborhood occurred at the Blue Crab Bar and the Venue at Mohaupt Block on Experimental Tuesday, featuring acts like Sammy Macon and Ronald Mr. Donald.
Bone Appetit reunited for a show on the NorShor’s main stage, and Giljunko returned to Homegrown after a four-year hiatus — six if you consider the fact that Lindquist didn’t show up for his band’s gig in 2004 due to over indulgence in post-kickball intoxicants. The line to see the show at Pizza Lucé extended around the block for the back-to-back lineup of Giljunko and Trampled by Turtles.
The upstairs of the NorShor was a strip club at the time, but the main theater was a separate entity called the Orpheum Nightclub. Homegrown patrons who needed to use the lavatory had to pass through the crowded mezzanine, where numerous strippers were milling about. Apparently, one of them was injured and filed a workers’ compensation action against the NorShor Experience club. The manager of the NorShor threatened to pull Homegrown into it, but nothing ever came of it beyond giving Connolly something else to worry about instead of taking a lunch break.
Connolly credits his ability to make it through his first year as director to the help of steering-committee member Dave Mehling.
“That dude saved my ass,” Connolly says. “At festival time it was pretty much me and him. He knew I needed help, and he was the guy who would do the things that needed getting done, with no glory attached.”
A second Homegrown compilation CD was released late in 2008, Homegrown Rawk and/or Roll: Lindquist’s Mix.
2009: Homegrown 11
Highlights of Homegrown 2009 included the last shows at the Blue Crab Bar (featuring Shana David, Healthy Band Music Club and the Moon is Down), Mayor Don Ness sporting a “Marc Gartman tribute beard,” the first-ever Homegrown Pub Quiz, a reunion performance by surf rockers the Hadjis followed by Fred Tyson in all his glory at the Main Club, a logistical nightmare of an attempt to coordinate bus trips from the center of Duluth out to the Lakeview Castle for shows, and Retribution Gospel Choir performing an afternoon concert in an Endion-neighborhood living room.
It was also the first year Homegrown’s video showcase became the Homegrown Music Video Festival, with a new format of having videographers produce music videos for songs randomly drawn from a hat.
Trampled by Turtles played the last in its series of Pizza Lucé shows at Homegrown. In future years, larger venues would be needed to contain the growing audience.
After two successful years running Homegrown, Paul Connolly announced in the summer he would be stepping down.
“Paul was a critical person in the evolution of the festival,” Ness says, noting that Connolly had the perfect demeanor for the job. “He was quiet, unassuming and stayed above the fray, which was something that was needed at the time.”
Above all else, Connolly had brought stability to the festival.
“After Donny gave it up I wasn’t so sure about Homegrown’s future,” Lunt recalls. “I was skeptical it could keep going. After a year of Paul running it I felt reassured.”
In July, the steering committee convened to launch a search for a new director, and four months later, Shana David-Massett was chosen.
Ironically, David-Massett had been nearly cut from the list of performers for the 2009 Homegrown. She was new to town, no one had heard of her and she hadn’t performed much outside of guest vocal slots during Jazz at the Toga. On the strength of the mp3 she submitted, the committee chose her for the last available slot in the 2009 festival. By the end of the year, she was running the whole thing.
2010: Homegrown 12
Among the bands reuniting for Homegrown 12 were the Fromundas and Ballyhoo. Both bands helped transform the local music scene in the late 1990s. The Fromundas had not performed together in 13 years; Ballyhoo had been broken up for eight years.
Bone Appetit played what to this point is considered its final-final show, closing out the Rex Bar.
“There isn’t one fucking person who would deny that we fucking rocked that town over the years,” Cory Ahlm wrote on Perfect Duluth Day after the show. “In the end, I like to think we left a nice big skid mark on certain parts of that music scene that can’t be wiped off.”
The NorShor Theatre, still with a strip club on its mezzanine level, hosted a Saturday show that filled its main theater like never before. Retribution Gospel Choir opened up, expanding its audience from the previous year’s living room show by about 800. Frank Nichols took the stage to say a few words and blast on his mouth harp, then Trampled by Turtles drove it home from there.
2011: Homegrown 13
Highlights in 2011 included Homegrown’s first shows at the new Clyde Iron Works, where Charlie Parr, Old Knifey & the Cutthroats and Trampled by Turtles filled the house.
Elton John was in town for a concert at the new Amsoil Arena, and his keyboard player Kim Bullard sat in with Jessica Myshack during her set at Fitger’s Brewhouse.
Two legendary bands from before there was a Homegrown played the 13th annual festival. Low returned to the festival for the first time in five years and only the second time as a three-piece, closing out a show at Sacred Heart. Puddle Wonderful reunited at R. T. Quinlan’s for its only show since 1998.
“Puddle Wonderful was a personal highlight for me,” says Walter Raschick, who was a steering committee member at the time. “The band had called it quits before I moved to the area, but after listening to a friend’s cassette for years, I was thrilled to see those songs played live. There’s so much history to this music scene.”
Raschick grew up in rural Wisconsin and came to Superior to attend UWS. He started hosting a radio show at the college station in 2004, taking on the persona of Walt Dizzo. By 2007 he was providing volunteer help for Homegrown, then became a steering committee member in 2009.
When David-Massett decided after Homegrown 13 to return to Florida and open a movie theater with her husband, Raschick was the steering committee’s clear choice to be her successor.
2012: Homegrown 14
Homegrown continued to expand, with 167 bands performing in 2012. The new tradition of a large Wednesday night show at Grandma’s Sports Garden was started, that year featuring the Boomchucks and Big Wave Dave & the Ripples. Another new addition to the festival was the addition of a Sunday afternoon show at Club Saratoga.
At Clyde Iron Works, Trampled by Turtles returned with Father Hennepin and Equal Xchange opening, an event which produced a full day of online speculation about the line outside the building for tickets, which ultimately flowed smoothly.
Raschick is particularly proud that on Saturday night four venues were at capacity simultaneously — Tycoons, the Rex, Pizza Lucé and R. T. Quinlan’s.
“The hardest part of being director was not getting to see the shows I helped set up and really wanted to see,” he says, “but there were a few times I got to look around and see people having fun. That made it all the work worthwhile.”
So, whatever happened to the green Guild Starfire guitar that started all this?
“It was stolen a long time ago from our old practice space in the Corner of the Lake Building,” Lunt says. “I still kind of expect to see it again at Homegrown … some teenager playing it. I’m sure it’s changed hands a few times.”
DJ Starfire recently returned to the airwaves. He hosted two shows on KUMD in 2009, The Local and The Lounge before taking an extended break. He now rotates with one of his band mates, Ted Anderson, as a host of North Country Jukebox.
Lunt has been sober for over two years. He says he was drunk at every Homegrown up until 2011, though in the early days he was more cautious because he had to handle money and run from venue to venue to solve problems.
“I was never a horrible alcoholic,” he says. “It’s just not good for me. Now I don’t remember what it’s like to be drunk. I just have a good time without it.”
The celebrity of being the founder of Homegrown is no great burden.
“I can get around in relative obscurity,” he says. “Most people have no idea who I am.”
Like his founding father Starfire, Raschick remains on the airwaves. In March he began a new gig with Minnesota Public Radio as host of The Duluth Local Show on the Local Current, offering Duluth music to people worldwide.
Homegrown 15 will be the first year Lindquist will attend as a visitor from out of town. He lives in Baxter now, and is working on a new record to be released on his old label, Shaky Ray.
“I went back to recording on cassette 4-tracks in my basement,” he says. “It’s just me playing all the instruments — piano, drums, guitar.”
He says he will play a few songs at Homegrown with his old friend Baby Grant Johnson.
Ness says the stabilization of Homegrown is something Duluth should be proud of, but he says it will be a challenge to grow the festival beyond its present level.
“We’re beginning to see the limits to the structure,” he says. “I’m really looking forward to the NorShor reemerging as the focal point of the festival. Then you can have big shows downtown again.”
Sherman & Associates is preparing for a $19 million renovation of the Art Deco theater, complete with a 64-foot-tall marquee tower to replicate the one that was removed in 1967. Construction is slated to start this fall. Ness says it won’t be ready for Homegrown in 2014, but “for sure 2015.”
Across from the NorShor, Tim Nelson and his business partner Rod Raymond own the old Carlson Book Building. Nelson says their plan is to put another brew pub and live music space there.
“It would be smaller than the NorShor, but bigger than the Rex,” he says. “It’s all just ideas at this point, though.”
Brad Nelson works with Star Creative, promoting the existing enterprises his brother and Raymond have created — all of which are Homegrown venues — Fitger’s Brewhouse, Red Star Lounge, Burrito Union and Tycoons Alehouse.
“Homegrown is the axle that the music scene revolves around,” he says. “It pulls it all together. I can’t imagine what the Duluth music scene would be like without it.”
Raschick says one way he hopes to see Homegrown expand is an inclusion of more women and people of color in the festival as well as, eventually, finding a way to incorporate an even greater variety of music.
“One thing we haven’t really had in Homegrown yet is classical music,” he says. “There is no reason that the high art of classical music can’t be mixed in with the Sexhawks of the world. It’s a thought, anyway.”
Overall, his main concern is keeping it real.
“My job is to preserve the legacy and not fuck it up,” he says. “I want to foster growth while always acting in the spirit of Homegrown and to never forget what a great thing we’ve got going here.”