Who knew when Scott “Starfire” Lunt put together a two-night local music showcase at Duluth’s NorShor Theatre that 20 years later it would still be going strong, spreading out to encompass more than a week of festivities.
This year’s Duluth Homegrown Music Festival offered a couple of opportunities to warm up for the marathon week ahead. Thursday’s Illustration Show at Prøve served as a sort of soft opening for the festival, featuring artists’ whimsical renditions of Homegrown movers and shakers like current Festival Director Melissa LaTour as chickens. Sunday morning Actual Wolf kicked off his traditional week of Homegrown morning shows at Duluth Coffee Company. Feeding Leroy joined him for a set of originals and country covers; he dedicated a version of “Good Hearted Woman” to Lee and Sonja from the band, sharing the happy news that the longtime sweethearts had recently gotten engaged.
This year's first official festival event, The Children’s Music Showcase, kicked off at noon at the Great Lakes Aquarium (a change from its previously-announced location at the Children’s Museum). It was a typical sunny Duluth spring afternoon - warm yet chilly at the same time – as the dashiki-clad World Beat Drummers from Meyers-Wilkins Elementary set a vibrant groove for the crowd gathered outside the entrance to open the festivities.
Meanwhile, on an outside stage around the other side of the building, Teague Alexy and Erik Berry were joined by Berry’s Trampled bandmate, fiddler Ryan Young, and the crowd kept warm dancing to lively songs from their record Irish American. If any parents were concerned about their tunes’ occasional references to whiskey and gambling it didn’t show; Sonja Bjordal of Feeding Leroy acknowledged the challenge of adapting their set to a young audience, sharing that they’d altered some of their “country song” lyrics for the occasion. Luke Moravec, aka Zeb or Zeke & the Run Away Screamings, charmed the crowd with his one-man-band performance of songs inspired by Scooby-Doo as well as kid-pleasing covers of "Monster Mash" and "Hey Ya."
Inside, kids were entertained by Dan the Monkey Man and Woodblind as well as a maypole dance, while outside they were dancing, getting their faces painted, and playing in the gravel. KUMD’s Homegrown chicken was in full effect, high-fiving the littles, hula hooping, and getting into a dance off with a gorilla and, later, the Aquarium’s otter mascot. But costumes were not limited to the audience – drummer Ryan Nelson of the Farsights took the stage dressed as a bottle of mustard.
In the evening, the action shifted downtown. At Teatro Zuccone, Daniel Oyinloye performed reggae- and hip-hop-flavored tunes to backing tracks played from his laptop. “I want everything I do to inspire,” he told the crowd. After sharing a track called “Dreams of One Day” from his brand new album, Oyinloye finished his set by inviting Jacqline Wright of Duluth’s ARE Youth Poetry group to share a powerful poem.
Next up, the Allen Killian-Moore Ensemble treated us to something completely different. The drum, cello, and guitar trio performed a live soundtrack to the 1964 experimental short film Go! Go! Go! By Marie Menken, the jittery instrumentation matching the speeded-up version of life in New York City projected on the screen. The performance came to a climactic finish, with Killian-Moore wailing and bashing violently on the drums until the kit fell apart, the pennies he’d placed on his snare went flying, his stool collapsed beneath him, and he went rolling off the stage to the floor of the theater.
The mood once again completely shifted with the next act, composer and pianist Wendy Durrwachter teaming up with local actor and classical vocalist Adam Sippola to perform poems of W.B. Yeats poems set to her music. It was a lovely way to close out an engaging and eclectic evening at that venue.
Meanwhile, Hoops Brewing Company was the site for the traditional Mayor’s Proclamation. After a warmup from the Zenith City Groove Collective, Mayor Emily Larson declared Homegrown underway, encouraging the audience to remember to eat to keep up their strength for the week of festivities ahead.. Mahtowa’s Holy Hootenanners took the stage next, the 9-piece band running through a rousing set of gospel Americana.
New bands were the focus at Pizza Luce’s late-night showcase, although many of the players were familiar faces. Elephant Hotel featured singer/songwriters Kristy Marie and Jacob Mahon teaming up, while Dog Talk featured members of the Gold Star Junkies, among other previous projects.
JayGee, a Baton Rouge, Louisiana native who moved north five years ago, showed off his skills as a rapper and hype man, encouraging the crowd to get the party started: "Hey, even if you can't dance imma need you to move a little on this one." After a few songs they did just that, dancing and waving their hands in the air.
Prone wrapped up the night with a set of dancy electro funk, closing out the first night of Homegrown with a bang.
Day 2 (Monday, April 30) focuses on the ancillary arts, with the Homegrown Photo Show at Blacklist at 5pm, The first showing of the Homegrown Music Video Festival at Zinema 2 at 6pm, and the Homegrown Poetry Showcase at the NorShor Theatre at 7pm. Musical highlights include a chance to catch MRS., a new band fronted by Paper Parlor's Moriah Skye, the experimental weirdness of Big Science, roots rockers Dirty Horse, and a just-announced popup show from the Nat Harvie Trio at Duluth Coffee Company's Roastery at 9pm. Follow @dhgmf_alerts on Twitter to stay in the know about schedule changes and other vital Homegrown information.
This Homegrown Week on KUMD is made possible by the Minnesota Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund.