A gorgeous morning drew a sizeable crew to Chester Park bright and early (in rock star time) for a Rock and Run at Chester Park to begin Homegrown, Day 7.
In addition to event organizer Alan Sparhawk, musicians including Mary Bue, Al Church, and Robot Rickshaw (dressed in silver) showed up to run the trails and share a post-run snack before the kickball game commenced at noon. [Update: @GaelynnLea tipped us off on Twitter that Al Church did NOT actually run but showed up later, to which @lowtheband replied, "Church rolled out of the woods unexpected like a freshly woke bear, wearing the same shirt I think he wore all weekend, yet his hair was perfect."]
Friday night bands faced off against Saturday night bands at the annual Homegrown Kickball game, with Chad Lyons of the Bottle Jockeys (who famously slept through last year’s game) pitching for the Friday bands team and Lefty of the Blackeyed Snakes pitching for Saturday. Birthday boy Starfire got in the first kick. As the quickly-named 8-person Wrong Note Pep Band raised the homegrown spirit, kicking out classic rock hits like “Eye of the Tiger,” kids danced and ate cookies, attendees helped themselves to a free taco bar, and referee Rick Boo kept everyone in line. Former underdogs Saturday took the trophy this year, winning 5-2.
The evening opened with a nostalgic celebration of the festival’s 20th anniversary, hosted by its founder, Scott “Starfire” Lunt at the festival’s original venue, the NorShor Theatre. The event opened with a skit (narrated by KUMD’s Christine Dean) imagining Homegrown in the year 2073, when a 105-year-old Lunt is in a home for aging Homegrowners and Eleanor Ness is mayor of Duluth. The rest of the afternoon featured performers from the very first Homegrown, including a reunion set by Ballyhoo, Amy Abts, and Lunt’s own band Father Hennepin. Lunt and Jerree Small performed “You Spin Me ‘Round” for the first time in years, a tune they’d recorded as the Small Stars on a local compilation. There was a lot of emotion in the room as Starfire thanked the crowd and sent them off to the next festival events.
At Teatro Zuccone, a suit-coat wearing Jeffrey James O’Loughlin joked that “We didn’t have much time to practice so we thought we’d wear suits so at least we look like a million bucks.” Playing as a trio with bassist Mike Guello and drummer Owen Mahon (who also busted out a trumpet at one point), O’Loughlin didn’t need to dress to impress the crowd with his authentic lyrics and engaging stage prescence. The audience rose for a heartfelt standing ovation at the end of his set.
Despite the mismatch of a rock show in a sit-down cafe, trio Average Mammals delivered a tight set full of punk energy at Amazing Grace. Over at Teatro, an audience member was heard to say, “Oh, he’s a rapper? Well, that’s fine, but I’m gonna leave if he starts grabbing his crotch.” (No word on how that turned out. )At the Red Herring, doom funk rockers Phantom Tails shared some new material including a cut called “Aruba.” Looking out towards the street through the venue’s open garage door, black-clad guitarist and singer Orion Treon remarked, “It’s still light out, how weird is that.”
It was getting darker by the time the much-anticipated Murder of Crows show got underway at 8:15 at Teatro Zuccone. Fiddler Gaelynn Lea, once again in the half-mask she’d donned for her solo show and what looked like a black fur cape, joined guitarist Alan Sparhawk to perform to a hushed, overflowing audience.
At Legacy Glass, Jacob Mahon expanded his advertised trio to a quintet with the additions of saxophonist and backup singer for an exuberant and colorful set. The whole band wore suit coats; his and drummer brother Owen’s were purple with tiger stripes. The audience grooved along to Mahon’s quirky originals as well as covers, including a Teague Alexy tune.
The mood was equally exuberant at the Dr. Robert Powless Cultural Center, where the 9 members of Red Mountain took the stage, all dressed in some form of denim (we especially liked saxophonist Soren Dietzel’s denim jeans with red flames). Frontman Anton Jimenez-Kloeckl advised the crowd, “This is the time of year for us to get out of our caves and show some love to each other.” He invited his two young children onstage to play tambourine, assisted by other band members, adding to the warm, family feel that’s a hallmark of the band’s shows.
Performances went on at the MN Power Plaza despite temps that had dropped with a wind switch in the afternoon and some light sprinkles. Belly dance troupe Tribal Alchemie and fire dancers the Spin Collective provided a visual treat for festival goers stopping to watch or just passing by on their way to another venue.
Word has it Al Church delivered the festival's most memorable trolley performance this year, leading riders in an epic, boisterous sing along to Outkast's "Hey Ya."
Smaller venue Blush was at capacity for much of the night. Prog metal band Southpaw’s guitarist Nate Pykkonen slipped on a rock in Chester Bowl the day before the show and broke his hand. “This is going to be a pretty bare bones set” said other guitarist Isaac Smith. Over at Pizza Luce, Jen West did a solo set backed by Tyler Dubla on drums and Ethan Thompson on bass. “She reminds me of Lisa Loeb,” we heard one audience member remark. A quick stop at the Torment show at Blacklist revealed a mosh pit in full effect for the thrash rockers, while laser-projected images flashed across the building’s exterior as they had the previous night.
Down the street at the Rex, Kyle Ollah, who’d performed solo earlier in the week, was reunited with his band Yester. The melodic folk-pop group hadn’t been heard from in a while, to the dismay of fans, but drummer Chris LeBlanc promised they’d be finishing and releasing their record soon, “because you deserve it.”
Amy Hazel, known for rocking out in Gin Street and Secret Badass, changes gears to lay down sweet dance grooves in her newest project, Amy Hzl. They made their first Homegrown appearance to a packed house at Pizza Luce. Sir Ben’s was equally stuffed for Mint Vintage’s alt-rock set, which two band members performed shirtless while the other two sported a Hawaiian shirt and a half shirt respectively.
There was also a visual element to T. Dack & the Space Queen’s show at the Rex, with electronic soundmaster Tobin Dack dressed in a wig, metallic black strappy dress, and fishnet stockings while vocalist Tender Ness looked Euro-spacey in a silver shirt, white pants, and red fingerless glove on one hand. He sang and spoke his vocals through a filter, giving them an alien feel, backed by electronic beats and gloomy synths.
Little Black Books took the stage at Pizza Luce for a set that included stagecrashers jumping in to sing the beloved Giljunko tune “Mohawks,” which had already been performed twice that day, by the same band at the Starfire Tonight showcase and by Rob May, the guy who actually wrote it. Bandleader Mark Lindquist ended the set by whipping flexidisc 45s of his latest singles into the crowd.
Amy Abts, who’d performed a solo acoustic set at Starfire Tonight, whipped out an electric for her show at R.T. Quinlans with a full band including guitarist Greg “Cougar” Conley, her former bandmate in the State Champs.
It was a tight squeeze at Blush for the four members of heavy, spacey psychedelic rockers Heaven’s Gate Away Team as the venue was once again packed to capacity. Blacklist was equally crowded for Ingeborg von Aggasiz’ set. She connected with the attentive audience with her intricate blend of looped synthesizers and vocals, sharing tunes from her recent album including a spooky-sounding “How Does it Taste.”
Actual Wolf (Eric Pollard) brought his ‘A’ game to a full house with a great backing band at The Rex. This after an exhausting schedule of daily performances at Duluth Coffee Company. He sent out big thanks to Duluth and praised his bandmates, some who flew in from San Francisco the night before, including the guitar shredding Mississippi Mike. Al Church on keys joined in regularly on vocals and Steve Garrington was gregarious, bumpin’ the bassline. He sent the band off stage to wrap up his set, alone, acoustic and belting out one more lonely love song.
Between sets at The Rex, we ran into Teague Alexy gathering signatures on a guitar painted with a chicken and reading “Homegrown 2018.”
Superior Siren gave a warm performance to end the night at The Rex, leaving just enough time for hardcore festival goers to hop over to Spurs to boogie to the last few tunes from Big Wave Dave and the Ripples. “This is the stickiest stage I’ve ever performed on,’ Dave told the crowd as the soulful band kept them shimmying till the very last note.
This Homegrown Week on KUMD is made possible by the Minnesota Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund.