Denfeld News

May 1, 2008
Duluth News Tribune

As Homegrown grows up, it looks to the under-21 set
By Nina Petersen-Perlman

Old meets new at this year’s Homegrown Music Festival.

Four bands, one of which hasn’t played together in more than a decade, are reuniting in honor of the festival’s 10th anniversary. And with an increasing number of all-ages venues, more new kids on the block will get attention, too.

Chris Halverson recalls his band, The Mighty Shock Tower, as being one of “four or five” original bands in Duluth in the late 1980s and early ’90s.

The band moved to Minneapolis in 1991 with hopes of making it big, but “got swallowed up pretty quick” in the city’s massive music scene, Halverson said. After they broke up, Halverson lived in Duluth on and off before moving back for good in 2001.

Upon his return he joined with Shock Tower bandmate Kelly Roed to form the new bands Verona and Sloe Loris.

Halverson and Roed will reunite with drummer Pete Boulger on Saturday for the first time in 17 years. They play at 11 p.m. at Pizza Luce, 11 E. Superior St.

Halverson said the growth of the Duluth music scene in that time has been remarkable — 150 acts, all with Duluth ties, are part of this year’s Homegrown.

“If you think about it, four or five to 150 is pretty amazing, huh?” he said. “The scene has come into its own a little more, taken itself more seriously.”

The festival can be credited with a good portion of that success, Halverson said. It all began 10 years ago as a birthday party for Scott “Starfire” Lunt, and became a public festival in 1999. The Bridge Syndicate, a local nonprofit group, took the reins in 2006, transferring planning responsibilities from a few people to a legion of about 60 volunteers.

“It’s totally run by people interested in the sustainability of the event rather than the bottom line,” said Paul Connolly, Homegrown’s director.

This year’s festival, which began Sunday, ramps up tonight with 20 bands playing in six venues in Duluth and Superior. On Friday and Saturday, 102 bands will perform in 17 venues in Duluth. A Sunday brunch with music closes out the festival.

Festival organizers recently started focusing on including all-ages venues, especially those that put on a lot of all-ages shows year-round. Making the eight-day event more accessible to the under-21 set is in the festival’s best interest, Connolly said.

“Having them be a part of the festival, especially one run by volunteers, is really good for it,” he said.

As they grow up, Connolly said he hopes the younger volunteers become more involved in festival organization.

Mike Wilson, 20, has embraced all things Homegrown. The Lake Superior College student moved to Duluth from Tower to have a stronger presence in the city’s music scene.

Along with volunteering for the festival, Wilson will accomplish an astonishing feat this weekend when he plays seven shows with as many bands in three venues on Friday and Saturday. Wilson plays guitar in Nordic Waste, is fill-in drummer for Jackie and the Ripoffs, is bassist for the Moon is Down, is bassist and vocalist for Cheney’s Dick, is drummer for Bad Cop Bad Cop, is guitarist and vocalist for Hell Ass Nasty Bastards and is drummer for Cowards!

Wilson predicts the punishing schedule will leave him exhausted by the time it’s all over, but he said he loves being so involved in the “funnest weekend in Duluth.”

“You see so many people out during the whole week, and everybody you see is just like you, enjoying local music,” said Wilson, who sings and plays guitar, bass and drums.

It’s a struggle to keep volunteers like Wilson involved, Connolly said.

“We lose people every year that burn out or move away,” Connolly said. “Or they get elected mayor.”

Duluth Mayor Don Ness, last year’s festival director, said that while he misses some aspects of planning the event, it’s a relief not to have the extra responsibility this year. He said he has learned from his years of involvement in the local music scene what it takes to make it thrive.

“It’s interesting for me now to have some historical perspective — and granted my experience has only been in the last 15 years — but to see the ebb and flow of the music scene during that time you come to recognize the key factors that makes for a healthy music community,” Ness said. “Venues are certainly a very important element, especially all-ages venues. That’s where the energy and the new excitement is renewed.”

Ness also cited the need for supportive live-music venues, affordable practice spaces and musicians who are inclusive and encouraging of their fellow music-makers.

“Duluth is blessed with many community-minded rock stars with world-class talent and Duluth-appropriate egos,” he said.

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