Homegrown Fest: From Humble Beginnings to Shooting for the Stars

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The names of some music festivals are real head-scratchers. "Bonnaroo" and "Lollapalooza" are silly but effective. Others don't leave much to the imagination. Locally, there's the upcoming Fort Worth Music Festival: not a ton of mystery there, but at least we know where it's going down, right?

Somewhere in the middle is the Homegrown Music and Arts Festival. Taking place this Saturday at Main Street Garden Park in downtown Dallas, "Homegrown" not only gets the job done, it says everything that needs to be said about a locally driven format that's grown far beyond its initial humble beginnings. Since the original lineup in 2010, the highly anticipated day-long party has amped up its star power each year.

Southern rockers Jonathan Tyler and the Northern Lights headlined the upstart festival on its successful maiden voyage. This year is poised to be the biggest yet, with Fort Worth's still-beloved Toadies bringing it all back home as they celebrate the 20th anniversary of arguably the biggest rock record the metroplex has produced in the past two decades, Rubberneck.

It was February 2010, only a few short months before Tyler hit the stage in Main Street Garden Park, when Joshua Florence, the owner of both the downtown's City Tavern and Deep Ellum's Club Dada, asked John Solis, a respected longtime local musician and promoter, to help him produce a locally focused fest. In the years since, it's grown to include artists boasting even the loosest ties to the Republic of Texas. But the initial intent was to exclusively showcase Dallas bands and build an event that would create a unique sense of artistic and urban unity.

"As a club owner but most importantly a fan of local music, I found myself frustrated the whole city didn't know about some of the fantastic bands that were playing City Tavern," Florence recalls. "Bands like RTB2, Grant Jones and the Pistol Grip Lassos, Binary Sunrise, Here in Arms -- the list could go on and on. With a bit of naive courage, I thought the best way to get the city to know about all the great music in our area was to put on a music festival in the heart of downtown."

A festival in a picturesque downtown park that had recently been rejuvenated held plenty of potential for a good time. Whether it would prove to be financially successful or not was a very different matter -- even if getting showered with riches wasn't exactly the duo's intention.

"I wouldn't say we had huge expectations," Florence admits. "We wanted it to run smoothly, professionally and we didn't want to lose a ton of money." The rule of thumb for start-up festivals, after all, isn't whether or not you can break even; it's whether you can absorb the inevitable losses and live to see a second go-round. "Everyone told us we'd be insane to expect to profit or to possibly break even. We wanted people to have fun and love the bands and we prayed for no rain.

"By God's grace, we actually hit all those points and we actually broke even," he adds. "So when it was all said and done, we kind of had this moment of, 'Wow, we just threw a little boutique music festival!' It was an amazing feeling."

Even with that first hurdle cleared, however, there were plenty of challenges ahead. Most important was the decision to expand the pool of artists beyond Dallas. As such, the second edition of Homegrown, held in 2011, was met with some short-term confusion amongst local fans, but in the long run created a far more sustainable model that still embodied the philosophy the concept was built on.

"After the second Homegrown with Neon Indian and School of Seven Bells, it made sense for us to branch out into the greater Texas area in general," Solis explains. "When we expanded our musical reach, it opened up a broader range of possibilities and a chance for local bands to gain visibility with different audiences."

In 2012, the Fest's third installment consolidated the fruits of the more elastically defined Homegrown Fest. Nationally recognized acts with legit Texas ties such as Hayes Carll, Ben Kweller and Black Joe Lewis packed the park near the Dallas County Courthouse. The year after that, Dallas-based choral rock faves Polyphonic Spree joined Austin's country-soul world travelers Band of Heathens and Divine Fits, an indie supergoup formed by former Texan and Spoon leader Britt Daniel.

This year, the Toadies are joined by Sarah Jaffe, who is Denton's biggest success story of the past decade, and Austin underground legends ... And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead. With the quality of the bill and the star power of the headliners gaining wattage each year, is Main Street Garden Park destined to be outgrown? Not likely. "I always keep my eyes peeled for cool event and festival places. So in that regard we're always thinking," Florence says. "But that's more for maybe producing other events. I wouldn't want to move Homegrown out of Main Street Garden. The park itself has become such a part of the festival to me that it just wouldn't seem like Homegrown somewhere else."

And yet Florence and Solis aren't short on new ideas for Homegrown. The section of Main Street that runs alongside the park will be closed off this year to make more room for vendors and attendees to mill about, which should make for a truer festival vibe. The founding duo also hopes to curate festival afterparty concerts at multiple Deep Ellum venues sooner than later.

Now more than ever, they're ready to dream big: Florence one day hopes to land Willie Nelson and a Tripping Daisy reunion, while Solis has his sights on St. Vincent and Spoon. And yet for the latter, the payoff for the work that goes into each year's festivities is a moment when all of the day's variables coalesce to create a blissful hybrid of satisfaction.

"One of my absolute favorite moments of the year is when the sun is starting to go down," Florence says. "The heat is lifted from the air and one of my favorite bands is playing on that stage." This year, he says, that artist will be Jaffe. "All the stress of the planning fades away and it's just perfect."

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