Feature Stories

Homegrown Looks to Differentiate Itself from New Sibling, Old 97's County Fair

It's taken seven years, but Homegrown Festival has finally expanded to a second day. Well, sort of. The organizers of the Texas-only festival in downtown Dallas have actually branched out into hosting a whole second music festival, and they've done so in a way that could seem risky: the new Old 97's County Fair takes place in the same location as Homegrown, just one month removed. 

Last week, the differences between the two came into sharper focus as Homegrown revealed its lineup, which skewed in favor of indie rock bands like Ghostland Observatory and Neon Indian. County Fair's, meanwhile, which was announced a few weeks prior, took its cue from headliners Old 97's and follows a rootsier alt-country selection of bands, including Drive-By Truckers and Lucero. But even that isn't entirely by design, says Josh Florence, who cofounded Homegrown Fest with John Solis and is also a co-owner of Club Dada, Off the Record and City Tavern.

"I don't think we consciously set out to give Homegrown a separate vibe from County Fair, although it ended up going that direction and I'm happy about it," he says. He admits, however, that setting the right tone in the new fest's first year will be important. "We'll have a Ferris wheel, midway games, dunk tanks, stuff like that, and it's going to be a little bit of a different vibe. I think if we can really nail it, then the lineups moving forward could cross a little bit more if we want to."

As Florence told the Observer's Kelly Dearmore last month, the idea for County Fair — which takes place in April at Main Street Garden Park — came up after Old 97's played Homegrown in 2015, a reminder of just how much overlap exists between the two. While he says the plan is "to have [Old 97's] lead things" while Homegrown stays in the background, his team is heavily involved with the new fest.

"We're basically organizing and operating the festival," Florence says. That includes the back end work of infrastructure, insurance and city permits, but also the talent buying. "With the lineup, we pitched bands to the Old 97's and got a yay or a nay for them, or tried to tell them one way or another. It was really a great collaboration. We never ran into any problem with the lineup at all."

Homegrown prides itself on hand-picking its lineups — there are no applications accepted from bands — and while that's incorporated acts from rock to country to hip-hop to R&B over the years, County Fair is more tightly focused on alt country. "I love it. That's my personal flavor," Florence admits. "Frankly, it kind of surprised me that there's not a festival or a day-long event that really sells out to that side of it in Dallas, at least that I know of."But while Homegrown has been diverse over the years — it's been headlined by Hayes Carll, Black Joe Lewis and the Toadies, among others — it has had its blind spots in terms of representing Texas genres. In particular, metal and Latino acts. "It think it's a good reflection of what's happening in our backyard," Florence insists. "With that said, we haven't had a Latino band or Tejano band that I can remember. So I guess there are some formats out there that we haven't tapped into."

Florence points to a couple different reasons for those omissions. One is Homegrown's family friendly premise. (Kids 10 and under get in free, after all.) "When Homegrown first started, the options to go see a music festival with your kids was to go see Gin Blossoms or Spin Doctors or something like that in some suburban area, and that just didn't fit well with us," says Florence, who is a parent himself. "So we liked the idea that you can go see legitimate bands from Texas that you can also take your kids to. We even talk to acts before the event and before we book them to see if they're cool with doing clean sets. Sometimes it goes over well, sometimes it doesn't."

That may help explain the lack of metal acts, but Florence's second point is a simple matter of expertise. "I don't know the hot Tejano acts," he admits. "That's a little out of our depth, to be honest. If we were to go in that direction, we'd need to have somebody hired on as a consultant or to book certain areas of the bill that we aren't that plugged into." But as a small festival that still only books 12 bands a year, such a strategy isn't on the cards just yet. "We're a boutique festival," Florence points out. "We're just not there yet."

That could change, of course, should Homegrown ever actually expand to a two-day format. "We've had good success with Homegrown. There's kind of a proven recipe there," Florence says. "If we did go to a couple days sometime, I think we'd be open to spreading our wings a little more with the genres. But with 12 bands it's a pretty limited lineup when you get right down to it."

With the extra responsibility of County Fair thrown into the mix, the prospect of expanding the Homegrown format might seem unlikely — but that's not necessarily the case. "If we're able to pull off two festivals in the same park, I think that would increase the odds," Florence says. With plans to open a new restaurant in Deep Ellum, Florence has plenty on his plate already, but that won't stop the dreaming.

"I would love to add something to the fall if I could," he says. "If we had more money and manpower, we'd do a freaking festival a month, because it's so much fun and I love it."
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Jeff Gage
Contact: Jeff Gage