The Homegrown Fest Bore Some Nice Fruits

Maybe it's just because this year's offering didn't come on as sweltering an afternoon as last year's inaugural affair did—and, in turn, instead of staring down at my sweat-soaked shirt, I was glancing around at the visual splendor of downtown Dallas—but, man, Saturday's second annual Homegrown Music and Art Festival was a pretty gosh-darn awesome good time.

More than anything, it just felt surreal, as the acts playing the festival—legitimately good acts and ones that people who live outside of North Texas may have actually heard of—did their things on the two stages set up at either end of Main Street Garden Park. The backdrop, for starters, was gorgeous: Behind the main stage, the Municipal Courts Building offered a stately setting; on the other side, the neon clock posted high on the friendly Mercantile shimmered with an urban-chic appeal.

For once, downtown Dallas looked and felt rather appealing. And, in Main Street Garden Park itself, it actually felt fairly crowded.

Over the course of the event's 11-hour offering, almost 3,000 people walked through the gates at the park's northeast corner to take in its sights and sounds. Last year's total of 1,200 attendees was eclipsed rather early on—by mid-afternoon, even—as entire families lumbered about the space, enjoying the art on display, the park's playground amenities and, most of all, the festival's musical offerings.

Right, right: The music, all of which, as promised, features talent produced here in North Texas.

Sure, in some cases, the ties were loose. Chillwave heroes Neon Indian left Denton for the hipster-er confines of Brooklyn a few years ago; ethereal entrepreneurs School of Seven Bells' Ben Curtis headed out to those same pastures a few years before that, back when his previous outfit, The Secret Machines, bolted; indie-rap and freestyle aficionado Astronautalis, meanwhile, has only a fleeting connection to the region, having attended Southern Methodist University in the early '00s; and the borderline doomgazers in This Will Destroy You only recently added a couple of Dallas-bred members to the ranks of their San Marcos-based outfit.

But, on this day, on a bill with these headliners and some bona fide local talents, being from Dallas was something each of these acts was pleased to claim. Among the truly local locals were the Paste-adored Seryn, the continually big-drawing Ishi, the Hollywood-approved The Burning Hotels, the 16 & Pregnant-accepted The O's and how-come-they-never-were-alt-country-heroes in Slobberbone.

"Hey, I'm proud to be called Dallas' son," Astronautalis shared a few hours before taking the stage and having the crowd, which was mostly unfamiliar with his work, standing with jaws dropped in awe of his fresh-from-the-dome freestyle on the crowd-suggested topics of samurais, nuns in love with Satan, a girl in the crowd named Alexa, the ubiquitous Pegasus symbol found all around downtown, rutabagas and in an especially appreciated turn, Texas Rangers manager Ron Washington. The offering was pretty standard fare for the rapper born Andy Bothwell—he does the same bit, taking shouted-from-the-audience topics and turning them into a mind-blowing narrative at every show—but it shined because, hey, that's the way Astronautalis go.

And, hey, maybe Homgrown shined this year because, y'know, waiting until the second year of an event is just the way Dallas music fans go.

Let's face facts: We're not always the most welcoming bunch. It took Neon Indian moving to New York for most people in region to finally realize who they were. And, sure, maybe last year's Homegrown Fest didn't boast as impressive a bill as this year's did, although it too was strong. This Will Destroy You and Ishi played that bill, which was headlined by Jonathan Tyler & The Northern Lights. Considering Dallas' lack of music festival offerings prior to Homegrown's arrival, you'd think its existence alone last year would've provided excitement enough to get people going.

Not necessarily, turns out.

Fortunately, just enough people showed last year to help the organizers—namely, the team of Josh Florence, John Solis and Dusty Pope, who normally work the behind-the-scenes dealings at City Tavern and Club Dada—barely break even and aim higher this time around. Sure enough, with much higher costs, much higher goals and, in turn, much bigger names on the bill, they were fortunate enough to break even once more—good news, no doubt, not only for them but for the long-term survival of this festival and for Dallas' overall music festival potential.

The bad news: Next year, people will want more. And where, then, will the talent pool come from?

Fortunately, there are still some untapped wells: Erykah Badu, the Old 97's, the Toadies, Tim DeLaughter (Polyphonic Spree, Tripping Daisy, Preteen Zenith) and whatever project he's cooking up at the moment, Norah Jones, St. Vincent and Sarah Jaffe are among the bigger names not yet included in Homegrown's offerings. If Homegrown hopes to keep growing, it'll have to draw its performers from these (more expensive) options. And, certainly, a bill featuring any number of these acts would be an enticing one.

But, um, then what?

In addition to being unwelcoming, we North Texans are also a fickle bunch—proud of our regional roots, and almost violently so. When he introduced Homegrown headliners Neon Indian to the stage on Saturday night, festival co-host Grant Jones, who, with his Pistol Grip Lassos, opened the day of performances earlier on, shouted with glee into his microphone: "We don't have to drive three hours south any more!"

Who says, though, that those oh-so-annoying Austinites don't have to drive three hours north? Yeah, maybe that's the way to go with this thing down the line. You really want to go big? Expand the interpretation of "homegrown talent" to include all acts spawned in the great state of Texas. Then you really might be on to something. And then Dallas might really have an honest-to-goodness destination music festival to call its own. And, hey, Dallasites might even embrace the idea—if only accidentally—thanks to Homegrown's grassroots expansion.

There's a key word at the root of the Homegrown Festival's concept: "Grow." Here's hoping that, somehow, this festival finds a way to keep doing so.

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Pete Freedman
Contact: Pete Freedman