Homegrown: Day after day of must-do music

Jill Fisher

Lesser Planets at Pizza Luce during Homegrown. Photos by Jill Fisher.

The 2024 Homegrown Music Festival has been a musical marathon – one I have been in training for these past two years since becoming a contributor to this Listen column.

From the Founder’s Reception on Sunday, April 28 and kickoff set by Winzige Hozen at Hoops through the final set by Stardust Collective at Canal Park Brewing the following Sunday, it has been a fun, fast-paced race to see as many acts as possible each day. If there were three of me I still wouldn’t have gotten to all the great gigs, which is no wonder given the 161 acts and 35 venues this year’s Homegrown included.

I still can’t believe it cost me only $40 for the weeklong wristband. My strategy this year was to take in an equal mix of new acts and known favorites I never want to miss. The following is my day-to-day summary that highlights those performances I found to be most noteworthy.

DAY ONE – Sunday 4/28: I wrote about this for last week’s column, but with the entire Homegrown in the rear view mirror, I can reiterate that the Gavin St. Clair Trio, which expanded to a four-piece band, really rocked Carmody on this evening as did Sidestreet Detour late into the night. Both of these groups will be on my favorites list as I schedule music outings for the upcoming months.

Blue Volta

DAY TWO – Monday 4/29: Blu Volta took the cake on Monday with a full-out blast of rock and rhythm and blues at Wild State Cider. I’ve seen this group only twice previously and boy, has it ever gotten tighter since. Beyond the loud and rowdy rock songs it performed, “In A Dream” was downright beautiful. New to me was Mary Bue at Bent Paddle later that evening. The lyrics in her last song ended with this worthy sentiment: “Your heart is a treasure to be won.” She will be playing at Cedar Lounge together with Sonja Martin on Thursday, May 9.

The band Mint Vintage which came up from the Twin Cities to renew its Duluth connections, followed Bue. The lead vocalist had a fine high tenor voice and a wonderful falsetto. But it was the drummer in this band, Griffin Steel, who impressed me the most. He was simply terrific. Not that we don’t have plenty of great drummers in these parts, but gee I hated to see him return to the cities! The late-night offering on Monday was Grand Holler at Caddy Shack, a band that has come to be a favorite of mine. They play some great original tunes, nearly all of which compel one to dance.

DAY THREE – Tuesday 4/30: This day started early with a 11 am–1 pm session with the Mahon brothers, Jacob and Owen, joined by Calzone and Neil Ingebret at Duluth Coffee, which was not an official Homegrown event, but evidently has become something of a tradition. Nothing like getting your musical fix early in the day!  The first stop of the evening was at Vikre to see solo singer-songwriter John Agacki. I know he’s been around these parts forever, but I recall having heard him only briefly a couple times during Sacred Heart Music Center events. He performed quite a variety of original songs in different genres, from ballads and sea chanties to country and blues. He got the crowd singing along to “What Do You Do With a Drunken Sailor?” which was fun. Some of us sat on the floor in rapt attention like a class of fourth graders. Next it was on to the Amsoil Arena where several high intensity acts were scheduled. Brothers Burn Mountain really got the crowd going with the wild percussion Ryan and Jesse Dermody are known for – beating on everything in sight, including the floor! For folks who like drum solos (me for instance), this is an act to see. Woodblind came on like gangbusters after the bros. That Ska sound had folks jumpin’. It was cool to see Teague Alexy and Jen West join mainstays Jason, Veikko, Eli and Jimi. But I must admit that Big Wave Dave and the Ripples was my favorite – it’s a band I wasn’t about to miss. Among these acts I got my fill of dancing!


DAY FOUR – Wednesday 5/1: I’m not sure why it was called Westside rather than Western Wednesday this year but whatever, I went all out and got gussied up in a loaner cowboy shirt, cowboy hat, bandana and newly  purchased cowboy boots. There’s nothing like dressing in costume to put one in the Homegrown spirit, as many fellow Homegrowners understand. The evening started out with an excellent performance by Coyote at Wussow’s Concert Café. Jerree Small has a voice you can listen to for hours and which blends nicely with Marc Gartman’s. It’s very convenient being able to walk from venue to venue and heightens the feel of it being the community event Homegrown is. A band new to me, The Repairmen, played at the Gopher Bar & Grill to a capacity crowd. This is not one of my usual haunts for music and dancing but on this evening it was the place to be. Garth Anderson, who I usually see playing drums (with Janie and the Spokes and Landscapes), was lead vocalist and played electric guitar instead. The lyrics to his original songs were intriguing and full of meaning. One of the members played pedal steel guitar, which was a plus in my book. Then it was on to the West Theatre which was as crowded as I’ve ever seen it. It’s such a great venue for the notable out-of-town rock and roll, bluegrass and blues bands, that it was especially fun to hear two of our renowned local bands play here – the Israel Malachi Orchestra and Father Hennepin. The former band sounded better than I’ve ever heard them and I enjoyed its rendition of Dylan’s “One More Cup of Coffee.” Father Hennepin performed both covers and originals, including one titled “Homegrown is Alright With Me” and appropriately concluding its set with “I Like It in Duluth.”

The Repairmen

DAY FIVE – Thursday 5/2: By now you’d think I’d be ready to slack off a bit, yet getting over to hear music in Superior is almost always worthwhile. (Last year’s Homegrown nicknamed Superior “Soup Town” – not sure if that’s a regular moniker for the city.) Hearing The Trash Cats, a duo, playing at Superior Tavern, was on my to-do list since I’d not heard of them previously. I liked them and will likely get out to see them again sometime. At the same time I was thinking they could use a band to back them up. The venue Havana’s is relatively new to me, though I believe I’ve been in this space when it was called Ride or Die. It was about time I saw Teague Alexy & the Common Thread again and was happy I did so as they were as hot and tight as I’ve ever heard them. More great stuff was on tap this Thursday evening. The female duo, embalmingEva, (Galalee Wright and Jesse Hatten) took the stage at the Main Club at 8:45 with a large contingent of male viewers there to witness their sultry movements and voices backed by an electronic soundtrack. The crowd wasn’t disappointed! The two young women created the number “Hit Me In the Face” for this occasion. Unfortunately this was a short half-hour set, however it allowed me to get over to Tower Avenue Tavern to hear the end of Born Too Late’s set before Boxcar came on to end the evening. Boxcar is one of the best bands in the Twin Ports. Every one of its members is an outstanding musician and on this evening a friend of Misisipi Mike’s (who plays electric guitar in this band) who was visiting from Colorado joined them. He is Kyle O’Brien, an excellent fiddler that elevated the performance even further. Several new originals that will be on an album schedule to be out this fall were played for an appreciative audience.  

Teague Alexy

DAY SIX – Friday 5/3: This date involved me seeing primarily favorite bands. I had seen the four-member Adjustments at last year’s Homegrown but hadn’t seen them since. Billed as a blues-rock band, they played numbers with a variety of slow and fast rhythms. It was interesting to note they did not have a bass guitar player. They reprised their original composition, “Nowhere” that they played last year, which was not finished then, but is now. Despite some off-key harmonies, this band was really quite good. Taking a short break from Homegrown, I drove out to Powerhouse to see Magic Bus for the second time ever, so as to check my initial impression of that band. Good music selection and great dancing there. Then it was back to town in time to hear Boku Frequency’s full set at Pizza Lucé. Since this band has been one of my all-time favorites ever since I heard it at my first Homegrown, I shouldn’t have been surprised to see how many younger folks grooved to their funky sound. Indeed, this was one of the gigs that seemed to generate the most enthusiastic audience response I heard this week. I concluded this evening at Blacklist Brewery to hear Black River Revue, another favorite band of mine. Unfortunately, the sound quality was horrible there (due to poor placement of the speakers), plus my legs finally let me know I had reached my dancing limit, so I cut out before the end of its show.

DAY SEVEN – Saturday 5/4: After all the fine music of the previous nights, this was my most anticipated slate of bands. Sacred Heart Music Center was the place to be with Rich Mattson and the Northstars rocking the place. Janie and the Spokes followed to continue the vibe playing many new original songs recently released on their album, Eclipse. I’m sorry to say that the Nashville sound of Sydney Hansen wasn’t sufficiently unique to keep me at this venue. Instead it was on to Sir Benedict’s to hear the second half of Laurie BoeDee’s set. Wow! That was some great guitar playing by a woman who, to look at, you probably wouldn’t expect to be such an all-out rockin’ babe. Rock on. Laurie! Now I have been aware of the band Lesser Planets for a while (I’ve known guitarist Richie Townsend as a Tai Chi instructor) but hadn’t gotten around to hearing their music until this evening. The group plays instrumentals, no vocals and how refreshing is that? I was absolutely mesmerized by their work. Distinct numbers with varying melodies and riffs were right on. I will undoubtedly be in the audience to hear them next time I have the opportunity! (The Curmudgeon went his own way to see Damien at the Flame Nightclub, which he reported as being enthralled with.) And before this long night was through, I got over to the Flame as well to hear another of my favorite bands – Indecent Proposal. These guys get better every time I hear them and Josh Brown’s original songs are some of the most interesting I’ve heard.

Bill Bastian

DAY EIGHT – Sunday 5/5: After taking in so much of this year’s festival, I couldn’t skip the final afternoon at Canal Park Brewing. Together Four Mile Portage, which features clogging accompaniment; Bill Bastian singing the blues (?!) and Stardust Collective provided a fitting finale to this year’s Homegrown Music Festival.  

All in all this Homegrown had me taking in 36 acts (38 if I include the two non-Homegrown gigs I took in this week). That’s only 22% of all the Homegrown acts that were available!  As for venues, I got to 21 different locations which computes to 60% of those booked. I can’t rave enough about this wonderful, exciting event. As tired as I was after eight days of nonstop music, I surprised at how fast it went by and was sorry to see it end.

But then, there is so much more on tap for us music lovers in the days, weeks and months ahead. Duluth Dylan Fest is just a couple weeks off. I will see you there!