Homegrown Music Festival 2016 | Review

There is so much good that went down at the inaugural Homegrown Music Festival in Ozark, Arkansas. Innovative sustainability efforts, great music and beautiful landscape combined to create one of the most memorable festivals I’ve been to yet. (Plus, free actual bathrooms and showers!) Though relatively small, Homegrown made a big impact on just about everybody who attended. Since its end, I’ve heard countless tales of how much fun folks had – and how much respect they felt for the organizers’ efforts to produce a low-waste, renewable event. Among the 1,400 or so ticket-holders 2,500 pounds of material were recycled!

The organizers wanted to create this festival because they love music fests but hate the trash and negative impact festivals so often have on the land and environment, according to some interviews with organizers I read. Homegrown wanted to not only bring great music to these beautiful Ozark mountains, but to drive conscious consumption as well. Drinks were served in the stainless steel cup every attendee received; plates and utensils were washed by volunteers at the easily accessible dishwashing station; recycling opportunities were readily available throughout the venue; and throughout the weekend volunteers biked from campsite to campsite, offering to dump campers’ trash and recycling. All of these efforts culminated to create the cleanest festival I have ever been to. Notably, after the final set of the weekend, there was no trash visible at the main stage.

The stage was powered by solar energy and each band I saw was vocal about praising the efforts of the festival organizers and attendees. We were all in this together – and the bands joined in on the fun. Taakra band member Enion Pelta-Teller claimed Homegrown to be the best efforts in sustainability and the most well-run inaugural festival she has seen. Oliver Wood (The Wood Brothers) praised organizers for their enormous efforts and congratulated everybody on helping to achieve that dream. 

Of course, the music was fantastic as well. Starting on Thursday, I saw local bluegrass bands Big Still River and The Squarshers. Grandpa’s Cough Medicine was the last show I saw that night. They presented a dynamic, fairly traditional bluegrass set. However, with a twinge of darkness in the lyrics and Brett Bass’ award-winning flat-picking, their set really stood out. All three groups brought a different sound and energy to their sets and carried the crowd into the night despite the unrelenting heat.

Friday found us all sweating and, thus, swimming from sun up to past sundown. The Picking Tent was in full swing with amazing sets and collaborations. My two favorite sets of the day were NPR’s Singled Out with Grandpa’s Cough Medicine, where we learned a lot about the band’s influences and heard what drives them individually. There were individual songs from each member, including the song that won Bass the top spot in the 2015 Rockygrass flat-picking competition. The band played “Crooked Cop” which was well received by the audience. Also on the Picking Tent on Friday was a topic I love discussing: death. Musicians David Pelta-Teller (Taarka), Dana Louise (Glorious Birds) and Sage Cook (We Dream Dawn) performed together and individually, addressing the topic and all everything that surrounds it (which is, indeed, everything). Death Becomes Us was a special moment for us, and I was so happy to be able to get to know these musicians in a much more intimate way.

The second day of the festival also featured banjo duo (yes, a band with just two banjos) The Lowest Pair. Musician Kendl Winter’s unique voice (likened to the sound of Anais Mitchell) balanced perfectly with the low tone of Palmer Lee’s. Together the duo rocked the stage with beats and melodies only two banjos could create. Keep an eye out for an upcoming interview with the band.

Entering into the evening Taarka graced the stage and gave everybody an energetic, beautiful, jazzy set. It’s clear the members are well trained, which was particularly clear in Enion’s style. There’s a soft, learned style to her fiddling. With their full, swelling sound they offered the audience an instrumental depicting the experience of crossing the Rocky Mountains. Taarka is slowly becoming a favorite of mine, not only is their music rooted in traditional sounds but the band appreciates other cultures and attempts to bring that into their sound. Following Taarka was Earphunk, a favorite for many of the folks I spoke with throughout the weekend. The band was animated and energetic despite the incredible heat of the day.

Second-to-last on Friday night was a great set from Leftover Salmon. The band drew in a big crowd and the audience danced and sang along to the many familiar tunes. Leftover Salmon covered a favorite of just about everyone, John Hartford’s “Get No Better”, making Leftover Salmon the second band to honor Hartford, as The Lowest Pair gets their name from a poem by Hartford. Closing out the night was the first of two sets from Fayetteville, AR band Arkansauce. They presented a lower-energy set than I initially expected, but after their performance on the last night of the festival it was clear they were saving the best for last.

Saturday was the final day of the festival – also a great treat so all those business professionals could rest up on Sunday before returning to work on Monday. The first set I saw was from Hen House Prowlers. Another diverse band with traditional bluegrass roots, the Prowlers often circled around a single mic and moved about the stage as bluegrass bands are known to do. The band sang a variety of songs, including an Arabic tune for which they had to learn the difficult pronunciation of the language to perform, truly doing the song justice and respecting the culture from which it came. Plus, I’ve never heard an Arabic song with a bluegrass twist, although as a friend pointed out Delhi 2 Dublin also somewhat falls into that bucket.

Following the Prowlers was the highly anticipated group Town Mountain. Although I’ve been to many festivals that featured this band, I’d never seen them. What a mistake that has been! The North Carolina group played their excellent cover of Springsteen’s “I’m On Fire” and played a fun set that lured more and more folks to the main stage as their set drew on. After Town Mountain’s set, the crowd was eager for more music. Luckily, headliner The Wood Brothers was up next. Attendees began filing onto the grass, nearly filling up the area with folks from babies to, shall we say, seasoned concert-goers. The group tore it up, bringing out the shitaur, upright bass jams and intensely awesome showcases from each band member. The Wood Brothers seemed almost unlikely to leave the stage as their set neared its end, and the audience didn’t want them to go either. Their set was memorable and intimate, from the crowd sing-alongs to a wide array of crowd favorites (“The Luckiest Man”, “Postcards from Hell” and “Shoofly Pie” to name a few). Indeed, The Wood Brothers took the stage and immediately after took our hearts, especially when they strummed an absolutely beautiful version of “The Muse”.

Closing out the weekend was Arkansauce’s second set. The high-energy performance had a last hurrah feel to it. We all knew we’d have to go back to the real world soon and nobody was ready to shut it down just yet. So the band played on. They drove us to dance and stomp and smile and cry. They gave it their all and we did too. The organizers of the fest were out there with us, enjoying the fruits of their great, great labor.

Other notable bands I saw were Jamie Lou and the Hullabaloo, Outlaw Hippies, Dance, Monkey, Dance!, and Tall Tall Trees. Notable amenities and events include free bathrooms and showers, filtered water, a river directly beside the venue, kid’s creativity tent with scheduled activities, kid’s dance floor, educational classes and activities (herbal apothecary, yoga, edible plants hike, Ozark Highlands Trail hike, etc.).

What an absolutely above-average weekend we all had. I can’t wait for the next year, and the one after that. With more recognition of this sustainable event – and the ever-growing need for them – we’ll get an even better opportunity to contribute to improving our little world while enjoying some of the best bluegrass, folk and jam our region has to offer. If you’re even just barely thinking of attending next year, I highly encourage it.

Check out more photos from Homegrown Music Festival.

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