DULUTH — For the past two years, Scott “Starfire” Lunt has spent his birthday in a relatively modest way — though anything would be considered modest compared to celebrating with a week-long music festival, as he has done for ages. decades.
In 2020, he hung out with a small group at Chester Bowl, where the annual kickball match between local rock ‘n’ rollers had been cancelled. Last year, he performed alongside longtime bandmates Father Hennepin in a tent on the grounds of Earth Rider Brewery.
“It’s going to be weird seeing big halls full of people,” said Lunt, who started the Homegrown Music Festival in the late 1990s to celebrate his 30th birthday. Then he continued. It grew to eight days of music, visual and performing arts, secret shows, poetry and kickball at dozens of venues in Duluth and Superior, Wis., though Lunt has since entrusted the committee organization.
Festival organizers scrapped in-person plans in 2020 amid the threat of COVID-19. Some musicians got creative, including one who wasn’t even originally signed up for a Homegrown set. Folk bluesman Charlie Parr performed for 90 minutes in a nearly empty cider house – a performance still available on YouTube. More online festival events followed in 2021, with organizers creating blocks of submitted music videos and musician interviews.
“It wasn’t the same,” admitted festival director Melissa LaTour, “but it was the best we could do with the situation. We tried to create some excitement.”
LaTour and his team made the call in mid-November: This year’s House Music Festival would be held in person. Most likely. But things can change from hour to hour, she learned.
This year’s festival opened at noon Sunday at the Duluth Public Library Plaza with a lineup of kid-friendly performances, like Sing-Along with Dan the Monkey Man, which provides bins of instruments and microphones for its young audience can play. (Lunt’s alt-country band played Monday at Duluth Cider.)
In keeping with the mystique of the event that has seen pop-up shows from Trampled by Turtles and Black-eyed Snakes over the past few years, officials at the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center recently announced an after-party on Tuesday night. After a handful of shows at its Harbor Side ballroom, Cars & Trucks, a local favorite rock trio fronted by Tony Bennett, will perform at Symphony Hall.
More than 100 bands are scheduled to perform Friday and Saturday, including Venus DeMars’ All the Pretty Horses and artists from the industrial band of Bratwurst, a local cult favorite whose screaming frontman wipes raw meat all over his face.
The finale is Gaelynn Lea, fresh from New York, where she premiered the soundtrack to “Macbeth” on Broadway. She plays Sunday at the Duluth Public Library Plaza.
Duluth Mayor Emily Larson is a longtime Homegrown fan.
“It’s so much fun to be in a room of people who are just there to build each other up,” she said. “It’s amazing. I love walking from place to place in neighborhoods and not knowing exactly what I’m going to hear. I really try to hear artists and artists that I don’t have never heard before because I love that moment of surprise.”
For Laura Sellner of Superior Siren, this Homegrown is an opportunity to publicly perform songs from the solo EP “Kill Your Darlings”, released during the pandemic. The band plays Friday at the Sacred Heart Music Center — their favorite venue and the space they were scheduled to play in 2020. It feels good to be back, she said.
“The Duluth Homegrown Music Festival has always been a special time for the community,” Sellner said. “It’s finally pulling people out of winter hibernation. The pandemic has caused so much loss, trauma and hardship.”