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Review: Homegrown Music and Arts Festival takes root in Dallas

Posted 1:40pm on Sunday, May. 27, 2012

It was like something out of a dream.

An oasis within the concrete canyons of downtown Dallas, a small patch of green -- Main Street Garden -- given over to live music, food trucks, artists and people, milling about beneath early summer sunshine. The third annual Homegrown Music and Arts Festival, spread out over the course of a day Saturday, managed the tricky task of showcasing much of the talent the Lone Star State has to offer, while also making the event feel inviting and accessible. With 15 bands spread across two stages, the vibe was not unlike a backyard gathering that just happened to take place in the middle of the city.

Although I had just a few quibbles with the line-up (for example, Houston troubadour Robert Ellis should've been slotted later in the day, when the audience was larger in number), the organizers -- fest founder Joshua Florence and lead booker John Solis -- did a great job balancing a variety of genres and giving the steadily growing crowd a fairly current snapshot of established and up-and-coming acts.

Personally, the Mohicans (a phenomenally skilled duo whose rhymes should've had more witnesses) was one of the best acts I saw all day, with Centro-matic providing a reliable dose of richly detailed roots rock and Eisley continuing to make its sound bigger, bolder and harder-edged than it once was. I wasn't able to stick around for the night's headliners, Hayes Carll and Black Joe Lewis and the Honeybears, but in the few hours I was at Homegrown -- it's worth noting that despite the occasionally oppressive heat, I still think this is the perfect time of year for a fest like this -- I almost felt like I was somewhere else. The feel of Homegrown, which I think is key to its past, present and future success, is one of relaxation, which isn't always the case at single-day, multi-band events.

The question, of course, becomes how does Homegrown continue to refine itself, because I think growth would be the wrong thing to pursue. As it is, Homegrown is perfectly scaled to its ambitions: a brief, varied glimpse of what's going on, for an audience that doesn't necessarily consume music blogs or spend late nights at the clubs.

Sometimes, it's easy to forget that not everyone's lives revolve around the music scene (rendering the silly demarcations between Dallas, Fort Worth or Denton even more meaningless), and for many, Homegrown is just a nice day out, a change of pace from a weekend spent at the mall, or a softball game, or a family gathering. The beauty is that, just maybe, someone who's never heard of, say, Ume or Ben Kweller will walk away with a desire to learn more, dig deeper and perhaps, become infatuated with the vast, varied music scene Texas enjoys.

Looking around, at the young families splashing about in the fountain at one end of Main Street Garden, couples walking their dogs, clowns building balloon animals and the vendors hawking everything from art to ice cream cones, Homegrown would lose something if it suddenly expanded to two days, or tried to bring in a national act to attract even more attendees.

This is a rare example of getting it pretty much right the first time. Attendance was probably in the low thousands, but it never felt choked or difficult to maneuver. Too many bodies filling the cozy space would destroy the easygoing mood. There's more than enough musical talent to go around in Texas, and it's something Homegrown, moreso than maybe any other event of its kind in North Texas, realizes, understands and is doing its best to showcase. This was my first Homegrown experience, but I know (I hope?) it won't be my last.

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