Saturday's Homegrown Arts & Music Festival marks a decade of bringing local artists together
Over the last 10 years, hundreds of local musicians have crossed the Homegrown Arts & Music Festival stages.
Some rocked indoors. Some played outdoors. Some performed in front of an intimate audience and a socially distanced livestreaming platform. But each and every one has contributed to what has made Homegrown grow -- the spirit of community.
"We started as a party with friends, but it became so much more," said founder and Glen Ellyn native Aaron Williams. "It evolved into its own entity. It's gotten bigger than I could have ever imagined."
Taking over the sprawling BaseCamp Pub grounds at Four Lakes in Lisle this Saturday, the family-friendly festival celebrates its milestone 10th year by returning to the formula that served it best: three stages showcasing 20 bands and 12 acoustic acts.
The bustling bar at BaseCamp houses an electric energy from the main stage performances. The Harvest Stage in the bar's yard lets performers (and audiences) let loose and dance outdoors. And the chill front patio affords a chance for guests to relax in a quieter atmosphere, with couches and tables surrounding a stage for acoustic performances.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Williams said just shy of 1500 people attended the festival. He's hoping this year's return to form will bring those crowds back.
"We're talking about strength in numbers, bringing our fans, our friends together for one day to celebrate," he said. "We all put our hearts out there to bring it together for one day. The strength is in the passion, seeing all of our collective passion over one thing has been what's made Homegrown rise."
That's a far cry from the first Homegrown in 2013, a party Williams threw at Players Club in Prospect Heights to help promote his band's newest release. With 12 acts drawing about 200 people, he said he thought it was a one-off event and had no inkling what seed had just been planted.
"I wanted to get a party together where I could get all the people that I met through these showcases I was setting up and just have one big event. So I called it the Homegrown Music Festival just because it was all artists from home," he said. "I made great friendships, great connections. I got better shows out of playing with Homegrown and connecting with those artists."
But it wasn't until after the event, when fellow musicians from DuPage County started asking him when the next one was going to be, that he saw his chance to grow the idea and to better promote local artists.
"There was just a magnet drawing them all together. I know that Aaron keeps throwing around the fact that it was a party. It was, but it was more than that," said Ashley Williams, Aaron's wife and the founder of Video Girl Productions, who has been documenting the festival for the last decade for the upcoming feature "Homegrown: The Movie." "It was all these new artists, these indie artists, DIY. These guys were the OGs with a magnetism about them that drew it all together based on the passion of just playing music and understanding each other. And thinking, 'I don't care about our differences. Music brings us together.'"
Moving it closer to home -- to the former Mullens' in Lisle for years two and three -- gave him the space to draw in bigger crowds and add fine artists and vendors to the event (and to the festival's name).
The Homegrown Arts and Music Festival thrived with the move to BaseCamp in 2016, with a full-service bar and food menu and three separate spaces, each with its own vibe, for guests to enjoy. And with a home base established, Williams had the freedom to experiment a little. He dabbled with a two-day festival one year. He expanded from a DuPage-centric gathering to a celebration of local artists from across Chicago and the suburbs. He rolled with the pandemic to create the livestreaming Homegrown Infinity TV to weather 2020, when many guests felt safer watching from afar than gathering together. And he presented a reduced version of the fest last year to keep crowd sizes down and make social distancing easier.
But for this milestone year, it's back to fighting form, with a mix of new acts, returning favorites and even one recently reunited band.
Will Homegrown continue beyond year 10? Even Williams doesn't know.
"It's gone beyond me," he said. "People know Homegrown who don't know who I am. And that's awesome. I love that about it. I'm just thrilled to see the smiles, the enjoyment and the bands using it as a platform to get to the next level. I'm blessed, thrilled, thankful about all of the memories."
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Homegrown Arts & Music Festival
When: Noon to 1 a.m. Saturday, July 30
Where: BaseCamp Pub (in Four Lakes), 5750 Lakeside Drive, Lisle
Tickets: $25 at homegrownartsandmusicfestival.com; discounted tickets available from band members
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Main Stage -- starting at 1 p.m.
Harvest Stage -- starting at noon
The Handpan Project (who will also provide set break music all day)
Acoustic Stage -- starting at 12:30 p.m.