Four summers ago, when I was just breaking into music writing, I paid my first visit to the Homegrown Arts & Music Festival. As I wandered from stage to stage, I got a crash course in the rich, welcoming suburban music scene. And Homegrown is a big part of that.
Now in its seventh year, the annual gathering of Chicago-area musicians founded by Glen Ellyn native Aaron Williams stretches across two days — Saturday and Sunday, July 27 and 28 — and three stages, and includes an even larger number of acts.
Thirty bands and 15 acoustic performers are slated to play the fest at Lisle’s BaseCamp Pub.
The lineup, which features a number of Homegrown alums — North of Eight, Black Bolts, Tonic Freight Train, The Roaches, From the Start, Kadooge and Williams’ own band, the Aaron Williams Band, among them — also introduces newer performers to the Homegrown family.
“Not only is Homegrown nurturing these young musicians on their musical journeys,” Williams said, “but it’s inspiring people to come back.”
Jason Paul Jeka, the alt-rock musician who won a slot on the fest lineup through a Battle of the Bands back in May, had been out of music for a number of years. “He heard about the Battle and decided he needed to get back in it,” Williams said. “And then he won the whole thing!”
Whether you’re new to Homegrown or making a repeat visit, here’s the best way to get the most out of this year’s festival.
• Meander: Sure, staking out a table near the main stage or commandeering one of the comfy couches on the BaseCamp patio might seem like an appealing option, but with so much music across the fest I’d recommend wandering a bit. Set times are staggered, so it’s easy to catch a good sampling of the scene with multiple acts playing mere steps away from each other.
• Genre-jump: Homegrown’s lineup has always held a broad collection of musical vibes, but it doesn’t hold a candle to the eclectic feel of this year’s roster. In addition to the established rock and jams, folk and Americana acts expected of the fest, Williams is folding more synth-rock, indie and pop acts into the mix. And don’t miss the return of Dropped Once, a ska-punk veteran from the very first Homegrown festival. You may think you know what you like, but trust me when I tell you there are some real surprises in store next weekend.
• Mingle: One of my favorite things about covering the Chicago scene is interacting with musicians after catching a particularly exciting performance or hearing a truly moving song. Homegrown is full of those chances to pick an artist’s brain, explore inspirations or to just say, “Hey, I really love your song.” Do it. Making a new connection is satisfying; and what musicians don’t want to hear they’re appreciated?
• Keep your eyes open: Sure, I’m putting a lot of emphasis on the music at the fest, but do not overlook the art component. With 20 vendors expecting to showcase at the fest, there will be plenty to explore — painters, artists, crafters, jewelry makers and more — and I’ve never left Homegrown without something unique in hand for our walls or for my special lady.
• Relax: Driving down the winding tree-lined streets to BaseCamp Pub, nestled at the base of the ski hill at Four Lakes in Lisle, feels like heading to a vacation spot or a cottage somewhere. So take the chance to escape reality a bit: Sit back, order some food from the bar and soak up the good vibes.
Over the last seven years, Homegrown has drawn increasing numbers of both fans and performers to meet up, network and, most importantly, to support each other. I’ve seen bands connect at Homegrown, only to continue booking gigs together throughout the year. I’ve seen bands grow and evolve from year to year.
Matt Psenicka, the drummer for North Of Eight, summed it up best for me during last year’s Homegrown.
“We all go out and do our own things during the year,” he said, “but we’re all friends and we all come back together every year for this.”
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7th annual Homegrown Arts & Music Festival
When: 1 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, July 27 and 28
Where: BaseCamp Pub, 5750 Lakeside Drive, Lisle, homegrownartsandmusicfestival.com
Tickets: $18 per day; $35 for two-day pass
• Brian Shamie is a Daily Herald multiplatform editor and local music junkie. Find him on Facebook or follow him on Twitter at @thatshamieguy. Brian also keeps tabs on the Chicago-area music scene at chicagosoundcheck.com.