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Homegrown and Heart Strong: Northwest Arkansas’ First Sustainable Music Festival

By Taylor Gladwin |
TFW 8.11.16 COVER

Photo Courtesy of Asherlee Marshall Photography Two festival attendees dance to the bluegrass sounds at Homegrown Music Festival, Friday, July 22. Throughout the weekend of July 21 through 23, Homegrown Music Festival put on an unprecedented as-sustainable-as-possible party that was family friendly and full of folksy fun.

With the familiar pleasures camping at festivals always offers, such as waking up with the sun low in the sky, hearing a neighbor’s guitar strumming through the quiet morning, I knew the brand new Homegrown Music Festival at Byrd’s Adventure Center in Ozark, Ark., was different. It felt different.

I camped for three days, July 21 through 23, surrounded by people enjoying the earth and preserving its beauty. The difference I felt was a new euphoric consciousness that came from helping my fellow 1400 campers leave zero trace. Unlike other festivals, Homegrown built sustainability into the original design in order to protect the integrity of the environment.

Homegrown is the first green music festival to happen in Northwest Arkansas. During the three days of the festival, 2,470 pounds of recycling were collected, according to data collected by festival volunteers.*

Listening to bluegrass at the main stage I saw people filling reusable water bottles at the filtered water stations and volunteers washing plates instead of throwing away plastic ones. While walking around the neighborhood of campsites I passed people riding bikes and collecting recyclables. From a feisty kid’s perspective, I’ve never seen a cleaner party, even down to the seldom-seen cigarette butts.

Photo Courtesy of Asherlee Marshall Photography A festival attendee “blows” a giant bubble using two sudsy sticks and rope during Homegrown Music Festival at Byrd’s Adventure Center in Ozark, Ark.

Photo Courtesy of Asherlee Marshall Photography
A festival attendee “blows” a giant bubble using two sudsy sticks and rope during Homegrown Music Festival at Byrd’s Adventure Center in Ozark, Ark.

A volunteer determined that Homegrown collected 343 pounds of food scrap, which was given to a local pig farm for their livestock to eat everyday. Homegrown proved a festival can be environmentally friendly and progressive even with 1,400 people.

KEEPING IT GREEN

Upon entry to the festival, steel pint cups were given to us attendees to be reused and filled with local beer provided by Fossil Cove Brewing and Ozark Beer Co. My friends and I also used our cups to devour our Loblolly ice cream from Little Rock. All-in-one bamboo utensils were given out to be used at the festival in place of single-use plastic through a token-trade system. Homegrown also had food vendors agree not to use single-use plastic. My pint glass and bamboo utensil wait in my kitchen for the next adventure.

Several Fayetteville-local businesses were present at the festival. Supporting local businesses such as Onyx Coffee, The Green Goat, and Fayetteville’s Funky Yard Sale infused a type of economic sustainability into Homegrown’s overall mission for environmental sustainability.

One of these local businesses, Richter Solar Energy, provided solar panels for the festival. An array of solar panels charged two 12-volt batteries for a public phone charging station. The rest of the energy was fed back into the grid to offset the electrical energy used by the festival.

According to Melissa Terry, Homegrown’s sustainability coordinator, 80 percent of energy used by the festival was fed back into the grid. Next year, Homegrown plans to have the stage powered by solar energy 100 percent. Trash weight data will be finalized in the next few weeks, she said.

MUSIC VIBES

Music festivals all have their own sense of community. During festival season folks venture to Mulberry Mountain with its magnificent river for a few simple reasons: to be in nature, meet new friends, and most importantly, to listen to music we love while discovering new bands.

Photo Courtesy of Asherlee Marshall Photography The Wood Brothers, one of the many bluegrass-style headliners at Homegrown, performed their set during the festival Saturday, July 23.

Photo Courtesy of Asherlee Marshall Photography
The Wood Brothers, one of the many bluegrass-style headliners at Homegrown, performed their set during the festival Saturday, July 23.

Homegrown featured big-name groups like The Wood Brothers, Left Over Salmon, with two headlining performances by local Fayetteville band, Arkansauce. Bluegrass and folk bands traveled in from all over the country, including Tall Tall Trees and Upstate Rubdown, two of my new personal favorites. Earfunk brought to the stage a change of pace with their funky feels and jam-tastic rhythms. The Lowest Pair, Jamie Lou and the Hullabaloo, and Upstate Rubdown were also musical treasures I took from Homegrown.

On the first night of the festival, Tall Tall Trees had everyone in awe with his loop-pedal, banjo meets drum, one-man band mind warp. On Saturday night, everyone dressed in their most dapper festy attire for Swankfest, a funky festival fashion show. The Wood Brothers wailed away while the crowd was full of top hats, psychedelic vests, fairy wings, and formal suits. Arkansauce played late Friday and Saturday until the night turned into morning, and then jammed with musicians in the campground.

ART INSTALLATIONS, REFLECTIONS

Art installations created a fun and interactive source of entertainment at the main stage. My favorite installation was an adult-sized Lite-Brite made from a piece of fencing with reused plastic water bottles filled with water and food coloring. Lights were setup behind the fence to make a giant recreation of the classic Lite-Brite toy for both kids and adults to enjoy. Monica Penny, a jewelry maker who was there, made tall, decorative ashtrays with bodies and heads, some out of recycled mannequins.

Photo Courtesy of Asherlee Marshall Photography One of the many art installations on the grounds of Homegrown Music Festival was a life-size, homemade Lite-Brite made up of various colored jars.

Photo Courtesy of Asherlee Marshall Photography
One of the many art installations on the grounds of Homegrown Music Festival was a life-size, homemade Lite-Brite made up of various colored jars.

“I’ve been going to music festivals for six years,” Penny said. “As I aged and evolved I realized the amount of trash and lack of respect for the environment found at most festivals had turned me way off. Just as I was about to hang up my festy cloak and turn in, I attended Homegrown, and now I’m back, baby! Sustainable, progressive, family friendly, and a total blast? Yes please.”

Jessica Sumner, the original visionary behind Homegrown Music Festival, already has plans for next year.

“We are taking lessons learned last month, successes and failures, and applying them to our model of sustainability for next year’s festival,” Sumner said. “We’d like to increase awareness of our sustainability initiatives, working with our partners at Pack Rat Outdoor Center, Richter Solar, ADEQ, GreenSource and Patagonia, to educate ticket holders on what they can do before, during, and after the festival to participate.”

After a year of planning, the first Homegrown is already behind us, and plans to improve the festival’s sustainability is developing. Next year Homegrown is putting a focus on erosion by partnering with Byrds Adventure Center to replant highly trafficked areas. Bringing in another round of tremendous talent is also a top priority for festival planners. When we put our creative minds together, we can achieve what we’ve been told is impossible. Homegrown Music Festival started as an idea, and this summer proved that a greater good is possible through a greener festival.

*CORRECTION: An earlier version of the article showed the recycling data was collected by the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality, which is incorrect. The article has since been edited for accuracy. 

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