Jim Beam Homegrown 20th March 2021 The Waterfront, Wellington, New Zealand

Skinny Hobos (Photo – Tim Gruar – for more images click here)

A year late, but hey, we’re here aren’t we? Wellington’s Homegrown festival is the biggest locals-only gig in town. Any town. And with 50 acts across six stages, it’s probably one of the biggest festivals in the world right now! There were old familiar faces and new acts, including Chaii, Navvy, Paige, Troy Kingi & the Clutch, Homebrew and Goodshirt.

This 20,000 pax gig actually sold-out last year but had to be postponed. So, many ticket holders fronted this year to finally clip their tickets. Plus, there were an additional 2,500 tix added to the swell. By sundown Welly’s waterfront was literally heaving and throbbing to a matrix of multi-beats underfoot.

In response to criticism from various quarters, Homegrown Management are claiming they have addressed the gender balance with a number new acts featuring women, raising the overall percentage of artists featuring women to 22% – evidence of their commitment to a more gender diverse line-up. Yes, a move in the right direction. But a still a long way to go. However, given the chaos Covid has caused this and last year, it’s still a wonder the festival has managed to come together at all. Don’t underestimate the cat-herding skills, sleepless nights, anxiety overloads and sheer logistical effort required to do this – even in regular times, let alone this ‘new normal’. That has to be admired!

Poneke punters have been starved of good post-Covid events, especially with big events like WOMAD and Laneway out of action. Sure, we had Six60 at the Sky Stadium recently, and Peachy Keen Festival coming up but basically that is it. And definitely no overseas acts, not even on the small club stages. The Cultural Capital has been in a bit of a drought.

The weather gods were kind. Starting overcast and moving into sunshine, temperatures in the late teens, it wasn’t overbearing. Just a warm relaxing afternoon, moving into a golden, apricot tinged sunset evening. Festivals for me are all about discovering new artists and sounds. Like Lepani, who appeared early on the City Stage. I’ll admit he has gone under my radar. I have to say he was a great act. ‘Fall’, ‘Next To Me’ and ‘Wait To Wake Me Up’ are perfect radio pop. Although, I thought his version of Bieber’s ‘Sorry’ was a bit unnecessary. He brought a chilled Pacific vibe and was really genuine. And what a charmer. He and his band had the early comers in the palm of his hand, beaming away like a kid in a candy store, loving his first time. There was also a special moment, with a young fan in a bucket hat standing against pit fence singing at the top of her voice to all the songs, reading from her phone to be lyric perfect. Sometimes we forget the power of a fan’s love and what music means to them.

The Arena Stage had a beautiful Kawa. Hosted by Tiki Taane’s sister Ninakaye Taane-Tinorau, she re-appropriated the sponsor name into te reo Maori (Jim Beam – Hemi Kurapae) and brought a blissful kawa to proceedings, which had Ria Hall, Troy Kingi and Che Fu in the starters line up.

(Photo – Tim Gruar)

It didn’t seem right to put Ria Hall so early in the line-up. In my mind she is a really compelling artist, deserving of a bigger audience. Her music blends genres of reggae, funk and contemporary waiata with themes of colonisation and mana whenua. Her album ‘Rules of Engagement’ and ‘Manawa Wera’ are confronting and empowering. She also sings in te reo, with a unique vocal range that will astound you – as anyone who’s been to a Fly My Pretties show will tell. Ria’s been at Homegrown before, with the Nudge and with The Bob Marley All Stars but this was her first gig as herself. Her band featured Laughton Kora. In fact, except for Fran, all of the Kora whanau were here in various guises. Ria’s set had bangers like ‘Cause and Effect’ which shook the stadium with heavy bass. ‘Owner’ had a powerful message of land rights through the eyes of Maori, accentuated by more of Kora’s bass and Thomson’s keys. She also performed ‘Flow’, which starts off with a heartbeat, a symbol of the experience of motherhood. They finish with a blistering version of ‘Marching’, with Kora nailing his psychedelic solo on guitar to much appreciation.

It was good to see upcoming artists like Paige also making their appearance on the City Stage. Her simple laid-back song (‘Waves’, ‘Too Much To H8” ‘Bloom’) fit in perfectly with the warm relaxed afternoon. Like Lepani, she was enjoying her afternoon in the park and lapping up the vibes.

First timers to Homegrown Troy Kingi and his 8-piece band, The Clutch, won over plenty of new fans and solidified older followers with their set. By now Kingi has mastered his 60’a Soul Daddy/Gospel leader act, with huge arm movements, a cloak to rival any Lord of the Rings character and a presence that would put most Fire & Brimstone preachers to shame. His band was the full deal complete with a pumping brass section, keys, guitars, drums and back-up singers – one was his niece. Tracks included pickings from most of his albums – ‘The Honeymoon is Over’ and the Marley like ‘All She Wrote’ and Parliament supa-funkster of ‘Aztectechnology’ and ‘All your Ships Have Sailed’. The party was here, whanau!

A bit later, Trinity Roots came on, bringing with them a complimentary horn section. A nice moment was their soulful, spine-tingling harmonies on ‘Earth, Land and Sea’.

On the Rock stage Dead Favours provided a bit of humour. I didn’t really know their music but was well impressed by their attitude. The Auckland alt rockers have been around a while, forming back in 2016 by drummer Charlie Smith and vocalist Jared Wrennall (previously the drummer of Kiwi favourite Steriogram). They smashed out material from ‘Dig’ and ‘Misbehaviour’ plus some new – ‘as yet titled’ stuff. The banter on stage made them a really fun afternoon watch.

Straight after the Skinny Hobos duo (Alex Ferrier and Sam Holdom) brought more intensity and whiplash. Ferrier had just helped out Dead Favours, so he got a second go, this time as lead guitarist and vocalist. He was throwing hero shapes all over the shop alongside impressive riffs and licks as they ploughed through band favs like ‘Jokers and Fools’.

What can you say about Katchafire that hasn’t already been said? On the Park Stage, they ruled. The crowd was a more mixed age group over here, with a picnic setting. People were spread out on the lawn, eating and drinking and soaking up the music in the warm afternoon sunlight – with the widest age diversity, from kids to adults all skanking.

I caught a quick snippet of Sons of Zion, too, before heading back over to the other stages. ‘Fill Me Up’, ‘Is That Enough’ and ‘Is This Love’ had all hands in the air. If I wasn’t needing to get to other acts, I’ve would have happily pitched a tent and cracked open a cold one. Actually, that’s the best thing about Homegrown. You can pick your stage and genre and just camp out all day. It’s carefully curated to fit music fan’s dream playlist. Well, mostly. But this was something I really appreciated. With the rest of the world closed down, it became apparent how much real talent we have in this country and Homegrown is just another striking confirmation of that.

(Photo – Tim Gruar)

On my walk around I spied a few high jinx. A radio station had a competition to hang the longest from a horizontal bar. Many were testing their strength and risking hemlines and modesty to win ‘free shit’. One woman held on for over two minutes! Another station had ‘Vortex’, a shipping container with a trippy green lighting show and even crazier EDM beats. I gave it ago. I was well dizzy afterwards. Others were doing best to hold in their lunch on the Graviton, which gave patrons the fastest 360 harbour view you can get. At 100 rpm can you even see the adjacent boat marina whizzing past? But that wasn’t all that was going down, On the waterfront a dude was doing backflips on a child’s bike into the harbour, and some ever-braver lads were jumping Full Monty off the diving platforms…

I swung by to catch the opening of Che Fu and the Crates. Che was scratching like a mad professor behind the decks during the opener, ‘The Mish’. Dressed in battle khaki they were ready to rock. It’s 20 years since the release of the ‘Navigator’ so there was plenty of pickings from that classic like ‘Misty Frequencies’ and ‘Fade Away’. They also did ‘Waka’ from ‘2.B.S. Pacific’ and their biggest hit ‘Chains’ which included a cameo of Sly’s ‘Everyday People’ mid song. Then they brought the house down with Supergroove’s ‘Sitting Inside My Head” which everyone knew verbatim and sung heartedly. All these songs still sound super fresh, and today feel more part of our waiata and musical DNA than ever. You can’t have a party without Che Fu. C’mon!!

Local boy Thomas Oliver was winning over won a few hearts with his fresh boy soul on the City Stage as I passed through to the Lab behind. I caught ‘If I Move to Mars’ and was hoping he’d play the new one ‘You Shine On Me’. Sadly, I had to be elsewhere and missed that.

I was so stoked to see Goodshirt performing here – this is their first time! Why has it taken so long to get a spot? They were clearly happy to be there. All the hits, of course, ‘Sophie’, “Fiji Baby”, “Buck it up”. They are still a dominant party band in my universe and staples of any playlist. Judging by the revellers around me, they are still on many others, too.

Another outfit to ‘make a comeback’ was Homebrew – led by Tom Scott, with Lui Gumaka and beat-maker Hazbeats (Haz Huavi) and were joined onstage by a full live band. Back in the early 2010’s they established themselves off the back of a bunch of digital EPs on Bandcamp, some very entertaining home-made videos and infamous hi-jinx on and off the rostrum. Their self-titled album gained four nominations for the NZ Music Awards in 2012. The band made headlines when they arrived at the event, walking up the red carpet leading a goat. No goats today but plenty of fun to be had from their set.

Straight Outta Sandringham. Hip hop duo Church and AP’s debut single ‘Ready or Not’ dropped when Elijah Manu (Church) and Albert Purcell (AP) were barely out of high school. It was so catchy it became the most Shazamed track in New Zealand. And this one truly lit up today, too. Getting everyone frenzied up.

(Photo- Tim Gruar)

Speaking of Hip Hop, Kings and Savage also put on pretty good shows. Good to also see staples P-Money and Ladi6 back on the bill. I missed their sets but heard good things, and have a big dose of FOMO for missing them.

Back on the Rock Stage, Deadbeat (aka Shelton Woolright – Blindspott) brought another stunning set of drumming to a sound track of popular tunes, complete with three very hot dancers. The audience gobbled up his show beat by beat.

I’d never seen Sachi before but I might need to do some more investigating. Recently featured at Rhythm & Vines, Will Thomas and Nick Chrisp are still young, not long out of high school and now studying music in Auckland. The pair already have a have a handful of hit singles and an EP, ‘Lunch With Bianca’. They doofed it up big time on the Lab Stage with their mix of sweet electronica and pop, on tunes like ‘Sparking My Fire’, ‘Take Me Back’ and ‘Shelter’.

The Ambient Light favourites L.A.B are regular visitors to Wellington, each of the band’s four albums were recorded in Lee Prebble’s Surgery studios in Newtown. Rumours are they are planning to return to make their fifth album in the not-too-distant future. Of, course they were heroes tonight. With the Park stage full to capacity to pay homage. The audience are waving light sabres in time and white air globes bounce about across a sea of hands pumping skywards. For many, this is the band that brought back summer. They kick off with a set spanning all four albums – ‘Why Oh Why’, ‘Rocket ship’, ‘Ain’t No Use’ and ‘Sweetwater’. Joel’s guitar was on fire. He jumps into the audience for ‘For The Love of Jane’ and leads them through a sing-song of ‘Amazing grace’, solo. They then pull out more favs, ‘Yes I Do’, helped out by sax player Louisa Williamson and the night’s all-time bestie, ‘In The Air’, with a little Fleetwood Mac mid song provided by Lisa Tomlins.

I caught Blindspott open back at the Rock Stage with some very cool graphics of a falling grenade made from megaphones that explodes into a wide screen shot of the front row. The band hit the straps hard pounding through a mega set of classics and wrapping up with ‘Nil By Mouth’.

A quick shout out to the hardworking DJs that provided continuity between gigs on each stage – especially DJ Takas (Arena) for his soulful vibes, Mai’s Sir-Vere (City) and D-Rail on the Rock Stage for his full embracement of all thing ‘Bogan’ (Editors note: We love you Kane!).

Down at the Park Stage Shapeshifter were closing up. Powerful as ever, the pulled out a mighty set starting with ‘The Roxy’, ‘External’ and ‘Stars’ and finishing off in a blistering blaze of light with ‘In Colour’ and ‘The Monarch’. It’s a tradition for the Shapies to complete Homegrown like this. “Send people home with a bang,” wrote composer/lyricist William Gilbert (G&S). He was absolutely right. What a way to make summer unstoppable. Once again Homegrown was the Capital’s FOMO event. If you weren’t there, ten yeah, you did miss out. Sorry, World. But at least down here in Aoteroa we can party again – like it’s 2021!

For more Homegrown images click here

Originally featured here: www.ambientlightblog.com/jim-beam-homegrown-wellington-nz-2021

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