"Little Homegrown is in danger of being canceled."
So began an email Homegrown Festival founder Josh Florence sent Sunday night concerning the tenuous fate of the warmly regarded music fest scheduled for May 12 in Main Street Garden, this year with Explosions in the Sky, the Black Angels, Alvvays and Roky Erickson as the headliners. The note was sent only to a handful of industry insiders and downtown dwellers, asking them to help spread the word about the fest whose ninth year is now in jeopardy because of flagging ticket sales.
"If you can help us promote, advertise, email, social media blast, hang up posters, get radio shout outs, TV shout outs ... anything and everything," he wrote. "We need your help."
Florence did not dispatch his note to his media acquaintances. In fact, he asked those to whom he did send the missive to keep it to themselves. But it was bound to get around, and when it landed in my inbox Monday morning, I called him to see if he'd be willing to talk about it for a story, because, eight years after it first packed out the 1.75-acre downtown Dallas park with a lineup that included This Will Destroy You, Telegraph Canyon and RTB2, I cannot imagine a spring without a Homegrown.
Florence asked if he could think about it for a few hours. He emailed Monday night and said yes, we should talk.
"It's hard to survive as a small business, and too often people are too prideful, embarrassed or ashamed to ask for help," he wrote. "We feel fortunate enough to belong to a community where we feel comfortable reaching out to for help."
Florence said in an interview Tuesday that his initial email was inspired by a similar note penned earlier this year by The Blind Butcher's co-owners Matt Tobin and Josh Yingling, who took to Facebook to warn their Lowest Greenville establishment was imperiled by slowing business. They pair wrote in January that "instead of just closing the doors, we are choosing to fight back."
Said Florence, their post "hit home. It resonated with me and a lot of people I know. We're really proud of Homegrown. We feel like it's a wonderful little addition to the city every spring. It would just break my heart it Homegrown wasn't able to go on this year."
There are likely several reasons for slow ticket sales. Perhaps there is a limited audience for a terrific bill devoted to mood-setting electronic and psychedelic rock, especially coming off a year when Homegrown reunited Tripping Daisy for the first time in almost two decades. Maybe audiences are suffering from festival fatigue, or aren't as familiar with bands not named "Toadies" or "Spoon." Perhaps most important, it comes just weeks after the Old 97's headlined their eponymous county fair at Main Street Garden -- an event also staged by Florence, co-owner of Club Dada, Off the Record, City Tavern and Independent Bar & Kitchen.
I asked Florence if he's concerned the county fair was too close to Homegrown this year -- just four weeks instead of the usual six. He said it's "something we've given a great deal of consideration to," and should Homegrown survive to its 10th year, it's likely the Old 97's fest might be moved to the fall -- closer to the actual State Fair of Texas.
He's reluctant to say how many tickets he needs to sell to keep Homegrown alive, but says it's well below 5,000. Said Florence, "We can sell a lot less than that and make this work." But he is also pragmatic enough to know he's running out of time.
"We know this is a risky business, and so I really don't want this to come across as us looking for charitable support," Josh Florence said with a slight laugh.
"We know this is risk. We made our bed and accept everything that comes with it. But we're befuddled because we feel the line up is awesome and the experience every year is worthwhile, absolutely wonderful. ...
"And we owe it to our staff and to the bands to leave it all on the field and try everything in our power to succeed this year, even if it means swallowing our pride a little, which is not easy. It's not our M.O. to pull the curtain back. But the response we've received from our industry family and friends and from Downtown Dallas Inc. has been overwhelming. I literally have a lump in my throat talking about it. It's awesome to feel the support and love."
If only support and love paid the bands.
You can buy tickets here. You really should.