Ten Years After: Home Grown Music Network Hits A Milestone
There is no better indication of the depth of the jam music scene than a glimpse at the Home Grown Music Network catalog for Summer 2005. Everyone from Furley to Garaj Mahal to ALO to RAQ to Larry Keel to Mecca Bodega. The HGMN celebrates its tenth anniversary this year after a long and tumultuous decade through the constantly evolving world of improvisational music. Other than stocking the best music on the planet at their Mebane, North Carolina location and shepherding new and talented musicians through the stages of the music business, Homegrown can be quite a grand example of that old American DIY approach. Lee Crumpton founded the HGMN in January 1995 with little more than a dream and a hope that what he liked would be embraced by others. History, as Greil Marcus has stated many times, is sometimes written by those hidden in the Invisible Republic. Crumpton and his crew have definitely succeeded in tapping into a genre-less culture that has transcended its initial Grateful Dead and Phish seedings.
Homegrown resembles the old David vs. Goliath storynot always winning, but proving a very valid point as they continue to promote vital music made by gifted musicians who rest on the fringe of an unpredictable music business. For such a soft-spoken, unassuming man, Crumpton has a charismatic presence that silently holds an encyclopedic knowledge of music. And the man attracts others like him. Hence, his mile long lists of friends and contacts in a business that is 20% sweat and 80% networking. I had a legendary first meeting with the man at his house before the Homegrown crew headed out from North Carolina to Bonnaroo back in June.
The long white limousine pulled up to Lee Crumpton’s house at around 2 in the morning. The Home Grown Music Network founder was waiting out back as the trees behind his house lit up with a million sparkling white exploding universes that appeared to come from former Phish lighting designer, Chris Kurodaabsolutely spectacular sight and better than any Pink Floyd show I’d ever seen. I thought that Lee had put lights in the huge trees in his beautiful backyard. Alas, they were actually some sort of nocturnal fireflies that are indigenous to the region. WOWyou don’t see such a sight out West!
The limo was a last minute ‘gimme’ because none of the cab drivers wanted to head out to “the country” from the airport. I sat in the back of the Auto Creature Left Over From the 70s’ with its burgundy leather interior, ice buckets, fridge, cup holders and television set like I was Gregg Allman. Oh boy, I thought, I hope Lee doesn’t see me show up in this thinghow pretentious can you get?
Well, he did, because the quiet man sees and hears everything. Jambands.com sits down with Crumpton and his “right hand man,” Bryan Rodgers, a Jambands.com contributor himself from time-to-time, for a leisurely discussion about ten years of the HGMN, their upcoming anniversary gig in Raleigh, North Carolina, the joys of Phish, the hazards of the game and the rise and rise of Keller Williams, STS9 and Perpetual Grooveamong
many others who have benefited from the Homegrown stamp of musical excellence.
RR: Let’s start with the obvious question. Does it feel like ten years?
LC- Yes. I feel much older than I did in the beginning when I was 24.
BR- I definitely feel very lucky to be doing something that doesn’t bore me to death for a living. It’s great to be in a job where I am constantly hearing new music, because I crave it. So rather than having to blow wads of money at a record store or something, I just go to the mailbox! Another reason I feel lucky to be here is that my college degree is in broadcasting, which from a music standpoint would have been a depressing way to enter the workforce. On the other hand, if I hadn’t attended college at that particular time, I would have never met Marcie [Vogel, the first HGMN employee besides Lee] and Lee, never started an internship, and wouldn’t be here today. So I do owe something to East Carolina University besides my student loans!
RR- Back to the beginning, LeeYou started as a DJ on North Carolina’s WSFL?
LC- I had worked for several other stations prior. WSFL was the biggest. A 100,000-watt rock and roll powerhouse. It was fun for a while. But after I graduated college and needed a steady income, I began to realize that a radio career might not be wise. Stations change formats, get bought and sold regularly and entire staffs are fired for those reasons and morenot what I’d call job security.
RR- What music did you listen to growing up? How did that change as a DJ?
LC- As a kid I was limited to the pop stuff that was on the radio. My first radio job was at a country station. Pop and dance stuff is what I’d play when doing club and mobile DJing. When I got into college, the whole world of music started to open up to me. Between friends and dormmates and a few shifts a week on the college radio station, I started to discover hundreds of bands I didn’t even know existed before then.
RR- What was your Sunday Night Alternative program?
LC- It was my favorite part of being a radio DJ. On Sundays, I got to program what I’d play (very rare in the radio biz). I did a two-hour blues program followed by two hours of alternative’. I’d highlight the good alternative stuff that was coming out and also would feature bands that were playing in our region and anything I really liked. Sometimes, we’d even have bands perform live on the air. My shows were the highest rated shows in its time slot.
RR- Your introduction into Phish opened up a whole other world, right?
LC- I discovered Phish through a roommate who gave me a cassette of Junta.
RR: Me too. Hit “Fee” and that was all she wrote.
LC- Shortly after that, they released Picture of Nectar and I was completely hooked. My first show was 7/14/92 at the Boathouse in Norfolk, Virginia. I can say with certainty that I was the first guy to play Phish on commercial radio in eastern North Carolina. The radio gig didn’t pay much but most of the time my Program Director could score free tickets!
BR- I first heard Phish in passing as a college freshman in 1994 on WZMB radio in Greenville, North Carolina, but never explored them further. I was way into rap and hip-hop and rock at that point; although, I also dug some of the regional bands like Gibb Droll, Agents of Good Roots, ARU, etc., so I wasn’t completely removed from that scene. Really, hearing that they played the White Album on Halloween 1994 piqued my interest, and I enlisted an older friend of mine who loved Phish to give me the low down. After that, it was over. Although my first show wasn’t until 10/25/96, I amassed a huge tape collection by then and failed at trying to make it to a couple of shows in 1995 for various reasons. After that first show, I was a lost cause…I wound up seeing 54 shows by the time they called it quits and going on tour in 1999 as a graduation gift to myself. I even talked the manager of WZMB, which I worked at by then, into giving me a three-hour Phish show on Saturday nights. That lasted a couple of semesters, and was one of the coolest experiences of my life, being able to play all my obscure and favorite Phish from 6-9 PM every Saturday. I basically woke up every Saturday and cued tapes for two hours, looking at lists I kept of what I had already played in past shows and trying to mix it up. Somewhat self-consciously, I stopped listening to them constantly after I graduated, because I was scaring others and myself with my obsession…but from the summer of 1995 until summer 1999, I barely listened to anything else. Tape trading was like a second job to me. I feel incredibly lucky to have been at the right age and to have had the freedom to go see them so many times during what I think is their best period, 1996 through the hiatus. Their disbanding really puts in perspective how the cards had to fall just the right way for me to have my life changed by them over those five years.
RR- Describe the HGMN genesis. Employees? Funding? Work location? Number of artists on the roster? How did you develop your web site? How has the site evolved over the decade?
LC- I started developing the plan for HGMN in 1994 and officially launched it in January 1995. There were 12 bands on the initial rostermost of whom I’d either seen live or had discovered through some Grateful Dead-oriented publications like Unbroken Chain, Dupree’s Diamond News and Relix. In the beginning, I was the only employee, working from home, and the initial funding came from some CD collectables I had acquired through my years in radio. Got about $1,500 for those and bought a computer and printer. This was 1995the year of the 2400-baud modems that you could use to dial into a local BBS. We evolved as the Internet did and had our first website up by 1996. I taught myself basic HTML and was the sole Webmaster until probably 1999. It’s come a long way since. We got our permanent domain, www.HomeGrownMusic.net, and added ecommerce in 1999, also.
RR- Describe the people that have helped HGMN grow.
LC- There’s been so many over the years. The earliest part-time helpers were my friends Dave and Theresa. First full-time person was James Mayfield. His wife got pregnant shortly after his arrival and they moved back to Southern Carolina to be close to their families; plus, he would not have been able to support a family on what I was able to pay. My first long term full-timer was a great gal named Marcie Vogel. She brought a ton of positive energy to our operation and was a natural at networking. We’d also have a steady stream of interns from the local university, ECU. A couple of those interns got part-time jobs with us and one of them, Bryan Rodgers, is still my right hand man to this day. Other key people that deserve some credit are Edwin Vaughan, J. Powell, Lisa Ramsey, Ken Ray, Lee Abraham, Drew Willardson, Chris Johnston and Brian Asplin. Chris Robie is with us full-time and manages the reps, venues and radio. Plus, he helps us at all the festivals and, lately, has been the order fulfillment person, as well. My wife, Hill, has been there supporting me since before I even had the idea of HGMN and she deserves a great deal of credit, too.
RR- Describe the HGMN process. What does an artist get when they sign up?
LC- We’re very picky about who we invite into the network. First we must really love their music and they have to have a solid CD. After that we look at their business sidedo they have the necessary elements in place to help us help them reach a higher level? Are they touring? Do they have a manager? Do they put any effort into marketing and publicity? Once they’re signed on, they get to tap into our cooperative marketing machine. These days we’re distributing over 200,000 publications a year that feature our members. We have over 500 volunteer reps around the country that’ll help them promote. We pass along resources and information that are helpful to them. Occasionally other businesses will team up with us and offer our members great deals on their products or services. There’s a lot of other perks but those are probably what the bands most utilize.
BR- I really got to create my own job. I started off in 1999 doing the new band submissions and writing the newsletter, among other tasks. Over the past six years, I’ve been able to incorporate writing and reviewing into my job, as well as pretty much taking control of finding bands for the Network. I can’t stand being tied to a desk all day, so I still do some order fulfillment and inventory work, too, to get some movement in my day.
RR- Describe the genesis of Harmonized Records. What does an artist or band get when they sign up? What are the advantages and disadvantages?
LC- I’d hired Brian Asplin to be our Sales Manager in 2001. He’d put out a record from Barefoot Manner and I’d put out several HGMN compilations. With HGMN, we had a distribution system in place and some cost effective marketing so, it made sense for us to start a label. I have to give credit to Brian for being the driving force behind the label.
He’s very passionate about it. When a band signs on, we help them get their CDs out and, then, we market and distribute it. Most small bands in our scene can barely afford to record, much less spend the money needed for manufacturing, marketing, and distribution. We’re able to make all of those things a reality for the artists. Those are the advantages. Our deals are extremely artist friendly as wellmaybe too friendly; several years into the label and the two owners still don’t have any income to show for it. I don’t think there’s any disadvantagesit’s the best option for the artist at the time (or else they wouldn’t sign). We aren’t able to play on the same level as a major labelwe don’t have huge budgets to blow on national advertising, for example. We are smart in where we do spend our money. That’s the keyin the end, we split the profits with the artists so they don’t want us blowing money in the wrong places, either.
RR- What artists are you proud of helping develop through the HGMN?
LC- I’m proud of all the artists we’ve been able to help. There are a few that have really become successful over time like Keller Williams, Umphrey’s McGee, Yonder Mountain String Band, and Sound Tribe Sector 9.
RR- What artists are you currently enthusiastic about?
LC- Currently, I think there are a lot of bands that have a huge potential. Some of them are Perpetual Groove, Lotus, Garaj Mahal, New Monsoon, ALO, The Bridge, and DJ Williams Projekt.
RR- Describe HGMN’s involvement with the festival scene.
LC: We’ve put on a few festivals but mostly we’ve taken our music booth to hundreds over the years. It’s a great way for us to connect with our customers in person and to get to know the artists a little better as well. The festival thing has definitely grown over the past decade. Ten years ago, we were stoked about having a couple thousand people at something like the All Good Festivalnow, there’s tens of thousands attending. And who could imagine something on the scale of Bonnaroo a decade ago? I actually had imagined itbut I never had the capital, the time or the guts to act on the ideas. I learned early on that festivals are a risky business. A couple in 1997 nearly ended HGMN.
BR- I’ve met some amazing people over the years, from bands, to our reps, and beyond, and gotten to go to some legendary festivals and shows.
RR- What do you think of the jam scene’s evolution over the last ten years?
LC- The music continues to evolve which is the exciting part. Bands are always finding new sounds or approaches to what they do. No genre has been left out when they are searching for influences. That’s what keeps us goinghaving fresh music to keep us interested and all the folks who thank us for what we do. They wouldn’t be able to discover much of that music if we weren’t doing what we do.
BR- As far as the evolution of the scene as a whole, I can’t even express how different it is from ten years ago. Four years back, we started honoring bands with particular longevity in a special “Hall of Fame” section in our online store to preserve some of the memories and, maybe, even as a yearly reminder, that change is constant. Right now it’s Keller [Williams], Deep Banana Blackout, The Disco Biscuits, and The Recipe. Those are four bands that have all undergone drastic changes over their lifespan, but have been steadfast about their commitment to their craft, no matter what. They all made a huge impact on HGMN in one way or another, from Keller’s early involvement with us, to the Biscuits pretty much changing the whole game and helping usher in the electronic influence that is so prevalent now.
RR- Lee, you are the prototypical do-it-yourself American businessmanself- taught, self-determined and self-governed (to a degree!). These traits run deep throughout the jam and, yes, homegrown music community. How did your non-traditional business education help you become more focused? How did it hinder your efforts?
LC- I got my business training through trial and error. I went to college and got a degree in communication but, unfortunately, they didn’t teach us much about business so, I’ve learned something new everyday and that’s why we’re still around. Not having that business training probably has hindered us some. I’ve never been one to go out and raise capital or the like. I’ve always leaned more towards a slow organic growth that I know we can manage. This method has allowed me to maintain sole ownershipso that’s good. I don’t have to report to a board of investors or anything.
RR- You’ve already had one celebratory HGMN gigany others planned?
LC- To mark ten years of the Home Grown Music Network, we decided the best way to celebrate was to host some concerts. The first was a two-band event at the Pour House in Raleigh with Green Lemon and SeepeopleS in April. That was a fun, intimate affair with about 200 folks attending and some great tunes. On Saturday October 1st, we’re going to have a much larger party that will feature HGMN bands both old and new. Back in 1995, we hosted our first Home Grown Music Festival in Greenville, North Carolina. We’re pleased to have a couple of the artists that played that event back for this onenamely Keller Williams, Purple Schoolbus and Peter Prince (aka Moon Boot Lover). We’ll also have local favorites Barefoot Manner and some hot up-and-comers (The Bridge, DJ Williams Projekt, SeepeopleS, Cadillac Jones and more). This one will be a two-stage festival with one stage out in the street and the other inside the Lincoln Theatre.
BR- I think this 10th Anniversary show will join the ranks of the legendary, and I think it really encompasses our history. Lee was Keller’s manager for quite some time in the beginning, and Keller has stuck with us longer than any other artist. Keller and Lee have literally been working together from the very beginning of both their careers, so it’s vindicating to see Keller becoming a worldwide star and to have him headlining the event, and to have HGMN reach the end of its first decade intact.
Believe it or not, Greenville, North Carolina, where HGMN started, was one of the crucial towns in the genesis of the current jamband scene because of HGMN and the now-defunct Peasant’s Cafe. There was an especially fruitful period between 1996-2000 where we could see four or more great shows a week. Bands like Lake Trout, The Recipe, Deep Banana Blackout, Moon Boot Lover, and many more felt especially at home in Greenville. Keller used to play there, back in his truly acoustic days, to a nearly empty bar. By 1999, you could barely get in to his shows at Peasant’s. We got to see his evolution into the theatre-packing, festival-conquering show he is today, and that’s truly special to us. Greenville’s Purple Schoolbus was the very first HGMN band, so their inclusion in the Anniversary show is pretty mind-blowing. Add to that some of our best current artists like DJ Williams and SeepeopleS, and you’ve got a damn fine celebration of our history.
RR- What are your goals for the next ten years of the HGMN and Harmonized Records?
LC- The immediate goals of the future are just trying to stay in business. Our model depends a lot on folks buying CDs and with all the competing technologies now available it becomes harder and harder to do. We are helping bands achieve digital distribution but that’s yet to be a significant source of revenue. We’ll keep fighting the good fight until we can no longer afford to. So if you’re reading thisconsider adding a few great CDs supplied by HGMN to your collection and keep us going for a bit longer.
BR- We’ve come a long way from being pretty much all about guitar-jam acts in the mid-90’s to what we have now, which is an incredible mix of rock, bluegrass, electronic, jazz, funk, fusion, ambient, folk, acoustic, world, reggae, dub, and other things that you can’t even put into words. I don’t know if it’s because we’ve evolved so much, but it feels like the community at large has opened up to all these styles, as well. We get orders from customers that include earthy things like New Monsoon and Xavier Rudd alongside synthetic sounds like Lotus and Sound Tribe Sector 9, and that makes us feel like we’re achieving our goal, which is to turn people onto sounds that are similar to what they already like and expose them to something they may have never tried on their own.
Bonnaroo. Sunday, June 12, 2005. AgainLee came through with another musical tip. He told me not to miss Lake Trout. I was very pleased that I hadn’t. I made plans to exit at around 9pm Sunday night to catch a ride to a Nashville hotel room because I didn’t want to deal with the Monday morning traffic as my flight home was late that morning sowe toured Shakedown Street in the VIP camping area and everyone seemed to know my good friend, the HGMN founder. This was one of the more pleasant experiences of the festival because I saw how so many people lived with a true passion for the music while living the customs of the modern gypsyfrom festival to show to town to city to festival, these folks barter their fine trade and create good will and harmony towards many.