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MNZ Interview: Capital BS 007: Kelly Wright - Homegrown

05 Nov 2021 // An interview by bethany_rachell

This month Beth caught up with Kelly Wright – head of Homegrown PR – about festivals, gender diversity and our NZ music family.

Homegrown 2021 - Wellington Waterfront
Photo credit: Brady Dyer

Could you give us a quick synopsis of Homegrown and what it means to you?

It means a lot to me in short. It was originally my husband's idea, he made it happen while I was midwife for 12 years. And then we sold it to two people who had been working with us for 18 years and I kept a bit for myself - my husbands out of it now. So yeah, it means a lot it, definitely feels like my baby. It was interesting right back at the start a lot of people didn’t think that an all-kiwi music line-up would work, including lots of the kiwi artists. Back then they were really just opening acts for internationals and otherwise just small pub stuff but not the big festival stages. So that was really interesting in terms of the resistance from the whole industry. Tiki Taane signed up first and then all the other artists were like “awh well, if Tiki’s doing it...” they got on board!

For me it’s just really important to showcase New Zealand music, to all lots of different genres there and tautoko the industry.

Since2008 is that right?

Yeah and that’s quite cool because there are a lot of people who came when they were in their early 20s and now they’re still coming in their 30s, some are even bringing their kids.

I guess you guys have been relatively lucky given that the whole premise of Homegrown is featuring NZ artists - but what have the effects of Covid-19 been on Homegrown?

Well, the first lockdown happened a week after we were due to run so we had built the whole festival and then were forced to take it down. So that was devastating on lots of fronts – financially and even just working towards something for a whole year and then it’s cancelled at that very last minute. Yeah it was huge for us, just surviving. Luckily, we were able to postpone and all the acts agreed to play the next year and also our fans – the audience all agreed to come back. Great to have that support from them. This year was great, the weather was even nice. It was great just to have it all done but even that was really nerve wracking because three weeks out Auckland went into a lockdown a lot of our acts are from Auckland. It was ridiculously stressful, it felt like we were playing Russian roulette a little bit.

The other thing is – since then, all the line-ups are kiwi line ups and so the competition to actually book artists is more and their prices have gone up because they are in such high demand. So that’s been an interesting addition to the equation. Great for the artists but yeah. Because we’re at the end of March we usually have quite a few bands finish their summer tour and then go overseas so we’ve always had that similar issue but now it’s the issue of them having lots of other festivals to play.

Have you spoken to many of the artists – what has been the impact on them?

It’s been huge. Especially at the moment like there’s so many tours that were supposed to happen November/December that just no one knows if they’re gonna happen. Luckily now everyone’s used to things being postponed and rolling with it. But it is massive, they’re really struggling with it. Even normal little pub gigs that are their bread and butter, can’t happen. It is a really tough time. For the whole industry too like production and lighting, stage people and the venues, all of that.

Homegrown 2021
Photo Credit: Joel McDowell

In the past a lot of NZ music fest have been criticised for a lack of gender diversity – how have you addressed that at Homegrown?

Well we’ve been slammed as much as anyone. We’ve been around for 14 years and a lot has changed since then. When my husband was doing the line-up he was just very much ‘I don’t discriminate against anyone I just need the best bands for the flow of each stage’ type thing. Because we’ve got five stages, we have to make sure that the crowd’s even across all five. That was kind of just the rhetoric. Obviously, we’re all a bit more woke now and it is about the tautoko of female artists and gender diversity. Now, if there is a choice, or if it makes sense to really choose the bands that represent that gender diversity, we do. Quite often some of the bigger female artists are out of our price range now or unavailable. There’s APRA stats that say that in the industry only 24% of artists identify as female so that’s the pool we’re pulling from, already it’s only a quarter.

We are a really mainstream festival - we’ve tried different stages in the past to be a bit more alt or indie but that hasn’t really worked for us. There’s lots of artists like Aldous Harding, Tami Neilson and Nadia Reid that hopefully we could evolve a stage to include them a bit more.

Very excited to see The Beths on the line-up for 2022 – as a Beth myself

Oh yeah! I have little ones each year that I really push for and hope we’ll get and The Beths were one of those.

How would you describe the Homegrown brand?

Hmm I mean it is really diverse, even age-wise, it’s kind of gotten older and older as each year goes along. It is definitely mainstream though – each stage has a radio partner and those artists get played on that station.

What are those stations?

Mai FM – Park Stage
George FM – Electronic Stage
The Rock – The Rock
The Edge – The LAB Stage
More FM – The City Stage

A lot of the artists are on a few of the radio stations. We’ve had folk and indie stages in the past but they just haven’t really worked. Which is a shame because it’s amazing music but you don’t want them to be playing to no one. We just have to draw the line somewhere, like Sol3 Mio would be amazing but sadly their just not in the formula that works for us.

What role do you think Homegrown plays in supporting NZ music?

I think especially in those early years it really did elevate New Zealand music in the minds of the public. I mean getting 15,000 people back then (it’s up to 23,000 now), having those big crowds and showcasing just Kiwis was quite something back then. Now it’s become almost a reunion and a bonding for the bands. It’s at the end of summer, everyone enjoys being together and watching each other play. It’s a really cool coming together. And I think for the audience as well it’s a real ‘this is us’ moment. Having the older ones like Sir Dave Dobbyn, The Feelers and Shihad play along with the newer artists is special. Everyone loves singing along to the old iconic songs and then you get all this beautiful fresh stuff as well.

It’s been selling out every year for ages – so it feels like it’s still doing what it needs to do.

What NZ music mean to you personally?

Back in the day I remember hearing Fat Freddy's Drop and it was revolutionary. It was a spiritual experience you know? And just so many great bands and music – I really love the dub and roots stuff. I think there is something really unique and special about our take on all of the genres. And I love how the kiwi audience loves lots of different genres, I mean there are some people who will stick to one stage for the whole day but most of the crowd move around from rock acts to electronic and back. I think we’re quite open minded – personally, I just love it. There’s something about live music that really just brings people together.


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