A broken-down Winnebago sits outside of Lee Crumpton's home and headquarters in Mebane, N.C. The radiator is busted, and the motor failed on the crew's last trip back from Bonnaroo, the popular Tennessee jam-band festival where Crumpton and the other members of the Home Grown Music Network had traveled, as they do each year, to sell merchandise and promote the bands in their growing network.
In 1995, Crumpton, an East Carolina broadcasting graduate, strayed from radio DJing, opting to found Home Grown, a network developed in the wake of the jam band tidal wave pouring down from the north, thanks in large part to Phish and Blues Traveler.
"'What if we get all these great bands to work together, share resources and information and marketing, so that as a group they'll be much more powerful and reach more people than they would individually?'" Crumpton says he asked himself when he founded HGMN.
Crumpton founded HGMN with a roster of 12 bands including Keller Williams who, back then, "was just a guy with a guitar and a dog and a truck," Crumpton recalls. "He would go play gigs and sleep in the back of his truck when he had to."
Crumpton was small as well, calling up bands he believed to be "on the rise" and inviting them into his network.
On the eve of its 10th anniversary, HGMN has 80 to 100 bands plugging into the network--and a mailbox full of demos.
"[The jam band scene is] a little more organized now because it was so new then, and the Internet was so new at the time, too," Crumpton said. "Both the scene and the Internet have kind of helped each other grow just through all the ways to communicate online."
Home Grown has tapped into one of the few opportunities at survival that the jam band scene--which has remained under the mainstream radar--seems to have: the ability for bands to connect with each other, and with a large audience, in ways peripheral to traditional music video or radio avenues.
As such, the Home Grown Web site (homegrownmusic.net) has been the company's main mode of providing this access. But, for its 10th anniversary, Crumpton is bringing the music to the fans the old-fashioned way: an all-day festival Saturday, Oct. 1 at the Lincoln Theatre.
The concert will mark the network's first festival since 1997. The company almost went under in its infancy because of a rainout concert and a festival in the Catskills that was cancelled two days before the show date. Crumpton decided to stay out of the festival business.
But Home Grown continued to set up distribution booths at other well-known festivals such as Bonnaroo and All Good. They continued to promote bands "on the rise," as Crumpton calls them. The jam band scene was growing, with the crew rolling away from 75,000 jam band fans in Manchester, Tenn., last June. Relics continued to stack up near to the Winnebago: a poster torn from the wall at the late Wetlands in New York City and beer stains on the carpet from when a band slept over after a gig in Raleigh.
Crumpton's house and headquarters, now in Mebane, have always been a sort of working hostel for jam bands who enjoy his company, beer and, of course, taste in music.
He's glad to be bringing the "family friends," as he calls them, together again in Raleigh on Saturday.
"It's a good way to get people aware of what's happening out there with folks who are under the mainstream," says Keller Williams, the Home Grown Music Festival's headliner and the former owner of the broken-down 'Bago in Crumpton's yard. "More and more bands are cropping up and putting out fantastic music that people are connecting with. And jam band music is just fun to do."
Keller Williams plays with Purple Schoolbus, Barefoot Manner, SeepeopleS and more at the Lincoln Theatre in Raleigh on Saturday, Oct. 1 starting at 3 p.m. Tickets are $20-25. A late night jam follows with DJ Williams Projekt and The Bridge. Tickets are $5.