2023 HomeGrown Live Music Festival raises $10,100 for Joe’s M.I.L.L.

(L-R) HomeGrown Live Music Festival coordinator Chris Morris hands Denis Leroux, president of the Joe Chithalen Memorial Musical Lending Library, a cheque after this year’s festival raised $10,100 for the local not-for-profit organization. Photo via HomeGrown Live.

Organizers of the HomeGrown Live Music Festival are celebrating a successful 2023 edition, as this year’s event raised just over $10,100 for the Joe Chithalen Memorial Musical Lending Library (Joe’s M.I.L.L.). According to festival coordinator Chris Morris, HomeGrown 2023 was a successful endeavour: “The venues were all pretty full; some of them were [even] sold out and people couldn’t get in,” he said. 

After two years of pandemic-related interruptions, which saw HomeGrown go dark in 2020 and 2021 before offering a limited in-person event last year, 2023 marked the first full-scale in-person festival since 2019. “I just saw happy people and great music all day long,” Morris said of the response from concertgoers. 

While organizers don’t necessarily set a specific fundraising goal for each festival, Morris noted that $10,100 total raised this year is close to where they aim to be each year. “[I usually have] somewhere in the $10,000 range in the back of my mind… We were really happy with it,” remarked the coordinator. “The starting point of the festival was just to give as much to Joe’s M.I.L.L. as we could. So we’re usually pretty [pleased] with whatever we’re able to give.” 

The 15th edition of HomeGrown Live took place on Saturday, May 6, 2023, with over 100 local artists performing across 13 venues in downtown Kingston. As was the case in previous years, organizers kept festival tickets at an affordable level: attendees could secure unlimited access to all performances and venues for just $10. In total, organizers sold more than 1,000 passes for this year’s event.

HomeGrown 2023 featured hundreds of performances across more than a dozen venues throughout downtown Kingston, including Musiikki Cafe. Photo by Virginia Maria Photography.

Because HomeGrown is a fundraiser for Joe’s M.I.L.L., artists taking part donate their time free of charge, with 100 per cent of the proceeds going directly to the local not-for-profit organization. According to Morris, musicians are generally eager to lend their time and support to the worthy cause, especially those who had a connection to the late Joe Chithalen, a talented bass player who died in 1999. “There are lots of people that played HomeGrown who knew Joe personally, myself included. That’s always in the back of our minds. Joe’s been gone for a long time, unfortunately, but we have this great legacy for him.” 

The festival coordinator went on to add that some of this year’s performers actually borrowed instruments from the M.I.L.L. to help with their sets, “which is kind of perfect.” With many members of the local music industry having a personal connection to the M.I.L.L. and its mission as an organization, Morris said he really doesn’t know “if another cause would generate the same response, the same enthusiasm, from the music community.” 

According to Denis Leroux, president of Joe’s M.I.L.L., the $10,000 raised through this year’s HomeGrown Live Music Festival will make up “approximately 10 per cent” of the organization’s annual budget. “Operationally, it’s significant… because we don’t receive any funding from the government. All of our fund[raising] is done through personal donations or events like HomeGrown,” he said. 

In terms of what the support from Kingston’s music community means to the M.I.L.L.’s staff and volunteers, Leroux said he was “flabbergasted” by the response from local musicians and other festival volunteers. “We had about 115 groups that supported us… Not only did they play, but they also had to practice in order to play. So, they spent a lot of hours.”

“You’ve got hundreds of people involved,” Leroux added. “[And] it’s not just beneficial to Joe’s M.I.L.L.; it’s beneficial to the community. You have this event which involves hundreds of people gathering to play music and have fun — it’s just wonderful.”

As for how the proceeds from this year’s festival will be spent, the president said the money will be split between a number of different programs at the library, including instruments for school-aged children, as well as a new initiative which will see the organization offer instruments in the city of Kingston’s north end through a partnership with Kingston Frontenac Public Library (KFPL). 

“The big one for us this year is trying to reach out to the broader community… Working with [KFPL], we will be doing pop-ups on a weekly basis for two years. We will be bringing instruments to the [public] library, which will allow kids and parents, and anybody [else], to go in, take a look at what we’ve brought, and maybe borrow instruments,” said the M.I.L.L. president. “We’re hoping to help with our underserved populations there and… reach out to the broader [community].” 

Before Joe’s M.I.L.L. can bring in new instruments, staff will be looking to sell off some excess inventory through a clearance sale taking place this Saturday, May 20, 2023, on the lower floor of the Tett Centre for Creativity and Learning (370 King Street West). The sale, which runs from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., is set to feature a number of different instruments for purchase, including guitars, banjos, mandolins, various sizes of ukuleles, and bongo drums, among others. Staff will also be selling off instrument accessories such as tuners, stands, bags, and cases. 

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