Radio BurgerFuel

Homegrown 2021 Recap

Posted by Lee Densem


Year after year it continues to deliver. After the Covid-induced false start in 2020, everyone had their fingers crossed that Alert Levels would play ball, and that Wellington's weather would turn it on again. I'm pleased to report success on both fronts.

With 25,000 people gathering in the capital to listen to a huge day of local talent, jam on our playlist and find out what went down at Homegrown 2021.


It dawned cloudy with a cool southerly coming in off the harbour, a reminder that this is the last hurrah for summer festivals. But by lunchtime, the sun was peeking through. There was time for a quick Hamburgini and thickshake stop at Cuba St, before heading down to the waterfront for a massive day of Homegrown talent.

Huge lines gathered outside the Rock Stage long before the event started, likely queuing for the free tattoos on offer! Those waiting enjoyed trying to coax keen and not-so-keen jumpers off the Wellington Diving Board and into the harbour.

First stop was Summer Thieves on the Park Stage at Waitangi Park. With 'Potions', they had just released the perfect late summer slow-burn track, and it's clear they've been honing their live show too. The crowd lapped up the cheery tunes in the now glorious sunshine.

Kicking things off on the Rock Stage were Written By Wolves who warmed up as large an audience as you're likely to see for the first act of a festival bill. Michael, Oli, Davie, Bahador & Karl really bring the energy that their anthemic metal sound needs, pulling off a very convincing performance.

Then it was onto see the effervescent Chaii on the Lab Stage at one end of Frank Kitts Park. With Frank Keys (playing a legit keytar) and Brandon Haru bringing the noise, Chaii proved why she is one of the hottest talents NZ has on offer. Her fresh sound, impeccable styling, and lyrical prowess - slipping between English and Farsi - give her a magical aura on stage. Between the songs, you get more of a sense of who is behind this staunch power as she joked about "getting down to your level" with some huge fans up the front. When she sings "look at me" during her latest single 'WOW', it's hard not to do as she commands.

One of the challenges of any multi-stage festival is choosing who to miss out. And you'd be cruel person to pass up a chance to see Troy Kingi and his band in full get-up on the Arena Stage. While it wasn't a long time, I savoured every second of that delicious voice.

Back out in the brilliant sunshine at the Rock Stage to take in some of our mates Dead Favours who, like a fine wine (or stinky cheese) just get better with age. One of the highlights was hearing a bunch of unreleased material. Among the three new songs they played, my pick was probably 'Arrows'. Talking to them after, they promised we'd hear recorded versions of the tracks this year, and in stereotypical understated rock fashion, Jared & Charlie said playing the new stuff "felt really good."

It was back across the bridge to see another one of our faves Church & AP. A security guard absolutely lost her shit when they bounced out on stage. It took a good 10 seconds for her to compose herself and get back to the job at hand. They delivered a blistering set, mixing their original sound with sharp lyrics which reflect straight back on the generation they represent. Even for the unfamiliar, there are enough nods that they can easily sing along to "must be the money" or take part in call & response.

Just next door on the City Stage was Homegrown debutant Naavy whose uplifting sound had a slightly sparse crowd eating out her hand. After listening to her songs online, it was a joy to see them come to life on stage with her powerful voice and commanding presence. An unexpected treat!

Back to the Rock Stage where there were plenty of novelty Jim Beam hands rocking away to Skinny Hobos. After a quick double-check on Google to make sure I wasn't mixing my emojis up, I can confirm the message was 'love you' rather than the somewhat similar 'rock sign'. On purpose? A subtle well played if so. I enjoyed the cover of 'I See Red', amongst their now familiar repertoire. Someone should tell Split Enz to have a yarn to these two when the 50th anniversary of Frenzy rolls around at the end of the decade.

Homegrown takes over a large swathe of Wellington's waterfront, and festivalgoers mix with the public as they walk between stages. But there's some little-known secrets to spill. Firstly, the LAB and City Stages share a green room area fashioned from the Wilson's carpark below Frank Kitts Park. So, while you're bouncing away above, they are doing whatever musicians do in a green room, directly below you. The other is the view from the Rock Stage green rooms in Te Wharewaka. They provide the finest crowd watching opportunities, and the best view of Wellington Harbour of the entire festival. So next time you're walking past, look up and wave. You never know who will be looking back at you.

Back into the music, where Zed have always been a 'soundtrack to your life' type of band for me. Despite keeping a (pretty comprehensive) list of gigs I've been to, I can't definitively say I've seen them live. Their set in the sun that people of all ages singing along to classics like 'Oh Daisy!' and 'Renegade Fighter', in between era-bending covers of Ray Columbus' She's A Mod, Atlas' Crawl and Radiohead's Creep. They managed to drop 'Without You' by U2 into the middle of 'Glorafilia' just to round the karaoke set off. Anyway, box ticked, and list updated.

I should mention that I made a quick 1km round trip mid-Zed to see Che Fu. It's just the type of thing you do for a national treasure.

Dinner was calling after that, so it was a quick walk up the street to BurgerFuel Courtenay Place to get a delicious Redwoods Lowrider. Then there was just enough time to grab something warm from the hotel to put on in the quickly cooling evening before heading back in for round two. Try doing that loop at Glastonbury!

First up for the 'evening session' was Goodshirt, who were massive in the early 2000's (and released an unexpectedly good EP in 2012). It was so great to see them on the large arena stage with the brothers Fisher, Gareth and Mike looking like it was where they belonged. 

The one constant in all my Homegrown experiences has been Villainy. And their sundowner set on the Rock Stage is becoming a tradition. In front of a packed crowd, they blasted their way through a set, showing why they are the tightest rock band in Aotearoa. I loved every minute, and then I literally went and bought the t-shirt.

Homegrown has a reputation amongst the music community of being like a work Xmas party. You get to have fun and hang with a whole bunch of mates. This vibe continues with to the punters who get a kick out of seeing their favourite musician wandering between stages during the day. It's great that the whole community can come together and celebrate to music and the mana that keeps coming out of Aotearoa.

Watching Sachi do their thing on a multi-level stage, you could sense that the night was finally beginning. They played back-to-back-to-back bangers and the crowd responded in kind. It was hard to pick a favourite, but I think it would be the fresh, new track they dropped just before 'Take Me Back', I can't wait for that to come out.

It's usually about this time when you start making bad decisions, like not walking all the way down to the other end of the festival grounds to see L.A.B. Thankfully, that was not today. The well-beaten path past Te Papa was walked and I settled in at the Park Stage to enjoy the success story of 2020. It seems like every track is a highlight now, but hearing 'For The Love Of Jane' live for the first time for me was special.

Then it was next door to the Electronic Stage which was heaving (and dripping) with anticipation for Aotearoa's party starter Montell2099 to do what he does best. Monts (as his mates like to call him) seemed to feed off the energy from the crowd, the bass drops and the huge LED screens illuminating him to deliver some stand-out memories for those that squeezed in to attend. 

From there, it was a quick dash around Elemeno P (immortal songs, but the venue didn't lend itself to re-creating 2019's singalong atmosphere), Robinson (taking pop from Nelson to the world, and being so genuine while doing it), and Savage (still swings, still winning). The night ended with the sounds of Shapeshifter. Despite a relative dearth of new music in the last five years, it's hard not to smile when you hear the soundtrack to countless summers rolled out at the end of a long day.

Aotearoa, count yourselves lucky. Not only (as we were told by countless thankful musicians) to actually be doing this, but that we have so many outstanding practitioners of music who can come together to create this. Homegrown, you know what you must do. Let's hope this becomes an annual celebration again.

Listen to my Homegrown 2021 playlist on Spotify below (or find it HERE) to hear my eclectic soundtrack to the day and relive some of New Zealand's finest tunes.