Northern Wilds Magazine
Jerree Small [ON GUITAR] with her band Coyote. | HANNAH GRUNZKE
Along the Shore Arts

Duluth Homegrown is back and so is Jerree Small

As covid restrictions loosen and life regains some of its pre-pandemic normalcy, live music has been taking center stage again in the North Shore art scene.

Lutsen Mountain recently started up their Songwriter Series, featuring artists like Charlie Parr and Moors & McCumber in a quiet, relaxed atmosphere that is all about the music. Dusty Heart will be the next artist performing in the Series, with a show Wednesday, April 6.

And in even bigger news, Duluth’s Homegrown Music Festival will be taking place in person this spring, with numerous local artists performing live May 1-8 in an event that has become one of the North Shore’s greatest traditions.

Homegrown is an annual music festival in Duluth that has been showcasing and celebrating local talent since 1999. What started with 10 acts performing in the NorShor Theatre’s cramped mezzanine has “matured,” according to the official Duluth Homegrown website, into an “eight-day community-wide local music, arts and cultural extravaganza.”

Homegrown 2020 and 2021 both had to be held online because of the pandemic, so the fact that performances will be live again this year is a big deal, not only for the organization and the city of Duluth, but for the artists, some of whom haven’t performed in front of a live audience since everything shut down in 2020.

One artist who will be returning to the stage for Homegrown 2022 is Jerree Small, a gifted songwriter who plans to perform with Clancy Ward on Thursday, May 5 of the festival. This year will be Jerree’s 15th Homegrown.

“I definitely went into a deep hibernation during covid,” says Small, “but I’ve missed performing and I’m excited to be back.”

Born in Superior and raised going to school in Duluth, Small has been living in the Twin Ports area for most of her life. And, for all of her life, Small has been surrounded by music.

Clancy Ward and Jerree Small will perform together at the Duluth Homegrown Festival on Thursday, May 5. | HANNAH GRUNZKE

“I’ve always loved music,” says Small, “and grew up with a very musical mother who let me tinker on the piano from the time I was a baby. We always sang on car trips or around the house when I was growing up.”

“My dad is a huge music enthusiast too,” continues Small, “always recommending songs or artists for me to listen to. In my teens and 20s, friends taught me how to play the guitar and I started writing more of my own stuff. I’ve always loved the connection of making music with other collaborators.”

Small describes her music as “mostly folky,” but there is a lot more to it than that. Her lyrics are spectacular, absolutely, but so too is her voice and guitar playing, and as someone who calls the North Shore home, it is impossible not to find a little piece of that “home” in Small’s work as an artist.

Lake Superior’s influence on Small’s songwriting is palpable and can be seen in what she describes as the “themes of water” that have “seeped” into her songs throughout the years. Her 1998 album Sleeping Giant is as beautiful as a foggy morning in Duluth.

“I feel like [my songs] are just little meditations rolling out over music,” says Small, “made up of whatever is looping through my mind at a certain moment, mixed in with inspiration from all sorts of styles and sources.”

“[My songs] usually start from a musical riff,” continues Small, “and that base will spark a lyric and then grow from there. It’s definitely been slower and sleepier in the last few years with covid, but I’m always writing or humming something new.”

Despite her “hibernation” during the pandemic, Small has a couple of projects and collaborations in the works that are close to completion.

Small will be appearing on Brothers Burn Mountain upcoming record and she has plans to release a documentary about one of her musician friends Marc Gartman—a project that she describes as being her most challenging project to date.

“In making the documentary [about Marc Gartman], it was helpful knowing my subject personally,” says Small, “but challenging trying to sort out what an audience would relate to who didn’t already know this person.”

“So,” continues Small, “I kept setting aside the project over the years, but it will be ready to view sometime this summer.”

Learn more about Jerree Small and her music by visiting her website—jerree.com—or by listening to her albums Sleeping Giant and Mobius on your preferred streaming service.

Stay up to date on Homegrown 2022 and learn how to become a volunteer by visiting: duluthhomegrown.org.

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