By Chip Chandler — Digital Content Producer
The party in the pasture will return this month, but some changes are in store for Homer's Backyard Ball.
Organizers of the May 20 fundraiser/outdoor music festival are looking for a somewhat more orderly environment and less of the bacchanal that has characterized past years.
"We've been talking about this over the years," said founder Travis Homer. "We want to provide a safer event, a more quality event ... and bring another crowd that usually doesn't come out because of what Homer's was in the past."
This year's festival runs 1 p.m. to midnight May 20 on the field at 800 S. Whitaker Road.
The party began in 1997, when Homer called up a couple of local musician friends and convinced them to play in his backyard. It grew in size every year, eventually becoming a full-fledged music festival attracting some of the biggest names in Texas country and adding a barbecue cook-off that attracts dozens of cook teams every year. Initially, Homer earmarked funds raised at the festival solely for Make-A-Wish, but in later years, he expanded the charitable outreach of the organization to reach other charities, including this year's lineup of the Khiva Shrine, CASA, Children's Miracle Network and Turn Center.
But the party nearly came to a permanent end after the 2015 festival, when partygoer Michael Glen Wilcox, 43, died after an altercation with volunteer security forces at the party. Criminal charges were not brought against the volunteers.
The Homer’s Foundation announced in March 2016 that the annual festival would end.
“The Homer’s Foundation plans to broaden its fundraising platform through multiple events rather than a once a year activity. … This is a great next step for our foundation and we look forward to working with the community to benefit children and their families,” Homer said then.
But plans to revive the party eventually emerged.
"We needed to step back and look at what we wanted to do, how we wanted to do it," Homer said. "It was a much-needed time off. ... It was time to let the committee rest a little bit, to get refocused and come back stronger and better than ever.
"We've focused on what we can do to make Homer's better," the founder continued. "We hope to have a successful year this year and start expanding our efforts to get more involved in the community."
Some new rules will be in effect this year. No outside food or drink, including alcohol, will be allowed, but will be sold on-site. Re-entry is not allowed without the purchase of a new ticket. The foundation also will used paid security instead of volunteers.
The music lineup includes Cody Jinks, Cody Johnson, Cooder Graw, Casey Berry & The Live Texas Mosquitoes, Shotgun Rider,
The Night Stealers and the winner of a battle of the bands contest Scotty Alexander and Jackson Tillman. (Alexander won the Hoots Pub Battle of the Bands and replaces Night Stealers, which dropped out due to a family emergency; second-place winner Tillman will open the day).
The cook-off will include competition with steak on May 19 and with calf fries, chicken, pork spare ribs, pork butt and brisket on May 20.
"It's amazing to have gone from 30 people in my backyard to 5 to 10,000 people," Homer said. "The most amazing thing is what we've been able to do moneywise for charities — over $1.2 million. That's the biggest driving (force) always, no matter what's happened.
"We're still doing this for the kids and the community."