Stripes of soft blues, pinks and purples color a backdrop reading “Her Song” behind the wooden platform Gabriela la Foley steps onto. The English emcee sways in her floor-length floral dress, plucking her ukulele. Honeyed notes sweeten up the sweltering late May heat.
“And I’ll smile at everyone I meet,” Foley sings, “because today is a good day.”
Foley’s narration and ukulele lead one performance into the next on Doodad Farm in Greensboro. The Sunday boasts a long list of women on stage for Her Song — the latest iteration of the farm’s annual tribute fundraiser.
This year, Laurel and Dean Driver with all the volunteers of Doodad Farm hosted an annual show to raise funds for the Harmony Music School, a Greensboro nonprofit that helps give children from low-income families access to music education.
The #MeToo movement, and the current social and political issues surrounding women, partially inspired the day’s theme. Named “A celebration of women,” the day fills the outdoor space with female performers from across the state. Each brings their writing with them, whether it takes the form of music, comedy or poetry — or a mix of the three.
“We not only wanted songs written by women,” Dean said, “but songs uniquely by women.”
What looks like the extended porch of a log cabin acts as the main stage. On it, Bobbie Needham strums her guitar as the trees reach up overhead and provide a canopy of shade. A calm breeze rattles the leaves, playing back-up to her as she sings. A brief interaction with another woman in a thrift store’s formal section inspired Needham’s catchy tune.
“You can buy yourself a fluffy dress, a cake with buttercream,” she vocalizes, “and throw a big ol’ party, without putting on a ring.”
Aside from filling venues with lively guitar numbers, Needham also teaches a student for the Harmony Music School.
“The thing I’m learning from my student,” Needham says, “is how important it is to tell someone how wonderful they are.”
Lyn Koonce, the school’s founder, started the program in 2013 and it has since grown from six teachers to more than a dozen, providing free lessons in guitar, piano, flute and violin to about 40 students. Koonce began the nonprofit after witnessing a similar institution in Knoxville, Tenn. called the Joy of Music School.
“I came back with the vision to start a school,” she says.
Two students dressed in pastel blue and pink sit beside one another, both of them fitting on the same seat in front of a red keyboard. The two girls ready their fingers and begin to play “Heart & Soul,” each set of hands covering half of the keys. String lights hang above them, stretching from rafter to rafter.
A young girl carries her guitar onstage, climbing onto a barstool beside Abigail Dowd, her teacher. Dowd holds up the sheet music in front of her student. The ponytailed girl works through John Lennon’s “Imagine,” as Dowd accompanies with lyrics.
Between the stages stand cutouts of famous female North Carolinians that look out into the audience as the afternoon continues. Girls walk up to the microphone, biographies in hand, and read aloud each woman’s accomplishments. They each then run over to the figure of Elizabeth Cotten, or Maya Angelou, or whoever their sheet describes.
Koonce introduces herself to the audience that leans against trees or reclines in folding lawn chairs. She tells the audience to sing with her, saying they can follow along as she leads the chorus to her own original piece, written specifically for the day. Some do more than that, clapping or tapping their feet to the beat of the uplifting melody.
“We are the women. We are the girls,” she sings, “The future of this world.”
For more on Doodad Farm, visit them on Facebook or call at (336) 260-7999. Learn more about the Harmony Music School at their website.