On Cypress Street, Mason Jar Confessions performs original country tunes for a small crowd of local music-lovers. Down the block, acoustic duo Half-Baked Betty sings a series of rock songs. And just across Yanceyville Street, attendees of the Dunleath Porchfest enjoy the Minor Swing Band’s first performance since before the pandemic hit over a year before.
After COVID-19 shut down last year’s events, the Dunleath Porchfest returned this year with 43 different bands performing all over the historic neighborhood near downtown Greensboro. Every single one of these bands was wonderful, and it was amazing to see the community come out in such numbers now that vaccines are more widely available. For many of the musicians at Porchfest, it was their first time performing in front of a live audience since the pandemic began in March 2020.
And yet, all of the bands listed above were entirely white or white passing. The former two groups have one woman in them and few, if any, of those musicians appeared to be under the age of 40. And honestly, as I meandered from house to house, porch to porch, I had a hard time distinguishing between the acts.
Some acts stood out — Sabrina Petel, Emily Stewart and Kirby Heard come to mind — but we as a city can and should do better, especially after the events of 2020 in which a nationwide reckoning of violence against Black and brown bodies took place and a global pandemic disproportionately killed communities of color.
The history of the neighborhood brings the festival’s lack of diversity into much harsher light. Before the community was called Dunleath, it was named after Charles B. Aycock, a governor in the early 1900s, a fierce opponent of Reconstruction and an advocate for white supremacy.
Neighborhood residents petitioned to change the district’s name from Aycock to Dunleath in 2017. Centuries before that, Occaneechi and Siouan tribes lived in the area.
Still, it’s not enough to just change a name.
Solidarity and real equity comes from giving up space, paying artists and elevating communities that have historically been marginalized.
As a well-attended, annual community event, the Dunleath festival has the opportunity, or rather, the responsibility, to uplift those in our community that have been overlooked. Don’t forget, the city is half Black and the Dunleath neighborhood, which includes areas around Summit Avenue, is also home to Black residents. NC A&T University is just a block away.
In speaking with Porchfest organizer Lynne Leonard, she emphasized how much she and other organizers have pushed for diversity among their music acts, and that she has reached out to a number of folks personally. Every year, she says it is a goal of hers to bring more diverse acts to Dunleath’s porches-turned-stages.
While that’s great to hear, perhaps behind-the-scenes efforts like recruiting more organizers of color and expanding current organizers’ knowledge of Greensboro musicians should begin as early as now, a year out from the next Porchfest.
And as much as I enjoyed the festivities, I would be remiss not to note the lack of diversity, especially as Juneteenth draws near. Hopefully, those who enjoyed the music at Dunleath will come out to the events — such as Juneteenth GSO and the city’s day of celebration — with similar excitement.
Because ultimately, what we show up for and continue to support demonstrates its worth to the city and those in it. And if an event isn’t reflective of our city as a whole, it is up to us, particularly white people, to ask important questions and to demand change.
To view a full gallery of the event from this year, visit here.