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Farm-Fresh Sounds: Cultivating music community at Doodad Farm

by John Adamian

@johnradamian

UPDATED: The Hankerin’: A Tribute to Hank Williams is rescheduled for Sat June 4 @ 2pm.

It’s not quite a red sports car. But if the building of Doodad Farm has the outward appearance of a midlife-crisis situation for Dean Driver — guy hits milestone birthday with kids all grown up and decides to recapture the glories of youth — it’s the rare crisis that benefits the greater community. Doodad Farm is a not-for-profit performance space — an outdoor stage built onto an old tobacco barn that’s been updated a little to host music events. It’s a place that welcomes area artists and songwriters, fostering a collaborative and congenial atmosphere for all kinds of creative enterprises.

Driver, who is something of a late blooming songwriter and performer, was closing in on his 50th birthday back in 2011. On their family farmland where they live, and where his wife, Laurel, had grown up, an old barn was slowly getting dilapidated with disuse. Driver’s wife and daughter approached him and suggested that they mark the occasion of the big five-O by turning the structure into a performance space to host warm-weather concerts, songwriter gatherings and other events. It was an idea that Driver had been mulling over, having returned from a songwriting workshop in New Hampshire with a sense of wanting to help cultivate the creative community in the Triad, to capture the same feeling of shared effort and shared interests, of friendships that grow through ties to music making.

“It kind of changed my world,” says Driver of his contact with the New England songwriters network.

“I was amazed at how well they knew each other. My mission was to come home and find that in Greensboro. I knew it had to exist.”

If it did exist, Driver and his family were about to fertilize the soil and give it a place to grow a bit.

Driver says the project was “a dream come true.” The plan was to have a bunch of friends over for some work weekends and to knock out some of the main tasks in order to get the space ready for performances.

“I spent a couple months designing everything,” says Driver. “We built the stage on it and put a roof over the stage. It used to be just a dirt floor tobacco barn.”

There’s sometimes seen to be a generational push with music-making: young people pursue it in their teens and 20s and — in many cases — once people hit their 30s other obligations, like work and family, present challenges to making music in a focused manner.

“Like a lot of people, my wife and I had been very into the music scene when we were in college, and we had kids, and like a lot of people, you never go back to it. And it’s a damn shame,” says Driver. “We wanted to give people a family-friendly place to come see music.”

Casual isn’t everybody’s idea of the perfect performance space. Some people prefer the church-like hear-a-pin-drop silence of intimate house shows. But with kids and friendly dogs wandering around, the events at Doodad Farm might have more of a laid-back festival or family reunion vibe. You might hear a rustle and a murmur. The shows are essentially in the open air, which changes the acoustic dynamics a little as well.

Now, maybe you’ve inherited some farmland, and maybe you’re reading this and taking inspiration from Driver’s story, and that’s awesome. Maybe you want to open a not-for-profit performance space out in the country — by all means, do. But know that there are civic hoops you have to jump through. Unless you want to go rogue, be totally DIY and do it off the grid without any municipal interaction, in which case, good luck to you.

“We do have to get county permits,” says Driver. “The county planning department has been super supportive of us. They understand what we’re trying to do.”

The Drivers also rent Doodad Farm out for weddings and other events of that nature.

You can understand how having several hundred music lovers converge on a spot out in the woods might raise some eyebrows. And since Driver and his wife have their house on the same land, where they also host house shows during the colder months, it’s not necessarily practical for them to turn their home into a concert venue.

“We only have like 10 or 12 shows a year,” says Driver. (They also host a monthly songwriters’ forum, sort of a roundtable where people come to perform new material and discuss the writing process.) But area musicians know that Doodad Farm is a fun place to play for an enthusiastic and in some ways self-sustaining audience, and that all the proceeds from donations go to the performers. So requests to play at Doodad outstrip slots on the calendar. “I’m constantly saying no to people, which is kind of a drag.”

If concert dates get booked up quickly at Doodad Farm, Driver is still trying to use the space to help jumpstart community-oriented creative projects.

“I have offered this space since the very beginning, basically for free, if you’re doing something that’s art-related and community building, we’ll make it happen here,” he says. “I would love for other people to start collaborative or instructional things out here on a weekly or monthly basis. This place is totally available for people who just want to start something.”

The conventional wisdom is that a lot of people grow more cynical and pessimistic as they get older. They get boiled down to their bitter essence. But Driver’s music-making and community-building project has sort of had the reverse effect on him. Inviting strangers onto his land, watching them mostly clean up after themselves, volunteer to help out with building projects, donate materials, and chip in with cash for performers has given Driver a late-blooming dose of hope to go along with his songwriting career.

“I believe in my fellow humans more than I ever have,” he says. !

WANNA go?

Doodad Farm hosts The Hankerin’: A Tribute to Hank Williams, Sunday, May 29, at 4 p.m. UPDATE: Due to poor weather the event is rescheduled for Saturday, June 2 at 2p.m. And the next Songwriters’ Circle is Thursday, May 26, at 7 p.m. For a full calendar of upcoming shows visit the Doodad Farm events page on Facebook.

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