Greensboro Songfarmers, Triad Ukulele to host Holiday Hootenanny
Triad musical “Renaissance Man,” Doug Baker is part of the Songfarmers of Greensboro, which will team with the folks from Triad Ukulele to host the Holiday Hootenanny on Dec. 18 at Scuppernong Books in downtown Greensboro.
Primarily a guitarist, Baker considers himself a truly holistic musician who interweaves his role as an instructor, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist. “There’s not really a distinction between the teaching and the creative/performing aspects of what I do,” Baker explained. “It’s all part of being a musician.” A band geek born into a High Point musical family, Baker’s upbringing rings like a storybook tale of a Triad musicianship. “There was never any question whether I’d play something,” he said. “Outside of piano lessons, baritone ukulele was my first instrument. My uncle showed me three chords when I was about 10, and within an hour I had figured out that those three chords could be used to play ‘Ode to Billy Joe.’”
Baker started forming rock bands in high school, taking a break for “three miserable months” as a freshman at Appalachian State, before returning to Greensboro to study Music Theory at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. After graduating in 1978, he worked at record stores, got into teaching, and raised a family—all the while maintaining a pace of local musical endeavors.
Baker’s son, Zach, teaches the drumline at Grimsley and is set to graduate from UNCG in the spring with a degree in Music Education. “He’s got a bright future ahead of him,” Baker beamed at his boy following a few footsteps.
A fellow educator, Baker’s been providing private instruction for 14 years and has spent the last three years teaching after-school lessons at Greensboro Day School. ”Teachings helps to go back and analyze things that become automatic after 50 years of playing,” he said.
Baker’s private roster is split between guitar and ukulele, with a few bass and piano students. His holistic approach involves the goal of teaching music by any instrument necessary. “It’s seeing those moments where a kid starts to really get it,” Baker noted of his inspiration. ”Sometimes it’s subtle; sometimes they come running in, excited that there’s a new Green Day song they want to learn.” He’s happy to oblige.
Though the average student is around 10-11 years old, Baker makes room for students as young as 4, and works with several seniors that he assumes are around 65-70, “a Southern gentleman knows better than to ask,” he said. A few of his adult ukulele students ended-up forming the Triad Ukulele group, which is teaming with Baker’s Songfarmer cohorts for the upcoming “Holiday Hootenanny” sing-along event.
Basically, a big protest sing-along session, the Songfarmers of Greensboro, is a local chapter of the national organization (headed by Michael Johnathan, who hosts the WoodSongs Old-Time Radio Hour on NPR,) aimed at gathering musicians of all skills in song. The Greensboro group was born from an HB-2 protest organized by UNCG-professor Steve Haines. “We figured that this thing needed some good ol’ protest folk music,” Baker explained, “so we took it and ran with it.” The result is a group of folks who host a sing-along every six weeks or so.
“People bring all kinds of instruments, so there’s a certain unpredictability that keeps it interesting,” Baker said. “One night, we had two dobros, which was fantastic. But it’s all about singing, so as long as there’s plenty of voices, we’re good.” Collaboration is key, as their motto rings: “It doesn’t have to be good; it just has to be loud.”
Baker credits his openness for collaboration as a move that’s kept him at a steady pace around the Triad, which extends beyond performer relations. “I can’t say enough about what Dan Morgan at Leveneleven Brewing has done to open up his place to the songwriting community,” he noted with a nod toward venues.
Not hung-up on the past, Baker anticipates playing at newcomers Upstage Cabaret and Oden Brewing in early 2020. “A lot of people my age overly romanticize the early ‘80s-scene around Fridays. I was involved early on with that, and it was great for a while, but it grew tiresome. It became more about the clothes and the hairdos than the music.”
Choosing instead to look ahead, Baker hopes the Songfarmers will pick-up steam into the new year. “Lord knows,” he said, “the world needs our voices and songs of struggle and resistance.”
But for now, it’s time for Doug Baker to belt some Christmas tunes as the Songfarmers of Greensboro team up with Triad Ukulele to host the Holiday Hootenanny on Dec. 18 at Scuppernong Books. Information on lessons and upcoming performances can be found on his website.
Katei Cranford is a Triad music nerd who hosts the Tuesday Tour Report on WUAG 103.1 FM.