"Put a little love in your yard"

Backyard music festival in Elkin, North Carolina raises funds for MCC

Blues band performs at the music festival for MCC.

Four years ago, Clyde Ferguson Jr. started hosting backyard music concerts at his Elkin, North Carolina home along with three neighbors with adjoining yards. The inaugural music festival was called, "Put a little love in your yard," a spin on the 1969 hit single by Jackie DeShannon.

Ferguson Jr. says of the annual event, "It's about sharing and caring and being who you are. Our main theme always is that you don't have to look like me...but you have to learn to like me. Scripture says we're all created in God's image."

A blues band performs.
A blues band performs at the "Blues for World Peace and Unity" festival in Elkin, North Carolina. (MCC photo/Laura Pauls-Thomas)

Ferguson Jr. is not only an award-winning music educator and gospel and blues bassist, but he is also a Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) East Coast board member representing the Eastern District Conference of the U.S. Mennonite Brethren. Recently, he was looking for ways to bring the story of MCC to his community. He says, "I've been on the board for five years, and I kept saying, people in North Carolina don't know who MCC is, and I don't know how to show them." 

A group photo of Clyde Ferguson, Jr., his spouse Karen and son in law.
Clyde Ferguson Jr. (left) poses for a photo with his wife, Karen Ferguson and son-in-law, Cain Hill, at the 2024 music festival he organized with his neighbors in Elkin, North Carolina. (MCC photo/Laura Pauls-Thomas)

On June 15, 2024, Ferguson Jr. and his neighbors hosted their fourth annual backyard music festival. This time the theme was "Blues for World Peace and Unity" and invited concert-goers to donate to MCC's relief, development and peacebuilding ministries. 

"I was so excited when Clyde recognized that an event he was already passionate about could also offer the opportunity to make the world a better place, not just through music, but also through relief for folks displaced by conflict and natural disasters," says Les Gustafson-Zook. Gustafson-Zook serves as MCC Relief Sale and My Coins Count Coordinator and is a resource for individuals, congregations and community groups who wish to organize fundraisers for MCC. 

The 2024 festival featured a variety of musical groups across multiple genres and attracted a mix of new and repeat attendees from diverse backgrounds. Typically, the festival attracts 150-200 attendees each year. Lunch is carefully prepared by a collection of hands -- among them family, neighbors, friends and coworkers -- featuring everything from slow-cooked Carolina BBQ to Jewish European family recipes and vegan salads. 

Melissa Parker is a neighbor and co-host of the annual event since she and her husband, Lee, moved to Elkin four years ago. The patio connected to their home served as the stage this year. She says, "We just have a wonderful community of neighbors. Clyde's mission is always about unity and community."

Parker shares, "Elkin's a great small town. Everyone's always friendly, everyone's welcoming, everyone will talk to you."

Melissa and Lee Parker, neighbors who co-hosted the music fundraiser for MCC.
Lee Parker (left) and Melissa Parker (right) have enjoyed co-hosting backyard music festivals with Clyde Ferguson Jr. for the last four years. Their patio served as the 2024 festival stage. (MCC photo/Laura Pauls-Thomas)

At the MCC tent, MCC staff interacted with friendly festival-goers from diverse religious, ethnic and social backgrounds who were intrigued to learn about MCC's relief, development and peacebuilding ministry. In the grassy yard, Mennonite Brethren Anabaptists sat next to a Jewish rabbi, who sat next to people from no religious background, who sat next to members of the LGBTQ+ community, who sat next to Southern Baptists. 

Parker noted, "I think it's great to get everyone together from different races, different cultural backgrounds, different religions. It's just an eclectic mix of people here today."

Headshot of Hyacinth Stevens, MCC EC executive director.
Hyacinth Stevens, executive director of MCC's East Coast region, enjoyed being present, listening and learning from the community at the 2024 "Blues for World Peace and Unity" music festival in Elkin, North Carolina. (MCC photo/Laura Pauls-Thomas)

Hyacinth Stevens, executive director of MCC's East Coast region, was excited to be present at the event. She says, "This is a different way of hearing about a community and their story. [Being here] means supporting, learning, listening and even broadening our experience of being with communities." 

MCC envisions communities worldwide in right relationship with God, one another and creation. In spite of apparent and invisible differences that might otherwise create tension or relational divides, all who were present at the fundraiser brought a spirit of deep appreciation for each other, the music, the food and the beautiful weather. 

The themes of peace and unity were central throughout the afternoon. Ferguson Jr. shared, "If I get different cultures to cooperate in my backyard, I know that it will go on the street and it will continue to grow. It's one person at a time and we just make it infectious."

Group photo of MCC staff and board members
MCC staff, board members and family members connected with MCC East Coast and MCC U.S. pose for a group photo at the Elkin, North Carolina music festival. (MCC photo/Chris Hon)

Jennifer Gray, from Winston-Salem, and Kent Clifford Cooley, from Thomasville, were two North Carolina musicians who performed that day. They form the gospel group Renewed and are returning performers at the annual event.

Gray reflected, "From the beginning of time, music has healed people. When there were wars and there was famine, people danced, people sang. When people were living in slavery, they sang, they danced. So music is hope. It can be hurt everywhere, but as long as you have a song you can have hope and you have love. It's the greatest thing."

Clifford Cooley added, "Faith, hope and love, but the greatest of these is love. And really Christianity is empty without the love factor." 

To Gray, peace and unity mean "being part of community and participating in what's going on and caring about how people feel." 

Musicians at the MCC Music Fundraiser in North Carolina are interviewed.
Kent Clifford Cooley (Thomasville, North Carolina), left, and Jennifer Gray (Winston-Salem, North Carolina), right, performed at the "Blues for World Peace and Unity" music festival as the gospel band Renewed and were interviewed by MCC East Coast staff about their experience. (MCC photo/Laura Pauls-Thomas)

As the festival wound down, new combinations of musicians got onstage to jam together. Neighbors and festival attendees got out of their lawn chairs to dance together and sing along to songs they knew. 

Stevens says, "This space here today is all about sharing. People sharing their talents, food, tents and chairs. This has been a moment where we continue to look at and explore what it means to share and just be present with one another." 

Motivated by his dedication to community and MCC's mission, Ferguson Jr. is also trying to recruit 100 individuals in his area to sew base units for MCC dignity kits, which provide reusable menstrual hygiene products for women and girls. He hopes each person will sew 5 base units each, resulting in 500 women and girls somewhere else in the world who will have access to sustainable hygiene. Throughout the music festival, he connected with festival-goers who expressed interest in getting involved with the project. 

Ferguson Jr. says, "I know that I think my role on the board is very small, but I want to make an impact wherever I can. It didn't have to be giant, but it dawned on me...we really need to do some more. North Carolina needs to get involved."

People interacting with the MCC booth.
Festival-goers check out the MCC tent at the "Blues for World Peace and Unity" music festival in Elkin, North Carolina in June 2024. (MCC photo/Yujin Kim)

Communities across the U.S. and Canada host relief sales and other fundraisers in support of MCC, joining a global community of passionate people purposefully pursuing relief, development and peace in the name Christ. Check out MCC's DIY fundraising guide for inspiration and more stories of creative community fundraising. 

Gustafson-Zook reflects, "As relief sales morph and change, an exciting outgrowth is people sharing their passions to support the work and ministries of MCC and our partners. For some, it's golf or bicycling and for others, it's music or food. I hope other folks outside of relief sale hubs can catch the vision for holding fun community events that build connections to local folks as well as with people around the world." 

Hyacinth Stevens, MCC EC executive director and EC board member Clyde Ferguson, Jr. during the backyard music concert for MCC in Elkin, North Carolina.
Hyacinth Stevens (left), executive director for MCC's East Coast region, talks with Clyde Ferguson Jr. (right), MCC East Coast board member representing Eastern District Conference of the U.S. Mennonite Brethren, at the June 2024 "Blues for World Peace and Unity" music festival in Elkin, North Carolina. (MCC photo/Yujin Kim)