Each year, The University of North Carolina at Pembroke hosts the Darkwater Festival, an event that invites speakers, students, faculty and staff, and many others to come together and learn about the importance of women in the artistic world of music. The festival serves as a place where musicians and music enthusiasts alike can come together to explore different musical genres, promote the creation of music among minorities and others, and connect with others over their collective love for music. The event also gives participants the opportunity to participate in trivia games, individual and plenary group discussions focused on women musicians, and musical performance all of which are held over a three-day period. The festival is designed to bring attention not only to women in music, but also Indigenous women, particularly those from the Lumbee Tribe from whom the name “Darkwater” was taken.

This year, due to the ongoing pandemic, the Darkwater Festival was held both virtually and in person. Singer-songwriter Charley Lowry of Union Chapel, Robeson County, North Carolina performed at the Moore Hall Auditorium on the campus of UNC Pembroke where she headlined the festival. Lowry’s lyrics and sound style are influenced by her native upbringing and southern roots. These influences impacted her decision to play a hand drum during one of her songs, and change her vocalization to reflect that of Lumbee music from generations ago. These choices highlighted Lowry’s connection and passion for the Lumbee people and gave the audience the chance to learn about the Lumbee Tribe’s musical history and modern-day characteristics. Though Lowry performed solo at the festival, she has performed locally for over a decade as the lead singer for the group Darkwater Rising.

For her hour-long set, Lowry performed music that resonated with her personal life as well as her life experiences as a member of the Lumbee Tribe. Beginning with introductions, Lowry quickly shifted to singing, explaining the meaning of each song before she sang it. The even balance between storytelling and singing kept the audience engaged, and emphasized Lowry’s connection to the Indigenous community as she told the stories of missing and murdered members of the tribe, the hardships of being Indigenous, and the pride that comes along with representing the Lumbee Tribe. Lowry’s set included slow, gentle moments but gradually moved to more up-beat songs with rapped verses. The diversity of Lowry’s music was ever-present in her ability to easily transition between differently styled and arranged songs.

Lowry’s songs included “Brown Skin” and “Hometown Hero,” which focused on her experiences as an Indigenous woman. However, they also served the purpose to connect with other members of the tribe who have experienced the same things. When listening to Lowry sing, it was easy to feel the emotion and love that she had for her community, but also her understanding of the harder times that the community is subjected to purely because they are Indigenous. Lowry’s music was well-received by the audience who continued to applaud her throughout each of the songs, but also when the performance ended.

Lowry’s solo performance consisted of adequate lighting and acoustics which, according to the UNCP website, “include[d] shells and clouds designed and installed by the Wegner Corporation.” For the virtual audience as well as those in-person, the overhead lighting allowed for Lowry, each of the instruments, and background to be visible even from the furthest spot from the stage. In addition to the well-lit area, the high-quality acoustics provided for proper sound circulation and allowed the audience to clearly hear Lowry and her guitar throughout the entirety of her performance. Lowry used a microphone for the duration without issue or feedback. The setting consisted of a simple rug laid out underneath the instruments and Lowry and soft overhead lighting illuminating the stage.

Festival organizer Sarah Busman filmed and streamed the performance for virtual access. The high-quality streaming allowed for virtual viewers to feel connected. Busman’s choice to stream the performance from a consistent angle kept the attention on Lowry’s performance and the focus on her presence on the stage.

The Darkwater Festival continues to provide opportunities for women in music, despite the challenges of the pandemic and the restrictions that it imposed on a full-capacity concert hall. Lowry’s performance highlighted Darkwater’s goal of promoting minority musicians and female performers without fear of sexism or racial discrimination. The Darkwater Festival provided Lowry with the platform to tell her story and connect with others who have had similar experiences through her music, style, and lyrics which brought to life the issues that Indigenous people face and the effects that it has on the Native community.