by Michelle Haft
When I was a kid my mom once offered my sisters and I a gift—one VHS tape each of any movie we wanted. I chose The Wizard of Oz. There was a scene in it I'll never forget, in the end when Dorothy and her friends visit the Emerald City and Toto pulls back the green curtain revealing the "Wizard" as a normal middle-aged man, frantically pulling on levers to project a mystical, fiery image of himself. It taught me an important lesson about appearances—that things are often much more hectic and less glamorous on the inside as they may seem on the outside. Working for a non-profit, I find this lesson to be even more poignant than ever.
When we first started The Handsome Ladies five years ago, it was a humble operation. We were seven founding members who met at Father’s Day Bluegrass Festival, mostly all beginner players, sharing the responsibility of hosting monthly jams in our private homes. We had a small community of enthusiastic gals who wanted to participate. Our only dream then was to continue jamming amongst this small group of awesome ladies, so that we could one day become strong players like the bluegrassers we admired on stage.
Before we knew it our community of Handsome Ladies grew to hundreds of followers, so we added more frequent monthly jams including a regular spot at Amnesia, and an East Bay jam. The organization was taking on a life of its own and we decided it was time to become an official 501(c)(3) non-profit. We defined a clear mission:
Through opportunity and resources, we support and encourage women bluegrassers of all levels, promoting the advancement of the individual musician within an inspired and connected community.
And then the momentum grew.
We began hosting workshops at venues like the Freight & Salvage and guided jams at local camps like Walker Creek, Wintergrass and Father’s Day Bluegrass Festival. This year we hosted our 4th annual Sadie Hawkins picking campout in Sonoma County. Requests came in for performances at local events and on the radio so we formed a pick-up band program call The Picks, where women from our community could hone their skills at a live performance. We were invited to have a booth at Father’s Day Bluegrass Festival, where we held a vintage clothing and swag sale to raise money, hosted a late-night musical showcase and had numerous jam mixers. We’re now getting into our third-annual booth at the festival next year.
All this to say, behind the curtain of success, The Handsome Ladies is still run by a very small group of regular gals, balancing the responsibility of running a non-profit with the demands of everyday life. At the start we were each spending maybe five hours a month on operations, now it’s more like five hours a week and even more during big event weeks like Father’s Day Bluegrass Festival. None of us are getting paid a dime for this, we do it because we love it and see the positive impact of our efforts on so many women in bluegrass. It’s been incredibly rewarding for each of us to be a part of this, and we’re proud to say that 100% of the donations we receive go directly into funding org activities.
In the last six months, we’ve also had three of our original seven founding members leave the board. I want to take a moment to express some gratitude to Lucy Salcido Carter, Niki Savage, and Tonya Newstetter, who helped make The Handsome Ladies what it is today. We were sad to see them leave but understood where they were coming from. Life got busier for all of us, a few of us had weddings and got promotions in our regular jobs that required a more demanding workload. It was a big ask for any of us to keep working for free as the time-commitment to the organization increased and with it, the pressure of everyday life.
But nonetheless, our four remaining board members have risen to the challenge and have managed to keep The Handsome Ladies moving along smoothly. Sometimes we feel like the Wizard of Oz, frantically pulling on levers to keep this thing afloat, but mostly we’ve learned to work efficiently and divide and conquer the needs of our operations. As the saying goes, nothing worth doing is easy, but we also need help and we’re not afraid to admit it.
We need to bring on another board member here at The Handsome Ladies. Interested? We’d love to hear from you! For more info about the requirements of this position, click here.
This is a call-to-action to our community:
Fast-forward to today, we recently started local Handsome Ladies chapters in two new cities, Seattle and Nashville, and are working on a pilot program for other cities who are interested in starting their own local Handsome Ladies chapters. We’ve been getting amazing press, and some of our most admired female bluegrassers actively support us. Two of our board members have also recently joined the board of the California Bluegrass Association, further solidifying our relationship to other leading bluegrass organizations. We are so humbled and ecstatic at the reaction we’ve received from the entire bluegrass community and feel a tremendous amount of gratitude to everyone that has helped us along the way. So for anyone out there who wants to be a part of this amazing organization, work alongside four hardworking, badass Handsome Ladies, and directly contribute to the success of our mission to support and encourage women bluegrassers of all levels within an inspired and connected community, the board wants to hear from you!