Jun 9, 2022 - Things to Do

LGBTQ+ country artists take the stage

Illustration of an acoustic guitar with a rainbow fretboard.

Illustration: Lindsey Bailey/Axios

Thursday is the opening day of CMA Fest, and a pioneering event is celebrating LGBTQ+ artists who call country music home.

  • Country Proud, which starts at 6pm at Assembly Food Hall, is billed as the first-ever Pride event at a country music festival.

Why it matters: Out LGBTQ+ artists have historically struggled to gain a foothold in country music. Thursday night's celebration is presented with support from two of the genre's biggest institutions: the Country Music Association and CMT.

  • More than a dozen acts are expected to perform at the event, with other LGBTQ+ performers set to appear throughout the rest of the festival.

Driving the news: The show is free and open to the public. It's presented by The Nashville News and RNBW Queer Music Collective, which was founded by Emily and Jamie Dryburgh.

  • The Dryburgh sisters tell Axios that Country Proud is meant to promote visibility and empowerment of queer creatives "who may have had to celebrate in silence" in the past.
  • They hope to expand the event in the future to include more artists at CMA Fest and beyond.

What they're saying: "We feel that providing our fans with the opportunity to explore all types of music is equally as important as providing a platform for all artists to share their music," CMA official Tiffany Kerns tells Axios.

  • "It's important for the country music industry to improve its representation among the LGBTQ+ community because country music should be for everyone," CMT executive Leslie Fram tells Axios.

Between the lines: Music journalist Hunter Kelly — who hosts a radio show featuring music from LGBTQ+ country artists and allies — will appear at Country Proud. He applauded the CMA for weaving historically marginalized voices into festival events.

  • "It's one thing for an organization in country music to throw up a Pride playlist or appoint a diversity task force that may or may not have any real-world impact," Kelly tells Axios.
  • "But giving these artists a platform to connect with country fans at the CMA Music Festival is real, tangible change."

Since coming out, Chely Wright and Ty Herndon have become leaders in the effort to elevate LGBTQ+ voices in country music.

More LGBTQ+ artists have emerged in recent years, including T.J. Osborne, Orville Peck and Brandy Clark, which advocates see as a sign of slow but promising progress.

What they're saying: "It is becoming a little more forward-thinking. However, it does have a long way to go," Jamie Dryburgh says.

  • "These performers, these artists, want to live their authentic lives and tell their authentic stories," Emily Dryburgh says. "Love should be as universal as music is."

Zoom out: RNBW hosts weekly events featuring local LGBTQ+ artists from all genres.

  • The free shows are at 7pm on Tuesdays at Lipstick Lounge.

💭 Adam's thought bubble: Country music has always had plenty of gay fans. That is particularly true of the genre's rafter-shaking women. (Look no further than my well-established obsessions with Trisha Yearwood and Dolly Parton.)

  • Dolly's song "Wildflowers," performed with Emmylou Harris and Linda Ronstadt, is a great example of a song that appealed to gay fans who felt like outsiders.
  • These days, some artists are moving beyond subtext and embracing songs that address gay themes more directly.
  • A few examples include "Follow Your Arrow" (co-written by Clark), "Younger Me" from Brothers Osborne and "If She Ever Leaves Me" by The Highwomen.

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