Sorry it's been a minute! I'll tell you a little bit about my Nashville adventure in a second, but I also want to make two announcements:
The Rainbow Rodeo zine is now available on Patreon ONLY.
Relatedly, I'll be on my honeymoon until 7/25 so things will be a little quiet around here, but you will see some posts through the magic of the Internet! The zine will be available in print and digital when I get back!
As for Nashville, I was there to see Adeem the Artist play the Grand Ole Opry. I mulled it over with some country history nerds and we are pretty sure that Adeem is the first non-binary artist to be featured at the Opry. For people like me who did not grow up with country music, the Grand Ole Opry is the radio show that launched the careers of everyone who we now consider classic country stars: Johnny, Hank, Dolly, Patsy, Porter, etc.
The show originally aired from the Ryman auditorium, a small, church-like venue in downtown Nashville. It's still a coveted venue for artists to play at (and Adeem will be opening for Jason Isbell there this fall.) The Opry left in 1974, creating its own gargantuan 4000-seater that is halfway between a barn and a surprisingly comfortable megachurch. It took a piece of the Ryman with it: some planks of wood from center stage that have been inlaid into a circle on the new stage -- the literal spot where Johnny, Hank, Dolly, Patsy, Porter etc. stood during their performances.
As the openers rolled through their sets, I felt increasingly anxious -- maybe spiritually connecting with Adeem backstage, or the collective anticipation of everyone on their guest list, who were mostly seated together. When Adeem stepped into the circle, a pivotal moment for every Grand Opry debut, I felt goosebumps. They had stepped into history. As they gracefully performed "For Judas," I began to cry.
I remembered the first time I attended Karen Pittelman's Queer Country Monthly show for the first time -- so many people from so many disparate social circles of my life had told me about it, I couldn't not. It was in the small backroom of Branded Saloon, and I came with two friends. The show was already in progress, everyone seated on the floor like a camp sing-along. Karen beamed like we'd known her our whole leaves and motioned us to the front. I felt so in awe and thought to myself, "I wish these were the people getting famous for country music." A few hours earlier, I had teared up seeing Patrick Haggerty of Lavender Country memorialized on the Hall of Fame's In Memoriam board, and Holly G of the Black Opry featured in the American Currents exhibit.
As I mentioned, the Opry is enormous and requires a camera crew to project onto jumbotrons for most people to see what's going on onstage. When the screen flipped to a closeup of Adeem's face, their lipstick, beard, and nail polish now easy to see, a few people -- but only a few -- stirred in the crowd. Was this a joke? Was this person a drag queen? Is this supposed to be funny?
But the Opry audience is polite, and 4000 people stayed put. Adeem acknowledged the troops -- which got a few whoops -- before launching into "Middle of a Heart," which ultimately skewers the military industrial complex. The nondescript host interviewed Adeem afterwards, but at no point mentioned that Adeem was non-binary, nor did he use they/them pronouns for Adeem. Only Adeem called attention to this aspect of themself, cracking that there are "only eight of us."
But Nashville gives and Nashville takes. Love the people I know there, but I think it is far, far, far too big for its britches. If any of the mainstream orgs try to be diverse, they have to take it away. Bobby Bones, a radio "personality" whose "comedy" routine is offering his low self-esteem as a joke and seeing if people laugh. He told a poorly-crafted joke about opening a bar called "Pansy Palace," and that bitter taste stayed in my mouth until I set foot in the hallowed halls of LaGuardia. For all of the news coverage of Lower Broadway as a conservative playground, the only person who questioned my presence in a women's bathroom was at a diversity in music mixer. (She was polite! But...come on.)
As we've seen with the whole corporate pride mess in June, nothing that large corporations in country music can say or do matters until they get over the discomfort of actually taking a stand. If you book a queer artist who proudly embraces that aspect of their identity, you make sure that's a part of your introducing and you use their fucking pronouns. If you want to advocate for diversity you really have to take all aspects of that diversity into account. Sure, we're all trying and growing, but this is well-trodden grown literally everywhere else -- unless Nashville is in some kind of time slipstream that places it five years behind everywhere else.
If 50 people sitting on the floor of a neighborhood bar can make it happen, I have faith that billion-dollar corporations can buy a clue.
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