An eclectic cast of musicians and celebrities gathered to celebrate Pride at the Concert For Love And Acceptance in Nashville. Presented by GLAAD and Ty Herndon, the star-studded event took place during CMA Fest at Nashville's newly renovated Wildhorse Saloon.
Now in its third year, the concert to "accelerate acceptance" of the LGBTQ community greeted a sold out crowd. CMT's Cody Alan hosted the event, quipping his pin stripe suit was "the only straight thing about me." One of country media's most recognizable faces and voices, Alan came out as gay in early 2017.
Performers included Cam, Tanya Tucker, Terri Clark, Shelly Fairchild, Calum Scott, Brandon Stansell, Cassadee Pope, Michael Ray, Thompson Square and more. Vince Gill also made a surprise appearance at the end of the night, to a huge ovation. "As a young child I always heard the words that we are all created equal," Gill said. "I believed that as a little boy and I believe that as a grown man."
Others who came to support the cause included WWE Superstars Lana and Sonya and Savannah Chrisley from Chrisley Knows Best.
Nashville has the potential to be ground zero for a new wave of heartland LGBTQ awareness. "Nashville is a world class city that has a worldwide footprint," says Zeke Stokes, GLAAD's Vice President of Programmings. "The music made here is exported all around the world. So the idea that Nashville is sort of this little local community is an outdated idea."
Alan proved that when he came out publicly. Tens of thousands of fans from around the globe shared their support for Alan, as well as some of Nashville's biggest names. "Carrie Underwood, Dierks Bentley, Toby Keith all stood up for him, and we've seen artists become a lot more affirming," Stokes says.
One of country's most celebrated songwriters, Shane McAnally, has quietly built one of the biggest social media followings in country by highlighting the experiences of his same-sex family. Jason Owen, who runs Sandbox Management (Little Big Town, Kacey Musgraves, Faith Hill), has also become a valuable voice emanating from the community.
Nashville made the news in March when the community rallied against the CMA Foundation board appointment of Mike Huckabee, a former politician with a history of anti-LGBTQ stances. Owen and other prominent members of the music community withdrew their support for the CMA and a day later, Huckabee resigned.
For a town that prides itself on even competitors being friends, it was a big deal. Much of the industry put its moral compass above maintaining the "good ol' boy network" political climate, and the response was resoundingly supportive.
A New Future For LGBTQ Artists?
The Concert for Love and Acceptance is less about making a loud statement, and more about making a consistent one. As California Country artist Brandon Stansell notes, "Visibility is really important." The gay country singer grew up outside of Chattanooga, Tenn. but relocated to Los Angeles to find a more accepting home.
"When I lived in Nashville, I was just coming out and it wasn't a great experience for me," Stansell says. "I've since lived in these really supportive bubbles of the LGBTQ community, and it's not something I honestly ever expected to experience here."
That feeling is slowly changing, especially thanks to events like the Concert for Love and Acceptance. "It's not just about being here and feeling safe, but actually being celebrated," Stansell says.
Shelly Fairchild has been in Nashville for two decades, losing her major record deal in the mid-2000s after her label head found out she was gay. "[The Concert for Love and Acceptance] means everything to me, because this is my story, you know what I mean?" Fairchild says. "Being a lesbian in Nashville and part of the country community, I was shunned in the beginning. But Nashville is growing up. People are getting a clue."
Many of Nashville's biggest names have aligned themselves as allies. But when will the industry brass get behind an artist from the LGBTQ community? Stokes is hopeful it won't be long. "I think in the next few years we'll see a chart topper in country from the LGBTQ community," Stokes says. "There are a lot of good ones out there."