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From Joy Train to Subway: Amy Ray Debuts Nostalgic Video Tribute to NYC, Rita Houston

By Christopher Treacy

New York City is a liberating place. I clearly remember the first time I took the train into Manhattan by myself. It was probably 1984. When I exited Grand Central Station, I felt a tremendous rush—a whoosh of mixed excitement and freedom… and maybe a twinge of anxiety. It was so incredibly bustling and busy. It didn’t smell very good, but at the same time, the smell was part of the magic. It seemed dangerous. “Out there.” And especially in the mid-80s, it certainly was.

But for a queer kid from the suburbs, it also immediately felt more permissive. This was a place in which I could be myself. I could become myself. I could test boundaries and push the envelope. Especially downtown, it felt like ‘anything goes.’ Despite being so crowded, there was plenty of room. For everyone.

Amy Ray’s new video clip for “Subway,” featuring harmonies from Brandi Carlile, dropped yesterday, and in just four and a half minutes, Atlanta-based Director Scott Lansing, (Flint: The Poisoning of an American City, Electric Jesus), conveys all of those ideas and more, since the song is a tribute to late WFUV radio legend Rita Houston. Rita was a champion for singer-songwriters of all creeds, and she had impact on Amy’s life and career. Tragically, she passed away in 2020 after a brave battle with cancer.

Amy spoke with The Advocate ahead of the video’s release, explaining, “I met Rita in the ’90s. She was so dynamic and true to herself at a time when homophobia was well-established in the music industry. Rita rooted for artists in the queer community and ended up driving a lot of people’s careers.”


A Honky-Tonk of Our Own

In the clip, a young Amy roams the streets of the city (played by an actor), while present-day Amy Ray visits NYC and remembers her friend Rita Houston.

She continues, “I was sitting at home during the pandemic and missing NYC, thinking about how liberated I always felt there as a young queer person just starting to get comfortable with myself. And I was thinking about what I would say to Rita if I wrote her a letter—sort of a letter from all the young queer songwriters. I still treasure the unfettered joy of the nights I would walk the city streets to and from shows, or just walk for the feel of it, not wanting to miss a beat, and taking in all the action. Rita embodied that action and that joy.”

Amy’s updated tour schedule is here, and you can grab the just-released vinyl of If It All Goes South (and lots of other stuff) here.

Christopher Treacy has been writing about music and the music industry for 20 years. He’s contributed to The Boston Phoenix, The Boston Herald, Nashville Scene, and Berklee College of Music’s quarterly journal, as well as myriad LGBTQ+ outlets including the Edge Media Network, Between the Lines/Pride Source, Bay Windows and In Newsweekly. He’s the Managing Editor for CQ and lives in Waitsfield, VT.

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