Country Queer

Lifting up LGBTQ+ voices in country and Americana.

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Recap: Americanafest’s Queer Takeover

By Sara Gougeon & Abel Muñoz

Ed Note: There was no shortage of queer artistry on display at the American Music Association’s Americanafest 2022, which took place earlier this month in Nashville. While CQ did not put together a showcase this year (we’ll be back!), we were able to send two writers to cover the festival and bring back a little taste of what the rest of us missed.

After decades of being cast out of the music industry, it’s incredible to see proud LGBTQ+ artists making change. AmericanaFest’s 2022 lineup did a great job supporting queers who deserve to be highlighted. From established musicians to up-and-comers, the shows were not lacking in variety. It’s especially lovely to have spaces like Queer Roots at The Groove highlighting five hours of LGBTQ+ music, to have queer folks running sound, organizing the lineup, and using an LGBTQ+ owned venue to create a designated queer space.

Madeleine Kelson

Madeleine Kelson was the first LGBTQ+ artist to kick off the festivities, playing on Tuesday night at Historic Eastland in a showcase presented by Olivia Management. The stage was lit with what must have been 20 lamps, giving an intimate feel to the church venue. Her voice soared in the space, filling the room. Toward the end of her set, Madeleine played “The Way I Do,” her song about loving a woman. The verses walk through a lovely, domestic life with a partner: drinking coffee each morning, going to work, buying each other flowers, and cleaning the kitchen. The song normalizes what it is to be a queer human and tells the story in a way that might make a homophobic person realize that queer relationships aren’t all that different. The end of the chorus hits with a heavy lyric, “god has never loved a woman the way I do.” The venue she was playing at happened to be a church. It was extremely powerful to hear “The Way I Do” in that space.


A Honky-Tonk of Our Own

PanelTaking A Long Look at the Indigo Girls

Renowned NPR music critic Ann Powers moderated a wonderful discussion with Amy Ray and Emily Saliers of The Indigo Girls about their collaboration that began over 35 years ago. A recurring theme in the discussion was their commitment to community. This commitment extends well beyond music into the duo’s activism, for which they’ve often used their platform as a vehicle. Another highlight of this discussion was Ann Powers leading the charge that ‘Indigo Girls belong in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame,’ something Amy Ray has previously characterized as unlikely seeming since she thinks of the duo as folk music. But stranger things have happened…

Anthony da Costa’s FOMO party – Rainbow Girls + Sunny War

Each year, Anthony da Costa hosts his “FOMO Party” at Brooklyn Bowl. The lineup at the show included Sunny War, Rainbow Girls, and Katie Pruitt. Unfortunately, Katie Pruitt was sick and couldn’t make it. Rainbow Girls brought creative energy, fun outfits, and warm harmonies. They oozed unity and musical chemistry—you could tell that they have been playing together for years. Sunny War was graceful as pure tones and soothing picking patterns lifted out of her guitar. Her style is innovative and original.

Panel—The Narrators: How Jake Blount, Ley McCalla and Kaia Kater Re-Mapped the Past, Present and the Future with Concept Albums
Accomplished music critic and journalist Jewly Hight led the discussion with Kaia Kater, Jake Blount and Leyla McCalla, examining how each of these artists has taken the past to create a new understanding of the present with one eye on the future. One highlight pertained to what the panelists hoped to accomplish by revisiting the past of previous generations. Kater hoped that this process would inspire healing and quell the existential nagging of questions about identity. McCalla reminded us that no work gets made in a vacuum and that the past is important to the creation of new work. Jake Blount, who performs traditional music, said that this type of music usually requires the musician to remove themselves from the equation. But on his new album, The New Faith, Blount theorizes about what this music means to him. Blount also said that he is taking the oldest thing possible and utilizing it for the future, attempting to ‘make an archive from the archive.’

The 21st Annual Americana Honors and Awards

Photo Credit: Abel Muñoz

Held in downtown Nashville at the Ryman Auditorium, a.k.a., ‘the Mother Church,’ this year’s Awards ceremony brimmed with queer talent. Straight away, Brandi Carlile, Allison Russell and her Rainbow Coalition of the Loving (Larissa Maestro, Monique Ross, Chauntee Ross, Joy Clark, Mandy Fer and Meg Coleman) serenaded us with Russell’s hopeful “You’re Not Alone,” a new version of which features Carlile on backing vocals. The queer representation continued when Brandi Carlile and her trusty Hanseroth twins won Song of the Year with “Right on Time.”

Photo Credit: Abel Muñoz

The Milk Carton Kids, who also hosted the show, gave Carlile a warm introduction by saying, “At every turn, she seems more interested in shining the spotlight on everyone else about her. Her generosity of spirit in this community is unparalleled.” It was a spirit on full display as Carlile performed “You and Me on Rock,” featuring Lucius. Russell, meanwhile, won Album of the Year for her autobiographical Outside Child. In her heartfelt acceptance speech, she mentioned that, “Music saved me. This community saves me everyday.”

Photo Credit: Abel Muñoz

Perhaps the biggest queer win of the evening went to Indigo Girls who were awarded the Spirit of Americana Free Speech in Music Award. Carlile, who presented the honor, said of the pair, “Their representation was fundamental to my coming of age and it absolutely wasn’t because they were winning the mainstream zeitgeist. My first act of baby activism was to fight my way into an Indigo Girl’s concert with my guitar to busk the line…The Indigo Girls go where they are needed and we need them now. Amy and Emily helped make my dreams come true. They signed my guitar at 17, they took me on the road through my 20s and they showed me how to live and work in this country, no matter how hard it can get for me, sometimes.” After the Indigo Girls accepted their award, they took to the stage with Carlile to perform “Galileo,” a crowd favorite from 1992’s Rites of Passage

This year’s ceremony encapsulated so many beautiful sentiments, highlighting our queer family in Americana and the importance of visibility in this community.

Angel Olsen 

Angel Olsen’s showcase ran from 11PM to Midnight on a Wednesday, but that didn’t stop her from filling the venue. Although touring with an extensive band over the summer, Olsen played the entire set solo with just her acoustic guitar, captivating the crowd in a cocoon of rapt silence for the entire hour. There’s a distinctive depth to her singing voice and, particularly in this pared-down setting, the hair-raising chills were plentiful. For an artist to play so proficiently, intimately, and to hold that kind of attention in a world of paper-thin attention spans is remarkable. Her songs and performance were extremely dynamic, drawing the audience close with an insular intensity that occasionally gave way to louder, powerful bursts. As the set leaned into midnight, her songs began to feel like lullabies, washing over us. 

Willi Carlisle

Photo Credit: Abel Muñoz

An authentic troubadour with cow-punk appeal, Carlisle began his set with “What the Rocks Don’t Know” from To Tell You the Truth, the spoken word ethos of which nods to the work of Woody Guthrie. Most of his set at 3rd & Lindsley consisted of tunes from his new album Peculiar, Missouri, including “Tulsa’s Last Magician,” “Este Mundo,” “The Grand Design,” and “Vanlife.” “Tulsa’s Last Magician” highlighted Carlisle’s uncanny talent for developing characters whose dimensions surprise us across the trajectory of a song… the art of the slow reveal.

Autumn Nicholas
Autumn Nicholas, a recent Nashville transplant, played her official showcase at the 5 Spot, accompanied by fellow Nashville-based songwriter, Madeline Finn. Nicholas’ set contained emotionally charged songs—“Baggage”, “Not Gonna Do This Anymore,” “On A Sunday” and “No Vacancies” among them—about acceptance, highlighting her ability to really move an audience. The set’s weighty impact was heightened by the pair’s shimmering, intertwining vocals.

Melissa Carper 
Melissa Carper is the intersection of earthy and edgy. She’s old-fashioned but innovative. 6th and Peabody was packed for her showcase and her band was energetic. Melissa was on upright bass and vocals, she had a fiddle player who sang backing vocals, complemented by acoustic guitar, drums, and pedal steel. With her strong stage presence and upbeat songs, the audience couldn’t help but move—couples poured in front of the stage to dance. The song that really stood out wasWould You Like to Get Some Goats,” begging the question: Is it inherently queer to want to start a farm, get goats, and can beans with your partner? Or is it Melissa’s delivery? Hard to say, but it definitely struck a chord.

Jake Blount

Photo Credit: Abel Muñoz

Jake Blount graced the audience at The Basement with songs with his new album, The New Faith, where he imagines what traditional music might sound like in the future in relation to the environmental crisis the world is facing. Highlights included “The Downward Road,” “City Called Heaven,” and “Once There was No Sun.” “The Downward Road” was particularly compelling, contrasting an upbeat feel marked by infectious handclaps with some spoken word poetry. Bluesy and significantly slower, “City Called Heaven” reminded of old spirituals. “Once There Was No Sun,” meanwhile, was driven by banjo and accompanied by a choir of voices. Blount’s creative prowess was definitely on full display.

S.G. Goodman
S.G. Goodman played Riverside Revival on Saturday night. She walked on stage in a black suit and cherry red cowboy boots. She had an inherently loud setup with electric guitars, electric bass, and drums… apparently too loud for a handful of folks who’d been sitting up front but decided to move after a few songs. Despite the volume (it really was a bit over the top), her set was still incredible. Goodman enjoys throwing curve balls, eschewing the ‘rules’ (are there rules?) in favor of whimsy. She bumped the title track from her new album Teeth Marks out of the set in favor of an outtake (she called it “the album reject”), “Solitaire.” The interplay between her vocal melodies and the guitar lines created surprising moments that were distinctly different than the studio versions, resulting in a truly unique live experience.

Queer Roots at The Groove

The 4th Annual Queer Roots showcase, organized by Paisley Fields and Shawn Reilly, completely took over The Groove in East Nashville. This event had two rotating stages, one on the front porch and another in the backyard.  A staggering variety of queer artists were featured, and they all sounded amazing due to the handiwork of queer sound engineer, Kristen Ford, also an indie artist in her own right. Due to the large number of performers, each artist was given a 20 minute set.

The day started off with Nicholas Rich performing on the front porch. Rich experienced some success on TikTok with his song, “Devil On My Shoulder,” featured his prominent tenor.

Ever More Nest were the first act on the backyard stage. This New Orleans-based group usually consists of six musicians but was scaled down to founder and front woman Kelcy Wilburn with Rebecca Crenshaw on violin. “Major Tom” stood out as a great example of Ever More Nest’s blend of Southern musical traditions with elements of what we might call confessional country. 

Austin Lucas’ Appalachian tinted cow-punk was on full display, characterized by his deft guitar picking and the raw, earnestness of his singing voice. New Englander Jessye DeSilva amazed the Queer Roots audience with their keyboard skills and tight vocal precision, exemplified in “Queen of the Backyard” and “Devil in New Jersey.”

Another NOLA talent, Lilli Lewis, dazzled the audience with her nimble piano skills and powerhouse vocals. For Queer Roots, Lewis was accompanied by wife Liz Hogan, Wade Hymel, and Robin Sherman. Lewis’s set featured three of Hogan’s songs, “The River Song,” “Ride Out,” and “Driftin’.” showcasing the pairs ability to project a penetrating level of tenderness through the magical blend of their voices.  

Dubbed the “First Lady of Queer Country” by the Huffington Post, Cindy Emch dazzled the audience with her beautiful dress, and her song-craft, performing in her band The Secret Emchy Society, featuring Shawna Virago. Besides being an amazing musician, Virago is also important figure in the San Francisco queer scene as one of the founders of the Trans Film Festival and also as a founder of the San Francisco Trans March. The Secret Emchy Society brought a traditional country feel to this showcase, infused with an edgy, rocking sensibility on tunes like “Songs Are All We’re Left With” and “Cowboys Are Frequently Secretly Fond of Each Other.”

Chris Housman, a staple in Nashville’s queer country scene, mesmerized his audience with a mix of heartbreak and humor. A good example? “The Dog,” in which he sings about an ex-lover… but the thing he misses most from that relationship is the dog. 

Mya Byrne, who recently signed with Kill Rock Stars, was joined by partner, Swan Royal. They captivated the crowd with Byrne’s new single “Autumn Sun” and closed the set with a singalong to “Faultline,” featuring Virago, Emch, Swan Royal, Paisley Fields, Madeline Finn and Mali Obomsawin.

Joy Clark lulled the audience with her sweet harmonies, skilled guitar picking and undeniably infectious smile. Two highlights were “Tell It to the Wind” and her beautiful love song, “Good Thing.” Crys Matthews, who lives in Nashville, graced the front porch stage with just voice and her guitar, singing songs of love (“Oklahoma Sunset) and about highly relatable current issues like the de-stigmatization of mental health (“Bourbon and Sugar”) and the opioid crisis (“This Kind of War.”).

Mali Obomsawin, one of the few First Nation singers at Americana Fest, took the stage with her band and reminded the audience that queerness is intersectional. “White People” was particularly compelling with its messages about First Nation people being exploited by cultural appropriation, the destruction of their native lands, and by media-perpetuated stereotypes.  

Paisley Fields, one of the organizers of this great event, performed on the backyard stage with Mali Obomsawin and Mya Byrne. His set consisted mostly of songs from his new album, Limp Wrist, which chronicles his coming-of-age story, including “Junkyard Angel,” “Jesus Loving American Guy (Limp Wrist),” “Plastic Rosary,” and “Iowa.”

Wiley Gaby serenaded us with his tender voice and his delicate strumming on “Change Your Mind” and “Bridges.”  The event ended with a set by Adeem the Artist, on the backyard stage, and Julie Nolen, on the front porch stage.

Abel Muñoz (He/Him/His) is originally from Texas and now lives in Nashville New York City. He is passionate about art, but most days he can be found working at a sexual health clinic. He loves 90s country music, especially Linda Ronstadt and George Strait. His ramblings and adventures can be found on various social media platforms (Twitter: @artofspectator, IG: @artofthespectator).

Former CQ contributor and Queerfest founder Sara Gougeon lives in Nashville, where she also makes her own music. Follow her on Instagram: @saragougeon