By Dale Henry Geist, Publisher
By early April, I was in bad shape.
True, compared to a lot of people, I was doing OK: I was healthy, my family was healthy, we had a roof over our heads, three squares, and a car that ran just fine.
But I was a mess. I’d been furloughed and was worried about money. My kids were “distance learning” – a disaster all around. I was freaked out about this deadly disease that was spreading like wildfire. To compound my anxiety, my spouse was an ICU nurse – with inadequate safety gear.
Worst of all, I felt lost, purposeless. Every morning I’d wake up and wonder what I was supposed to be doing. How could I make myself useful? Every night I’d go to bed still wondering.
I’d started Country Queer a half year earlier, squeezing in the work whenever I could, ably abetted by Cindy Emch, who, as Editor-In-Chief, I paid modestly to ensure that we could publish two quality pieces a week.
But Cindy had recently moved on to promote her record, and, once the pieces she’d ushered into the pipeline were published, I was clueless as to how to keep the articles coming. I didn’t publish a thing for weeks. Traffic plunged.
Earlier in the year, Margie Neely had helped get us involved in live music, and when March rolled around we had several events on the books, with the promise of merch sales and a cut of the door.
That was gone, too.
I anguished over whether it was worth continuing Country Queer at all. One morning, feeling as alone as I could be, this old Yankee, trained from birth to bottle it in, got up the guts to confess my doubts.
I've been in a period of retreat and re-evaluation of what Country Queer is and should be. I've even wondered if there was a need for it.— Country Queer (@CountryQueer1) April 5, 2020
I think I'm starting to see the clouds parting, though. I count on y'all for the juice to push through and find the right road.
The warm response to this Tweet gave me a glimmer of hope; maybe I’d stumbled onto an opportunity to make myself useful. But I was gonna need help. I put out a call.
Living off unemployment benefits, it was a relief to receive a fat donation from independent journalist Linda Tirado, a sustaining ad purchase from artist Avery Hellman, and smaller donations and merch sales from numerous other supporters. New West Records bought ads when it was clearly more a matter of goodwill than of good sense.
Perhaps even more important, I got offers from a dozen folks to write for Country Queer. I gave a shot to everyone, quickly ramping up to four pieces a week, then five, then six.
After awhile, a few writers distinguished themselves by the quality and dependability of their contributions, so I offered them staff positions. Whatever success we’ve had this year owes a ton to these superstars: Mya Byrne, Eryn Brothers, Adeem Bingham, James Barker, Cher Guevara, and the indispensible Sydney Miller, whose dedication has earned Syd an Associate Editor title.
CQ has also been sustained by a string of superlative Contributing Writers. Space constraints prevent me from listing them all, but standouts include Steacy Easton, Olivia Ladd, Alan Richard, Denver-Rose Harmon, Annalisha Fragmin, Julie Nolen, and Rachel Cholst.
Speaking of Rachel: when I was at my lowest, sunk into my recliner, staring blankly at my laptop screen, Rachel reached out with an offer to collaborate on something, anything. I knew her as a stellar CQ contributor, host of her own wonderful Americana podcast, and veritable encyclopedia of queer country. Of course I said yes. We settled on a podcast, which she’d host and produce. Edited by Zac Tomlinson, Country Queer Spotlight goes in-depth on one queer country artist per episode.
(On the subject of audio, many thanks to Sean Farragher, who cheerfully maintains our Big Playlist.)
Early on, we managed to catch the attention of some amazing artists, who engaged with us on Twitter. Nothing inspires me like a good interview with a thoughtful artist. This year it was my privilege to publish a bunch of them.
Long before The Great Shutdown, I’d gotten up the guts to approach Mary Gauthier for an interview; events conspired to block our scheduled in-person, but we finally caught up on the phone . Lilly Hiatt was another early supporter; when I was at my shakiest, she threw me a lifeline in the form of an interview.
Emboldened, we started reaching out to more artists. Among those gracious enough to give us their time this year were Jaimee Harris, Sarah Shook, Jaime Wyatt, Katie Pruitt, Amythyst Kiah, Orville Peck, Brandy Clark, Cam, BJ Barham, and Elizabeth Cook.
Just as satisfying as engaging with personal heroes is discovering new ones. This year we were privileged to shine a light on a passel of incredible artists that we feel an almost proprietary interest in. D’orjay the Singing Shaman, Al Riggs, Jake Blount, Ruby Mack, Paisley Fields, Tommy Atkins, Drake Jensen, Cidny Bullens, Austin Lucas, Delila Black, Waylon Payne, and Patrick Haggerty (the undisputed Godfather of Queer Country) are just a few.
I feel lucky beyond belief that my little project has garnered the support of these beautiful souls: Hunter Kelly, Rissi Palmer, Marissa Moss, Ang Zimmer, Aaron Lee Tasjan, Cory Graves (Vandoliers), Sloane Spencer, Charles Hughes, and Jonathan Bernstein.
Deepest gratitude to the people who help keep the lights on by buying our merch, especially super-customers Trace Faulkner, Opal Grace Jones, Jim Andralis, Larry Krone, and Ellie Perleberg.
Thanks to my invaluable partners in designing and sourcing the merch: Michael John Houghton and Justine Mendoza of Courage Co.
Thanks to those who paved the queer country road that CQ has ridden on, especially Karen Pittelman, Kevin James Thornton, and Kara Kundert.
And of course: the readers, listeners, and followers of CQ.
Well, it’s the last day of a tough, tough year. I’m still living off unemployment benefits. But my family is still healthy, there’s a vaccine on the horizon, new leadership for our country, and Country Queer is thriving: December has been our biggest month yet for traffic and merch sales, and we just unveiled the fantastic Country Queer Artist Directory, built by filmmaker and friend Jeremy Leroux.
I’m already thinking of people I’ve left out, and I feel terrible about it. If you think you should be here, you’re right. Forgive my lapse. The support that CQ has garnered over the course of this year, from so many of you, has been deeply meaningful to me. It gives me a purpose, a reason to get up in the morning. A chance to make myself useful.
Thank you so much.