By Julie Nolen
It’s 95 degrees in a small West Texas town and me and my cousin are singing “Bye, Bye Love” into our closed fists to the imaginary crowd amongst the sweet smelling red rose bushes along the back fence line of my Granddaddy’s backyard.
Or it’s Christmas and the family is gathered around the table for a ham, mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, and buttery rolls with pecan pie and vanilla ice cream waiting in the kitchen for us while Elvis sings “Blue Christmas” and Willie sings “Pretty Paper” from the other room, because at this point Elvis and Willie are just two more family members.
Or it’s a chilly night in a field somewhere with cowboys leaving their headlights on and tailgates down in the middle of a field,drinking beer and listening to “Don’t Rock the Jukebox”, “Friends in Low Places” or “All My Ex’s Live in Texas” while guiding their dance partners around the dirt dance floor.
Or in my own personal life, my older sister teaching me how to dance (I was the lead) to “Neon Moon” in our parents’ living room.
Like big sisters everywhere, mine were formative influences on my musical upbringing, mostly because I would get their hand-me-down cassette tapes of The Cure, INXS, and Erasure, then later Alan Jackson, Joe Diffie, George Strait, Brooks and Dunn. My older sister was into New Wave in high school and moved over to 90’s country in college. My middle sister got me into Bonnie Raitt: and that changed everything. I knew after hearing Bonnie that I wanted to be a musician. Somewhere deep inside that fire ignited after hearing the album “Road Tested”.
I grew up in the red dirt Texas town of Abilene, situated halfway between my father’s small West Texas hometown near Lubbock and my mother’s small hometown near Austin.
Living in Texas, there are plenty of us queer/LGBT+ that have fond memories of growing up country. We all have the same tales as any cis straight person about growing up out there dancing in town dance halls, going to their cousin’s wedding in a barn and learning the Schottische and Cotton-eyed Joe, learning to two-step with our parents or siblings, shooting cans out in the field, crawdaddy hunting, fishing at the farm’s tank…the list goes on.
I grew up solidly somewhere between country and rock’n’roll. The best radio stations in Abilene were the country music and classic rock stations. My first band was a former grunge band turned ska band during the ska resurgence of the late 90s (learning the trumpet in high school came in handy). And it was in that first band that I first learned to turn sad ass high school poetry into sad ass high school songs thanks to the lead singer — who ended up producing my first EP, “Raise Hell,” nearly 15 years later.
Although I do love to let my hair down and rock out, country music has always been where I was from and where I’m headed.
I think it comes back to that old adage that country music is “three chords and the truth” – the honest truth is what I’m here for (although sometimes I need four chords.) I like to write music that everyone can relate to and just getting to that small kernel of truth within every story is the best way to find what’s relatable. Whether that’s “I feel bad I cheated on you”, “hey I’m out here drinking and having a good time”, “She left me and I’m miserable” or especially stories about family or perseverance in troubled times.
There are times not everyone is accepting of queer folks in the country scene in Texas. There have been club owners that have asked that the PDAs from the crowd be turned down so that their club doesn’t “look like a gay club”. Or the subtle, indescribable feeling you get from small town folks in tiny bars or restaurants giving you the “you don’t belong here” or “we don’t like your kind” looks so aptly described in Bob Seger’s “Turn the Page”. But there’s less and less of that as the years go by.
Country music is all about hardships, persevering, and celebrating when we manage to get through it and the times are good again. I think just about anyone can relate to that. And usually, once anyone looks past what they fear queer music may look like, that’s what they see.
We country queers have always been here and we can relate just the same as anyone else. We may have a few other hardships or different take on things but our stories are just as interesting and as valid as the next person’s. Might as well join the party. And hell, we know how to party! We invented it! We always have the best music, right?
This year I’ll be fundraising and recording a new album that is full-on country – songs that go from classic to red dirt and more. There’s heartache, perseverance, resurrection and more heartache. Queer and country through and through.