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Lockdown Hits Queer Country Community: Pt. 2

SXSW Canceled: Mercy Bell, Ryan Cassata, and Paisley Fields React

By Mya Byrne

[Note: This is the second in a series about how the coronavirus pandemic has affected queer country and Americana musicians. Pt. 1 of this series was an account of how the SXSW affected the writer, an indie musician. Pt. 2 tells the stories of other artists who were affected.

This series was undertaken to address the effects of the SXSW cancellation. In the week since Mya Byrne began writing it, major tours have been canceled, major festivals have been canceled, and clubs and bars everywhere have been ordered to close. Many artists work other jobs to make ends meet in the entertainment and nightlife industries; those income sources are also gone. We will continue to report on how this pandemic is affecting queer country musicians everywhere.]

Nashville’s Mercy Bell was chosen as an official artist by SXSW without a label or major booking agency behind her, which is rare, especially for an out queer person. Bell is also dealing with the effects of the devastating tornadoes that hit her neighborhood just before the SXSW cancellation.

“It’s a mixed bag. Personally, the timing is a great relief because of the tornadoes. I was in the direct path and had some PTSD, which has made planning and doing day-to-day tasks hard. One of my day jobs had to cut back on shifts because of it, and so a whole week at SXSW would have been hard to pay for. My girlfriend’s house was damaged by the tornado, so she’s been staying at my house. And most sadly of all, my bandmate—who was going to go with me to SXSW—lost her mother to cancer this week, which is truly heartbreaking.

Mercy Bell

Professionally, I was looking forward to getting the exposure for my new album. I have been looking for a booking agent and sync/licensing opportunities, and a publishing deal. I was really excited to try to meet new industry people that would be open to my music and could help with my career.”

When we spoke, Bell was determined to keep touring, but her remaining tour schedule was canceled soon afterward.

LA’s Ryan Cassata was also chosen as an official artist, part of the first official SXSW Pride Showcase, which is no small deal: the event was co-sponsored by Austin Pride and #OUTLOUD, and was set to be the most high-profile acknowledgement of queerness in mainstream music ever recognized by SXSW. It was to feature Madame Gandhi, COBRAH, Flavia, SWSH, La Doña, Bang Bang Romeo, pineappleCITI, CAPYAC, and Betty Who.

Here’s Cassata:

“As a trans and queer artist, the mountain of the music industry is much steeper to climb. SXSW is a mainstream music festival and being accepted as an official artist symbolizes many things for me. It gave me a lot of hope for my career and for the future of trans musicians—there were several of us on the bill. The cancellation was devastating. I had interviews lined up with mainstream media and was really looking forward to the Pride Showcase.”

Ryan Cassata. Photo by Marissa Roseann

“I hope that the event is just postponed, rather than canceled, because this opportunity feels like a gigantic stepping stone. I feel like part of my dream got smashed. However, I will keep climbing up the mountain.”

Cassata had expressed enthusiasm and positivity for his show opening for Against Me! at the Paramount (Long Island) this weekend, but since we spoke, that was canceled, as well as Against Me!’s entire tour.

[Note: since this article was originally written, Cassata says he has “Lost every paying gig.”]

Brooklyn’s Paisley Fields has been on fire lately: signed to Don Giovanni Records, releasing a new music video and single, with a new LP to drop soon.

Here’s what Paisley Fields has to say:

“When I heard SXSW was canceled this year I was disappointed. It’s a blow to the musicians, the people in Austin who depend on that income, and a lot of other folks who work in music. I didn’t stand to make any money, but I was looking forward to the opportunities the festival provides, seeing old friends and meeting new ones. It seems like the city did the right thing. I hope they can reschedule it. I’m concerned about what the next few weeks/months hold for touring artists. A lot of us depend on touring to make a living.”

Paisley Fields. Photo by Isabel Dresler

Paisley Fields was on the road when the SXSW cancellation came up, and it was surreal for me to watch the remaining shows get canceled one after the other as he was en route to them.

[Pt. 3, the final installment of the series, will look at the impact of the cancellation on the Austin queer country community.]