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Lockdown Hits Queer Country Community: Pt. 1

Mya Byrne on the SXSW Cancellation

By Mya Byrne

[Note: In the week since this article was begun, the Luck Reunion and other major festivals have been canceled, Live Nation and other major promoters have canceled all tours, and clubs and bars everywhere have been ordered to close. Many artists also work other jobs in the entertainment and nightlife industries to make ends meet; those income sources are also gone. Nearly every musician we know is scrambling to find a way to make a living. We will continue to report on how this pandemic is affecting queer country musicians everywhere.]

Country Queer was preparing a series of articles on the queer country/Americana cohort scheduled to play at SXSW 2020. This year’s festival was shaping up to be the most openly queer and trans Southby ever. I was scheduled to fly to Austin this week from my home in the Bay Area, and was excited to both cover the festival for Country Queer and to play several shows myself. But as you surely know by know, this major musical gathering of talent from all over the globe was canceled at the last minute due to Austin’s public health concerns over COVID-19.

In light of this, we decided to shift the focus of our reporting to make space for some artists who were scheduled to attend to discuss their own thoughts, feelings, and challenges surrounding this unprecedented situation.

I’ll start.

As an indie musician, the opportunity to be in Austin in an official capacity (I was to play with Paisley Fields at his official showcase) while also representing Country Queer at our unofficial showcase (with Secret Emchy Society, Milktoast Millie and Paisley Fields)—was a thrill by itself. More: I transitioned soon after my last SXSW, in 2012, and making a return as, well, me, was something I was really looking forward to. But my anticipation quickly turned to disappointment when the festival was canceled.

The SXSW cancellation and subsequent lockdown is not going to hurt my immediate career, but the springboard that SXSW can be and the opportunities that may have come? I don’t know what might have been.

And it’s not just about my solo music. Although I do have things to promote, a major reason I was attending was to support my bandmate, Country Queer writer and and kindred NorCal dyke pal Cindy Emch, as we prepare to release the new Secret Emchy Society record, and to bolster her and my friend Paisley’s sets. Our Country Queer showcase at the Hi-Hat Lounge with trash queer bluegrass band Milktoast Millie (who are also playing the Queer Country Quarterly in Brooklyn this spring), Paisley, and Jade & the Foxtones was set to be a joyous celebration of queer country.

There’s nothing like a badass Austin show, especially at SXSW, and I was excited to bring my Telecaster twang in full force. It might sound trite, but the chance to put on the best performance you can with the stakes high can make real magic happen. I’ve seen it and felt it. And official or unofficial, these showcases and networking opportunities can make an artist’s career. 

The list of official artists from the queer and trans world who’ve had to cancel their appearances is long. In addition to those already mentioned, Sarah Shook, Mercy Bell, Mal Blum, BabiBoi, Pillow Queens, Gina Chavez, Jesediah, GRLWood, GeeXella, The House of Lepore, Lydia Lunch, and staunch queer allies Jason Hawk Harris and the Vandoliers were all affected.

There are more artists too, official and not, that were affected by the cancellation: Austin’s own Hey Jellie/Jenny Hoyston, Julie Nolen, and Butch County, and several films and panels with out queer/trans influencers and creators.

This list should give you an indication of just how queer this year’s SXSW was going to be, and how much opportunity was lost. We’re not passing judgment on the City of Austin or Travis County: this was the right thing to do for public health.

We’re just marking the loss.

In Part 2, we’ll hear from other queer and/or trans artists who were impacted by the cancellation (some of whom, living in Nashville, were also hit hard by the recent tornadoes.)

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