By Eryn Brothers, Staff Writer
Happy Bi Visibility Week, y’all! In honor of our fine bisexuals and pansexuals, we present to you, in no particular order, a list of some of our favorite bi and pan artists on the country/Americana/folk spectrum.
Shook (they/them) is not only queer – describing themselves at various times as bisexual and pansexual, as well as genderqueer – but also an atheist and a vegan. It’s a tossup as to which of those things is more likely to piss off the theoretical country music fan that radio aims at, but being forthrightly, unapologetically their own person has earned Shook the admiration of throngs, including us.
We reached out to Shook to get their thoughts on Bi Visibility Week. Their response is typically inspirational.
“I think it’s easy to forget sometimes that queer people have always existed in the realm of country music, some writing and performing, some producing, some working on the technical side, sound and light engineers, tour managers, merch manufacturers, and the fans that make it all possible. And so many of us – especially in the past – were closeted, some for their entire lives. For Bi Visibility Week I want to acknowledge the folks in country music who can’t come out yet and just say we know you’re there, your thoughts, feelings, and experiences are valid, and you are a part of our family always.”
Aaron Lee Tasjan
Americana’s favorite microdosing fashion plate has been dishing out glammy guitar licks and psychedelic lyrics for almost long enough to qualify as an OG queer country icon. (In fact, ALT was one of the first interviews we ever ran.)
“Broke up with my boyfriend / To go out with my girlfriend.” And there you have it.
The darling of Nashville, Mercy Bell, is not to be slept on. Commended by notable critic Ann Powers, Mercy’s self titled release last year marries fine songwriting with savvy production, a true feat in an industry where production often takes precedence over substance. Bell can muscle her way with pop in “Skip to the Part,” and swing with “All Good Cowboys.” Here she is with last year’s “Chocolate Milk & Whiskey.”
Alynda Lee Segarra (Hurray for the Riff Raff)
Alynda Lee Segarra, a Bronx native and Puerto Rican, is a folk queen. Working under the name Hurray for the Riff Raff, Segarra has released genre-spanning work ranging from the concept/autobiographic album “The Navigator,” to Blaze Foley tributes. Segarra is one of the paramount voices reminding us that folk and traditional music isn’t just Applachian. Inspired by Latin music, punk, country, protest singers of yore, and Motown, Segarra’s work is truly a melting pot. Open about being queer and her queerness being informed by bisexuality and pansexuality, activism and protest are central themes in the inspection of America in her work.
Crystal Bowersox, of American Idol fame, has got a lot on her mind. With her 90’s songwriter vibes and penchant for pop structure, her time out of the spotlight has been spent harvesting all of her talents. From working on an upcoming album, “Hitchhiker,” to a rock autobiography, “Trauma Queen,” to the socially-conscious single “Courage to Be Kind,” Crystal Bowersox is ready to remind us why we listened to her in the first place.
Cheryl Deséree wraps her bebop rock-a-billy looks and unique storytelling in a variety of swing sounds. Deseree really loves dipping her toes on the jazzy side of country. It also helps that she’s worked with Texas greats Dale Watson and Ray Benson to sharpen those Western Swing chops. Deseree culls from her Samoan heritage, growing up on the wrong side of the tracks, and, of course, being bi.
Bridgers is everyone’s favorite bummer kid, with brutal songwriting and passive delivery. Trained in jazz vocals and has a strong grip on folk imagery and stylings, she’s partnered with the queerest sad kids (Lucy Dacus, Julien Baker, Conor Oberst, 1975, Hayley Williams) and has a discography of impressive breadth for 26. If you were an indie goth kid in high school (like I was) you would have desperately wanted to be Phoebe’s best friend (like I still do.)
Legend. She started her own record label in 1989 at the age of 19, meaning she’s had complete creative control over her own work from the very start. She came out as bisexual in her twenties – not exactly de rigeur for the 90’s. Ani is definitely folk-centric, but to use her own words: “Folk music is not an acoustic guitar – that’s not where the heart of it is. I use the word ‘folk’ in reference to punk music and rap music. It’s an attitude, it’s an awareness of one’s heritage, and it’s a community. It’s subcorporate music that gives voice to different communities and their struggle against authority.”
If you think coming out as bi in the 90s would have been rough, imagine doing it in the 50s. Her reputation may be overshadowed by the towering figure of her half-brother Pete, but Peggy has been arguably just as important: among other accomplishments, she was a key figure in introducing American folk music to the UK. The daughter of Charles Seeger, pioneering musicologist, and Ruth Porter Crawford, the first woman to receive a Guggenheim fellowship, Peggy is an integral member of the Seeger dynasty that has made its business the preservation and extension of the American folk tradition. Peggy has recorded children’s songs, traditional ballads, mountain airs, and more, and has been very openly bisexual all the while. (And at 85, she’s still going strong!)
Bonnie is another artist who took the opportunity to come out in these pages. Lush country arrangements and sonic pageantry abound on the single “Last Will and Testament.” Stay tuned for Bonnie’s October 2nd record release. The New York coolness and Austin shine really come through on “Fuck With Sad Girls”.
Ashley Wright (Earleine)
Ashley Wright, mastermind behind Earleine, from Nashville via Durham, North Carolina, brings mystic intention to her folk stylings. From songs that harken to murder ballads, to introspective tunes that meditate on the human condition, Ashley Wright’s vulnerable writing against the showcasing of tactful, dreamy arrangements is a winner.
Sam Armstrong-Zickefoose is a banjo-picking phenom. He’s studied everything from traditional American music to Balkan/Middle Eastern, to traditional Ugandan music. Sam has played with Meadow Mountain, Masontown, and Grace Clark Band, bringing his unique perspective and reverence of the range of traditional music to the table.
Michelle Brooke came out as bi in these very pages. Her pure voice can twist and bend with her carefully wrought songs. Brooke cannily dips from pop-folk/Americana to gospel stylings very quickly. There’s the gusto of a 90’s country diva ballad in “Storm,” a tempestuous and triumphant listen. (Also, the music video is very outwardly bisexual, hurray!)
Willi Carlisle is a traditional musician by way of the open road. His melding of modern ideologies combined with the showmanship and wit of folksingers of yore make for one hell of a performer. He currently is in the stages of gearing up to record a newer “more bisexual,” album.
While Hannah Bowers tends to run on the DIY/indie circuit, their track “Know Ourselves,” is a very beautiful Americana-esque number that talks about the reality of endings, and how they usually begin with ourselves.
Connecting proletariat sensibilities, Western stylings, and southern grit, Rowan Simmons weaves the sometimes absurdity of being a queer Southerner with caustic observations of the world. Their recent release of “Kentucky Coal” grinds against established norms from slurry guitar, raw vocals, and murder ballads.
Maiah Wynne’s sweet, clear voice are more than enough to draw you in, but this award-winning multi-instrumentalist is so much more than that. Touting collaborations with many industry Big Names, Wynne is fearless in exploring the dichotomies of life.
Ry Warner (they/them) has the vibe of a punk ranch hand that sings like Gene Vincent. There’s this swagger of 70’s glitter and a spoonful of pedal steel. It gives Warner a unique edge – they really do hear all of the parts of different genres and how they can work together with their lyrics. Ry Warner may present the “patina of a regular ass cowboy,” but their belt holds many notches, their coat is of many colors, and they know how to use them.
Jobi Riccio is an up and comer, and it’s honestly a shame that more people aren’t in the know about her. Riccio is a savvy songwriter and proud bisexual with such a talent for the construct and design of her craft. Inspired by Buck Owens to Joni Mitchell, her roughly sweet voice commingles with her impressively swinging rhythm guitar. Right now, you can catch her EP “Strawberry Wine.” I’m personally excited to see what this artist does in the future, and to introduce her to y’all.
M. Butterfly knows what he is. Named after the sad-ass opera (it’s the saddest, y’all) M. Butterfly bars no holds in the honest and blatant ownership of sad-kid UK Americana. From swirling electronic bites to lush pedal steel, Brighton’s own allows you to wear your Low shirt to the honky-tonk, because sometimes a cowboy has got to cry.