by Annie Parnell, Editor
Editor’s Note: This is the fourth installment of our Regional Queer Country series, which has so far included the Northeast, Texas, and Southeast regions of the US. This week, we’ll be diving into the queer country of the Mid-Atlantic. — AVP
The mid-Atlantic music triad of Baltimore, Philadelphia, and Washington, DC hits pretty close to home for me — literally. I grew up crossing the Beltway into DC and Maryland, clomping my Doc Martens into hole-in-the-wall venues with names like “Hell’s Bottom” to watch my friends’ DIY punk sets and folk-tinged open mic nights. It was before I had found a home in my family’s generational love of country music, but not before I got the chance to acquaint myself with the rich musical histories of the area where I grew up.
The queer country music from this region has plenty of diverse traditions to draw from: there’s the rich jazz culture of Washington and Baltimore, the enduring influence of the Philadelphia Folksong Society, Philly and DC’s vibrant histories of funk and soul, and the righteous anger and activism of my very own DC hardcore. From this eclectic mix, I’ve pulled a few of my favorites from the folk and country spectrums. Know someone I’ve missed? Tell them to sign up for our directory!
Crys Matthews (Washington, DC)
A little while ago, Crys Matthews dropped a powerful album called Changemakers that’s been rocking our worlds ever since. Raised in North Carolina by a preacher and now living in DC, she’s been described as “the next Woody Guthrie” for her folk-tinged songs of social justice. “Prodigal Son” is both a call-out against the homophobia laced into many religious institutions and an invocation to young country queers to live as their truest selves.
SONiA disappear fear (Baltimore, MD)
Big-hearted Baltimore native SONiA disappear fear is a veteran performer in the queer country scene, with a decades-spanning career of art and activism through both her time in the folk-punk act disappear fear and her solo work. Reminiscent of Sheryl Crow and the Indigo Girls, she’s gotten recognition from all over — GLAAD, the Grammys, GLAMA, and more — and deserves it aplenty. “Gangsters of Love,” off her most recent album Love Out Loud, is a heartwarming testament to second chances and loud-and-proud queer love.
Evil (Washington, DC)
Evil got plenty of attention when their early song “Slow Dance” was featured in an episode of Adventure Time — “the first song I wrote when I decided I wanted to make country music,” as they’ve explained on Tumblr. Their most recent single “Wrecked” mixes dreamy steel guitar slides with powerful R&B rhythms and spoken-word voiceovers, preaching to listeners that “the love of mankind is not unconditional, nor is it everlasting.” Be sure to check out their recent interview with our sister publication, Black Opry.
Shamir (Philadelphia, PA)
Shamir genre-hops like nobody’s business, working in country, indie rock, and electro-pop in waves. In 2019, his album Be The Yee, Here Comes the Haw skewed sharply towards the quiet side of the former with introspective lo-fi folk ballads like “Death of a Pastor.” “Other Side” on 2020’s Shamir, meanwhile, busts out into a rootsy, guitar-driven retelling of an episode of Unsolved Mysteries. As his Bandcamp bio tells it, “Shamir is Shamir and remains Shamir through and through.”
Sixteen Jackies (Philadelphia, PA)
Sixteen Jackies say that they’ve been “lurking in the basement of Philadelphia since early 2016,” an eerie description that feels right at home alongside their recent Cramps-influenced psychobilly single “My Baby’s On Drugs” and 2018 gender-defying concept EP Mascula. They take just as many cues, however, from dream pop, new wave, and good-old fashioned country, all while maintaining a singularly spooky aesthetic with lyrics like “you came walking over like an upside-down cross.”
Drew Beckman (Washington, DC)
DC-based Drew Beckman’s origin story is decidedly romantic — starting off as a non-profit desk-rider and Washington-area reporter, the South Dakota native suddenly found himself writing and performing dozens of songs in the persona of a “queer cowboy figure traveling west.” Since then, he’s been covered in the Washington Post and making plenty of waves. His most recent single with the Boundary Boys, “Hellfire,” spins an epic outlaw narrative with a righteously-wicked music video to boot.
Susan Werner (Philadelphia, PA)
Current Philadelphia resident Susan Werner has been a stalwart performer in the queer folk singer-songwriter world since the 1990s, but she comes back home to her Iowa roots in her 2020 release Flyover Country. This cozy, nostalgic album deals in themes as broad as the complications of memory and moments as specific as the image of hearing her father sing along to the Grand Ole Opry. Lately, she’s also been running an online variety show via YouTube livestream called Susie on Sundays.
Rahne Alexander (Baltimore, MD)
Rahne Alexander, who’s performed in a variety of projects including 50’♀, Flaming Creatures, and The Degenerettes, is a Baltimore multimedia artist whose music takes cues from punk, country, and folk. Recently, she contributed a beautiful cover of “Came So Far For Beauty” for the album Last Year’s Man: A Baltimore Tribute to Leonard Cohen, with all proceeds benefiting Planned Parenthood of Maryland. Her writing has been featured in a variety of queer anthologies and in her own essay collection Heretic to Housewife, and in August she’s set to perform in the reading series OutWrite 2021.
Amy Andrews (Baltimore, MD)
Baltimore musician and activist Amy Andrews’ newest single “Go Ahead” is doggedly hopeful from the start, offering a slow guitar build as she confesses that “honey, you have my heart, try as I might to take it back.” It’s an uplifting anthem to letting yourself go in love, with witty lyrics that are bound to pull the heartstrings of anyone who’s found themselves in her shoes. In addition to folk, she brings in influences from jazz, rock, and soul — an Hozier-esque genre mix that allows her honey-smooth vocals to shine.
Andrea Nardello (Philadelphia, PA)
Despite taking a break from touring, Andrea Nardello has been making quite a name for herself in the Philadelphia folk scene. In 2019, she performed with Brandi Carlile at the all-female festival Girls Just Wanna Weekend, and was named an NPR Slingshot Artist to Know. More recently, she performed at the Philadelphia Folksong Society’s Winter Doldrums festival in February. “Honey Whiskey,” off her EP Human, is a beautiful love song with a painful edge — just like the drink from which it takes its name.