The stage at Joe’s Pub was bare, except for three mic stands. As the lights dimmed, a nearly full house adjusted their seats to prepare for something special: 90 minutes of country music. Wait. Country music… in New York City? At Joe’s Pub nightclub? This isn’t something that happens every day of the week. Is there a market for country music in New York’s nightclub and cabaret scene? Judging by the crowd at Joe’s Pub on August 31st, there is. Or maybe there is just a market for Ty Herndon because this writer has been anxiously awaiting the chance to see the country star live, for several weeks, and apparently so have a lot of other people. Finally, happily, the announcer came over the loudspeaker with a warm welcome for Grammy award nominee Ty Herndon.
An unassuming and handsome man stepped through the curtain and up onto the stage. Dressed simply in blue jeans and a henley, he walked to the center mic stand and stood. He looked at the mic stand. He looked at us. He looked at the mic stand. He looked at us. He pointed to the mic stand. There was no microphone. He looked at the other two mic stands onstage. There were no microphones. Bemusedly, he said “We’ll do that all over again!” and darted offstage, at which point a tech sheepishly ran out with three mics and set them up while a laughing crowd applauded. The Joe’s Pub announcer, again, gave a warm welcome to Grammy award nominee Ty Hendon.
And the show was on.
In a gutsy move some singers would avoid, Herndon started the evening acapella, his two guitarists joining him after a couple of minutes, filling Joe’s Pubwith a classic country singing voice, bold, resonant, the kind of voice that makes you smile, but you really want to cry, such is the emotional trip it takes you on. Out of the gate, he had his audience right where they wanted to be: gazing lovingly at this man who has, for years, moved them with his acts of musical marvel. Looking around the room, all night long, a club full of urban cowboys, middle-aged good-old-boys, Ladies both Southern and Northern, gay men and new fans could be seen either beaming at the charmer or singing along (not mouthing away, singing right out loud), happy, content, satisfied. It was a sight to behold, one that bears witness to the fact that Ty Herndon has still got it.
Mr. Herndon is a funny dude. Laidback and unpretentious, he has nothing to hide, so he opted for humble honesty throughout the night, confessing he had, for days, been in bed with a high fever but, desperate to not miss his Joe’s Pubgig, he chose to perform anyway – and that high fever touched not a note in his head, for Herndon was in prime voice, even stopping once or twice to say he could do that better, and then he DID do it better (once, after three glorious tries). The man’s range is astonishing and the power with which he howls high notes for periods of time that would make a wolf nervous is positively eye-popping. Whether singing the songs that made him famous (and always thanking the fans for making it number one, two or five on the charts), tunes from his new cd “Got it Covered”, or the ones that paid off (“This song bought me a barn”) Mr. Herndon gave his all to the appreciative crowd that had no qualms about getting their phones out to record this special moment in time.
When not engaged in the acts of singing or wrestling with his mic stand, the seemingly shy but contrarily playful Herndon talked lovingly about his Grandmother (“If Jesus ain’t in it, don’t do it”), about being on Star Search with (SS winner) Sam Harris, about the time his mother chimed in from the other room about a song he passed on singing (“You’re an idiot!”) and about the experience of finally coming out of the closet five years ago. Very at home with the crowd, this true troubadour showed genuine appreciation for the audience, confessing he had always wanted to play Joe’s Pub, admitting “I was just hoping people would show up”. Owning up to being a “silly man” who loves to have fun, Herndon poked fun of his fame by referring to himself using the names of other country stars and joking about which of his friends’ hit records kept his singles from reaching number one on the charts.
And he dances, too – wow, the moves on this guy.
Ty Herndon is so free with his physicality, dancing about the stage with pure joy that makes you feel joyful too, that this writer wondered if he were this buoyant before coming out, or if this freedom of movement is something that showed up after he had broken free of the chains, to live in the light. Whatever the cause of this terpsichorean bliss, every bit of Ty Herndon‘s happiness spilled off of the stage and into the arena where fans willingly succumbed to his charms, and those of his special surprise guest, Kristin Chenoweth, who gifted us with a stunning version of “Desperado” as an adoring Herndon stood by, watching, pride and love gleaming from his eyes. It turns out, Herndon shared with us, that Ms. Chenoweth is going with his phenomenal guitarist, Josh Bryant, (his other brilliant guitarist, it turns out, is his cd producer Erik Halbig) — proving that which show business people have, long, known: making art with family is where the good stuff comes from.
Among the songs Herndon sang were “Loved Too Much”, “A Man Holding On”, “I Have to Surrender”, “Living in a Moment” and “Hands of a Working Man” but the biggest two highlights (in an evening of many) were when he hilariously applied “I Want My Goodbye Back” to his coming out and his subsequent divorce, and when he sang his hit song “What Mattered Most” using pronouns he was not able to use when he first released it in 1995. It was, surely, difficult to become the first major male country singer to be openly gay, but the experience has obviously informed Mr. Herndon’s work because the person we saw at Joe’s Pub is living his best life, as an artist, as a role model, as a man; and that man who has wanted to play Joe’s Pub for a long time but was worried people might not show up should consider coming back to NYC and Joe’s Pub, and often, because it is very clear that people will show up again and again, their hearts filled with love and devotion for an artist who not only earned it but deserves it.
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Ty Herndon‘s dynamic album of cover songs includes one from Carrie Underwood. It’s arguably the most important song on the upcoming record, Got It Covered.
Among re-imaginings of his own “What Mattered Most,” “Living In a Moment” and many more are covers of songs by Bonnie Raitt, Marc Cohn and Underwood. For this exclusive Taste of Country premiere, Herndon explained why “So Small” is so important. He recalls hearing it in his truck on the way to a real estate class in Nashville, having recently moved back from Los Angeles.
“I was having a tough time deciding whether or not I wanted to stay in a business that I loved so much,” Herndon shares. “I believed strongly that I was done. I wasn’t hearing a lot of dynamic singers on the radio anymore. The music had evolved and changed.”
“So Small” was a 2007 single for Underwood from her Carnival Ride album. It would become a No. 1 hit for the American Idol star.
“The message was incredibly strong and it was something I needed to hear. But holy cow … It was all about that vocal — dynamic, strong, and powerful! So powerful that it changed my mind. I had quite a few tears that morning in my truck. I let go of my fear and decided to stay in the music business. I decided I could do exactly what Carrie was doing in some small way. For me, it’s simply meant doing music that mattered. Music that changes hearts and minds. And it also gave me the courage to start the conversation about my own coming out process.”
Herndon says a full music video is set for release the same day his new Got It Covered album drops, on Aug. 23. It’s a dynamic video with a strong message.
“Thank you Carrie Underwood for being on my radio that day,” he says. “It changed my life.
Billy Dukes | August 15, 2019
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Ty Herndon, “What Mattered Most”
An updated version of a 24-year-old song, Ty Herndon’s reimagined “What Matters Most” changes the pronouns from the singer’s career-launching 1995 hit. The result is an open-minded ballad that makes no attempt to hide Herndon’s sexual orientation. “His eyes are blue, his hair is long,” sings the crooner, who came out publicly in 2014.
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Tim McGraw, Daughtry, Rita Wilson, Mickey Guyton and more demonstrated their passion for the LGBTQ community at the 5th annual Ty Herndon Concert For Love and Acceptance at the Wildhorse Saloon in Nashville on Thursday (June 6).
Each artist that participates finds meaning in the cause. For Guyton, it stands for action. As a second time participant, Guyton shared how she feels a kinship with the LGBTQ community, calling the conversation surrounding the event “so important.” “Being an African American woman in country music, I know what it’s like to be different. I know what it’s like to not feel accepted and that’s why I’m here, to show solidarity and show everyone that I’m with you and I love you and I see you,” she expressed to Sounds Like Nashville on the red carpet.
Country music has a long history regarding lack of LGBTQ representation. While artists like Kacey Musgraves, Dolly Parton, Carrie Underwood and more have been vocal about their support for inclusion, Guyton admits that “a lot of work” needs to done to better incorporate the LGBTQ community into the genre. “I’d be lying if I said that everything is perfect, it’s not. But in order for change to happen there has to be action from across the board…and throwing an event like this is making this a normal thing,” she says.
Billy Gilman echoes this sentiment, adding that country music has a “long way to go” when it comes to LGBTQ inclusion, believing that fans would embrace LGBTQ artists on the radio. “I think the audiences aren’t as abrasive as the men writing the documents,” he observes. “I think if they would let their guard down and try to infiltrate a little of an LGBT artist on radio, I think you’d be surprised at the lack of clapback.”
Gilman came out as gay in 2014 and has made it his mission to be a voice for those who feel suppressed. He’s met and received letters from people who share their stories of abuse and homelessness as a result of coming out. The singer says the Concert For Love and Acceptance gives a voice to those living in remote areas who aren’t always embraced with acceptance. “We need more love, and by coming here, it fuels us all to go out for the rest of the year and push through to all our kids and adults,” he says, describing the event’s mission as “creating a better world.” “Hopefully one day, we realize that we don’t need a Love and Acceptance concert, it’s all equal now. I only pray for that day.”
For Rita Wilson, the event symbolizes support. Wilson had heard about Herndon, whom she calls an “incredible artist,” and the event through a mutual friend and songwriting partner. Wilson has been an advocate for the LGBTQ community through her work with Aid for AIDS, a nonprofit that provides education and access to treatment for individuals who have HIV. “I think in my world of supporting AIDs research and finding a cure for AIDs, that’s been a big part of our involvement in the LGBTQ community. Also, I just feel like we have to do more work and accepting and just realizing that it’s not a choice…You were born that way,” she relates. “I’m a Christian and I still believe that.”
The concert also shone a spotlight on emerging artists Zolita and Jada Cato, the recipients of GLAAD’s Rising Stars Grants. Zolita is a singer-songwriter who’s music and videos highlight femme-on-femme lesbian representation, while Cato is a Birmingham-based singer and theatre actress. Growing up in Alabama, Cato was a fan of 90s country music, introduced to the Dixie Chicks and Shania Twain through her sisters. She says it’s a “dream come true” to be a involved in an event that celebrates people she didn’t see represented in country music during her youth.
“When I was 14 waking up every day for high school watching CMT, I would never even dare to see a queer person or hear a queer person, or really even a person of color for that matter, and barely any women. So, it’s been nice to see the progression and be able to be a part of that because it’s hard to go against the grain and do something different but ultimately it’s worth it. It doesn’t really serve you to change your art in a way that isn’t authentic to you,” Cato explains. “I’m so grateful to be a part of something like this, in hopes that someone that is growing up watching CMT now knows that the door’s been opened.”
Similarly, Brandon Stansell grew up in a southern town where he didn’t see himself represented in the genre he admired. A native of Chattanooga, Tenn., Stansell has since moved to Los Angeles to launch his country music career, releasing such songs as “Hometown” that capture the feeling of isolation, but also appreciation for the rural town he was raised in, along with a cover of Musgraves’ “Space Cowboy.” “I’ve loved country music my whole life, but I’ve never seen myself reflected in it. So I think it’s really important that queer people, just like straight people, have the opportunities to write about their experiences in an honest way and be able to put those out and have people hear them,” Stansell shares.
He cites the Concert For Love and Acceptance as an agent of change that provides a platform to tell these stories, uniting LGBTQ artists with their allies in country music. “It’s that one night where we get to shine the big spotlight on the LGBTQ community in a space where not many people see us or know that we even exist, so this is kind of the start of it,” he says. “This is that thing that changes everything.”
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Singer-songwriter and activist makes her first appearance at growing and diverse annual event hosted by Ty Herndon.
Singer-songwriter and activist Chely Wright made her first appearance at the Concert for Love and Acceptance on Thursday night, performing a pair of her hits as the event celebrated its fifth year.
One of those was “Shut Up and Drive,” a 1997 hit for Wright that got a huge cheer from the crowd. Leaving the original pronouns intact, Wright gave a soulful, emotive performance of the tune, which was written by Rivers Rutherford, Sam Tate and Annie Tate and included on Wright’s album Let Me In.
But Wright’s presence at the event was significant for a second reason. Host Ty Herndon, who helped organize the event with GLAAD a few years ago, remarked on how Wright had smashed through all the barriers when she came out of the closet nine years ago. Herndon, who recently re-recorded his song “What Mattered Most” with pronouns updated to reflect his experiences as a gay man, referred to Wright as a “coach” when he made the decision to publicly come out.
So it was a full-circle moment for the event, which has offered an affirming and inclusive environment in the middle of downtown Nashville during CMA Fest for the past five years. People visiting Nashville for the weekend (and the Fest) even attend this event specifically, enjoying the music alongside members of Nashville’s LGBTQ community.
Wright’s appearance at the Concert for Love and Acceptance is also indicative of its growth and diversification over that five-year stretch. This year’s lineup included Billy Gillman, Brandon Stansell, Daughtry, Harper Grae, Lee Brice, Mickey Guyton, Tayla Lynn, Tyler Rich, Brody Ray and a surprise appearance by Gavin DeGraw. Men and women, Queer performers and allies, established and rising performers, all present to offer support — it’s a small glimpse of the diversity of country fans, along with the potential it has to be a welcoming place for all.
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