Openly gay country music stars have existed ever since Seattle singer-songwriter Patrick Haggerty formed Lavender Country in 1972. Yet in the traditionally conservative country scene, LGBTQ voices have largely remained on the fringe of the genre.
In the Bay Area, queer voices are gaining ground, and Sonoma County-based group Country Queer is taking the bull by the horns with an online magazine and lifestyle brand celebrating those voices. This month, Country Queer gets into the live music arena with a free concert on Nov. 15 featuring Lavender Country and others at the Starling Bar in Sonoma.
“We have a mission to change the culture of country music,” says Country Queer founder Dale Geist.
Five years ago Geist was working for music magazine No Depression and says he noticed the way artists could present themselves in the Americana world had limits. “I felt like that didn’t reflect the reality of queer people,” he says.
Earlier this year, Geist decided to do something about it, lending his journalism and website design skills towards the goal of increasing the visibility of queer people in country and Americana. He began with the online magazine Country Queer, and soon made and sold merchandise.
“I think the merch is an important part of the visibility because it’s a way for people to say, “I’m a real country fan and I’m queer,'” Geist says.
Geist knew live shows were the next step in lifting up LGBTQ voices; though he didn’t expect it to happen so soon. It just happened that Haggerty reached out to Geist about booking a Lavender Country gig in the North Bay, and Geist jumped at the chance to bring the iconic figure to town.
“As soon as you research the history of queer country music, you are slapped in the face with the album Lavender Country that came out in 1973, which was billed as the first gay country album and in some ways maybe still is the only one,” says Geist. “It certainly was the prototype; and it’s a very foundational record for anyone who is LGBTQ and is playing country music.”
For the Sonoma concert, Bay Area band Secret Emchy Society, fronted by Country Queer editorial director Cindy Emch, and transgender singer-songwriter Mya Byrne join Lavender Country for an eclectic night of roots-rock.
“This show is an important step for us,” says Geist. “We are looking to use this to start the momentum flowing.”
Country Queer presents Lavender Country on Friday, Nov. 15, at Starling Bar, 19380 Hwy 12, Sonoma. 8pm. Free. countryqueer.com.