Country star Ty Herndon famously barged out of the closet in 2014, but since then he’s been paying it forward in the form of the Concert for Love and Acceptance, taking place June 7 at the Wildhorse Saloon during CMA Fest in Nashville. The concert, produced by Herndon in conjunction with GLAAD, will feature performances by some of country’s up-and-coming stars in addition to a few established greats, including the recently announced country music mega-star Tanya Tucker.
This week’s event will mark the fourth Concert for Love and Acceptance (the third done in conjunction with GLAAD), and it’s a cause very close to Herndon’s heart. And its beginnings can be traced back four years to when Herndon made that leap of faith so many of us are familiar with but which is different for all.
“Being a country artist and coming out publicly as gay was, I have to say — even growing up in the Pentecostal church of Alabama — the scariest thing I’ve ever encountered,” he tells Hornet. “I had worked extremely hard to have a legacy in country music, and I was proud of the accomplishments I’d made musically. But I found out one day that I could no longer live in this body — in this skin, in these bones — not being authentic and being myself. It was just becoming impossible, and it was literally making me physically ill.”
Herndon thanks good friend Chely Wright, a country artist who came out more than a decade ago, and “a few other pioneers” for helping him take that step. “I was willing to walk away from my entire career just to live authentically and be happy in my life,” he says.
“Love and acceptance was something I was praying for when I made that announcement four years ago — that I would continue to hold onto a career in an industry that I loved, and also be myself, and launch a new rocket ship into the unknown,” Herndon says. “And I did that with a lot of help and a lot of support. I wanted to have an imprint that would mean something over the years. I wanted to talk to families and end the crazy suicide rate of kids in the South and all over the country who are not loved and accepted and feel like their lives don’t matter.”
That, Ty Herndon says, is the goal of the Concert for Love and Acceptance, which grows bigger and bigger by the year. He says it has nearly become a full-time job, and he’s even considered taking it on the road to select cities. (Though, as Herndon tells us, he’s planning to release four albums this year, so wherever will he find the time?!)
Tanya Tucker, the evening’s big guest, is herself a global superstar (with 25 million records sold and downloaded, two CMAs, two ACMs, three CMT awards and 10 Grammy noms under her belt buckle), and she’s also a dear friend to Ty Herndon. “I’ve been trying to get Tanya to do the show for a while, because she’s so extremely affirming, and she’s been through a lot in her life, and she’s got three amazing kids. Her daughter Presley is my god-daughter, and I try to bring in some friends every year,” he says.
Herndon’s good friends Terri Clark and Michael Ray are also coming back, as well as Thompson Square, about whom he says, “Those guys were on the road with me for eight years as guitar players and backup singers, and they’ve gone out and are selling millions of records now.”
Of all the genres of music, it’s only recently — in the last 10 years or so — that country music has opened its arms to LGBTQ artists and personalities. This week’s Concert for Love and Acceptance is much-welcomed proof of that, in addition to the show being a platform for a new generation of country artists who don’t fit within the genre’s previously set heteronormative rules.
As for those four albums Ty Herndon plans to release this year, among them are a Christmas album, an album of jazz standards and — in time for Pride Month 2018 — six dance tracks. The tracks are re-imaginings of some of his hits and “things I’ve always wanted to cut,” he says, which is perfect for an artist like him who regularly tours the Pride circuit.
The first two dance mixes should see release as early as next week. The world of EDM is “a whole new world, another rocket ship,” he says. “I need people to know that I might be just a cowboy, but I’m a cowboy that can bring the house down.”