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By Don Maines
About 200 LGBTQ musicians from across the country will join Houston Pride Band members in a Texas-sized concert on September 3 at the close of the four-day 35th-anniversary conference of the Lesbian and Gay Bands of America (LGBA).
“We have so many musicians that we can’t fit on one stage,” says conference cochair Russell Ben Williams, explaining that the musicians will perform in two groups, a Blue Band and a Gold Band, arranged according to their instruments and skill sets.
“Half the musicians will perform the first half of the program while the other half sits in the audience; then they will switch places after intermission,” says Williams. “It’s great because everybody will get to perform as well as see a concert, which we don’t often get to do when we’re the ones performing.”
The concert, which will be held in the Wortham Theater Center, is titled “The Stars at Night,” which comes from a line in the folk song “Deep in the Heart of Texas.” The idea is to celebrate the rich diversity that Houston and Texas have to offer, says Jason Stephens, lead artistic director for the conference.
With input from Deborah Hirsch, the Houston Pride Band’s interim artistic director, and Crawford Howell, the group’s associate director, Stephens selected a program of 14 songs that shine a light on the Lone Star State’s music, history, food, and culture.
The program includes a new version of the popular folk tune “The Yellow Rose of Texas,” in which directors from other LGBA bands pitched in by arranging parts for various instruments, resulting in a “collaborative commission.”
“Some of these are really tough pieces that a hometown band might not be able to do without filling in some instruments, so this is a perfect opportunity to push our limits and showcase what we can do together,” says Stephens.
The Silsbee native is one of the concert’s four local conductors, along with Hirsch, Howell, and David Bertman, the director of bands, cheer, and dance at the University of Houston. The concert will be emceed by Nancy Ford, a self-described “professional lesbian.”
Prior to the concert, musicians from more than 30 LGBT community bands across the country will take part in rehearsals, chamber-music ensembles, workshops, and clinics with guest speakers, says Williams, noting that “Comic-Con is a convention; LGBA is a conference.”
Williams adds that Houston hasn’t hosted the LGBA conference since 1991, giving Pride Band members extra oomph to show off how downtown Houston now bursts with energy and the city has been revitalized with an abundance of nightclubs, dining choices, musical entertainment, and opportunities for sightseeing and shopping.
“The last time we hosted the LGBA conference, downtown Houston was a literal ghost town on weekends,” says Williams. “We still had the Houston Oilers and the Astrodome, and we looked forward to Gay Day at AstroWorld.”
Williams had recently arrived in Houston from his small hometown of Kingsville. “I was a baby girl, brand-new to the band,” says the Jersey Village graphic designer. “The first thing I did when I got to Houston was get a gay magazine and find the band, before even getting a job. They were my first set of friends in Houston.”
Other LGBA members also speak of how their love of band music brought them together.
“The big goal of our organization is to support the LGBT community through music,” says Stephens. “As I see this conference come together, I’m realizing now that it’s going to be great.”
The conference has been two years in the making, explains Williams, beginning with Houston and San Francisco both bidding to host the 2017 event at their 2015 conference.
Once the votes of each delegation were counted, recalls Williams, “We won by one vote. The first thing we did was panic.”
His co-chair for the conference was Debbie Hunt of Galveston, a longtime member who passed away in July. “Her passing away is going to make this even more emotional,” says Williams. (See story on page 55.)
The conference’s website, lgba2017.org, includes a wealth of information about the conference, the host hotel, places to wine and dine, etc. It’s a veritable online Chamber of Commerce resource designed and managed by Joe Dombrowski, the marketing and web design committee chief. Dombrowski was president of the Houston Pride Band’s board of directors through last summer, when he didn’t seek re-election so he could focus on the conference and other duties within the band.
Kevin Taylor chairs the conference production committee.
Other committee members include Trudy Allen (merchandising), Chris Foster (librarian), William Fu (at-large), Christopher Hodge (database coordinator), Adrian Leyva (at-large), Lisa Mace (volunteer coordinator), and Aaron Reines (historian).
This article appears in the August 2017 issue of OutSmart Magazine.