If you ask Joey Guerra about his love for music, he just might tell you that it saved his life.
“Music, in particular, was an outlet,” he says. “It became a safe space.”
Most Houstonians likely know Guerra as the go-to source for local music news. As the music critic and entertainment writer for the Houston Chronicle, the openly gay Space City native writes about various aspects of pop culture and has interviewed celebrities like Beyoncé, Cher, and Dolly Parton.
Music has always been an integral part of Guerra’s life, and during his childhood it was a means of escape when he found himself the target of bullying.
“I think, in a lot of ways, music really saved me,” he admits. “It got me out of all those bad things I was feeling and put me in a different mindset.”
It was his father who introduced him to music, eventually sparking a passion.
“I had gone to performances and stuff, but I went to my first real concert when I was 12,” he recalls. “My dad took me to that. He always had, and still has, such a love for music. My dad was born in Mexico, but his music collection is everything from pop to disco to R&B to Tejano. So I really grew up that way.”
But things could have turned out quite differently for Guerra, as he didn’t initially choose journalism as his college major.
“When I started at the University of Houston, chemical engineering was the major I picked,” he says. It was only when he reflected on what he really wanted to do with his life that he switched to writing.
“I remember stopping and thinking, ‘I don’t like this. This is hard and this is boring.’ I thought about writing, because writing was something I always enjoyed and was good at.”
Guerra would go on to write for the school’s newspaper, The Daily Cougar, a path that would lead him downtown to the Houston Chronicle’s door on Texas Avenue.
Thanks to recommendations from college staff, Guerra gained steady freelance work that turned into full-time reporting for the metropolitan paper.
“Right after I graduated, they hired me on contract full-time,” he says. “That’s what really got my foot in the door.”
Writing about Houston’s diverse music scene has been a dream come true, and he enjoys partaking in all aspects of the city’s rich culture.
“There are a lot of different types of people and communities and music, so it keeps the job really interesting,” he notes. “For me, that’s one of the good things. To this day, I still feel very lucky being able to do what I do.”
And while Guerra’s reporting has changed this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, he has tried to use the crisis to his advantage by finding new ways to do his job, which has included hosting a concert series on the Chronicle’s Facebook page.
As the world grapples with the pandemic, Guerra believes musicians will have to change the way they promote their music.
“It’s going to force a lot of artists to really engage with their fans online,” he says. “I think at this point, if you’re not on social media or online, you’re nowhere. It’s going to force a lot of artists to rethink the way they promote things online.”
No matter the musical genre or the venue, Guerra ultimately strives for one goal with his work: giving a spotlight to all communities.
“That’s become part of my mindset and my mission, in terms of what I cover and what I write about,” he says. “Really, just trying to be inclusive and accepting.”