Still Going Strong
Gay country artist Ty Herndon previews his June 30 concert and a new album.
Ty Herndon knows a thing or two about love and acceptance. Initially embraced by country music fans in the mid-to-late 1990s, a series of unfortunate events, including some related to his sexuality, sidelined his career. After proudly coming out as a gay man in 2014 and finding personal
and public acceptance, Herndon has performed at Pride festivals and released albums in which he sings love songs with same-gender pronouns.
One of his greatest accomplishments is the formation of the Foundation for Love & Acceptance and its annual music event, the Concert of Love & Acceptance. The all-star 2021 Concert for Love & Acceptance takes place on June 30 at 7 p.m., and is going to be livestreamed both on CMT’s Facebook and YouTube channels and at F4LA.org/concert. Performers include Herndon, Kristin Chenoweth, Kathy Mattea, Brothers Osborne, Terri Clark, Brooke Eden, Chris Housman, Gretchen Peters, and Tenille Townes, to name a few. This year’s event beneficiaries include GLAAD, MusiCares, and Nashville’s Oasis Center.
Ty was generous enough to chat with OutSmart in advance of the concert.
Gregg Shapiro: Ty, would you please say a few words about the genesis of the Concert for Love & Acceptance?
Ty Herndon: At the beginning of creating Love & Acceptance, I’m so happy I trusted my heart. I’ve said this many times, but I stand by this: I wanted to do something for that 14-year-old kid that’s at home watching the CMA Awards. For me, it was watching Hee Haw! [laughs] and thinking to myself, “Oh my God, I want to sing with Tammy Wynette one day!” But now it’s that kid who wants to sing with Maren Morris, but they feel like they’re broken and they don’t fit in. I don’t know one actor, singer—anybody in entertainment—who has ever felt like they fit in. I said from the beginning that I wanted to make that kid (who was also me, sitting out there) wherever they’re from or whatever their gender—think that they can do anything they want to in this world. It’s just getting the right messaging.
On June 30, the latest Concert for Love & Acceptance is being presented with an all-star cast. Did you ever imagine, when you first came up with the concept, that you would still be involved with each concert that followed? Did you realize how successful they would be?
I hear “You’ve got to stay relevant in the business” so much! Reba McEntire told me one time, “You’re constantly reinventing yourself, and there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s ‘Always moving, always evolving.’” I always credit my Concert for Love & Acceptance for keeping me kind of relevant. [Laughs] In a great way, because I get to meet and talk and work with all these affirming hearts. Whether they’re on our red carpet, or on the show, or whether it’s a friend like Terri Clark, who’s been around with me forever. Or Kathy Mattea! A lot of kids will be watching the show because of Brothers Osborne and some of these amazing new acts that are on the radio today. But they don’t know who Kathy Mattea is, so we’re going to tell them!
I’m so glad that you mentioned Kathy. I was happy to see her in the lineup! I remember how supportive she was during the early years of the AIDS crisis, performing at benefits as well as contributing songs to the Red Hot + Country album. What does it mean to you to have her be part of the concert?
I was watching the CMA awards that evening when she was the only artist who had a red ribbon on. A lot of the artists were wearing the green ribbon for supporting the earth and environmental awareness. That red ribbon stood out like crazy! I remember thinking, “Wow, she’s really brave!” There are soldiers out there who tell the truth, no matter what the cost. I love that! I try to stand for that today. Having the opportunity to be “authentic.” I hear a lot of kids say, “What does that mean today?” I’m like, [laughs] “I don’t know, why don’t you tell me?” Back to Reba: “Constantly growing and moving forward.”
Also among this year’s performers is longtime ally and icon Kristin Chenoweth. What does it mean to you to have her on the roster?
Well, she really didn’t have a choice because she’s one of my best friends. [Big laugh] I was talking to her yesterday. I said, “Oh, you saw your picture on the announcement? Oh yeah, you’re doing the show!” With a star of her magnitude, friend or not, I have to go through the proper channels. She has a great team of people, and they were so delighted. We’re closing out the show with my performance with Kristin this year. It’s gonna be… I can’t tell you, but make sure you stay tuned. [Laughs]
Has it gotten easier over the years to get performers to agree to take part in the Concert for Love & Acceptance?
I’m gonna tell you something right now, and I’m probably gonna get emotional. [Compared to] the amount of stuff we used to have to fight for just to get noticed, it just was there during our press day, two days ago. I work hard, yes, but I have a team of people that works so hard. We had a meeting yesterday and we were talking about this. It’s nice to have the phone ringing—for people to actually want to do the show. It’s mind-blowing, and I get emotional about it.
That’s understandable. The 2021 Concert for Love & Acceptance features some incredible out country acts, including TJ Osborne of the Brothers Osborne, Brooke Eden, and Chris Housman. Since coming out, would you say you are encountering more LGBTQ folks in country music?
You know what it’s like to turn on The Highway on SiriusXM and hear [lesbian country artist] Lily Rose? I mean, like, Wow! Hold on a second—you got me all emotional again.
Sorry. I have that effect.
[Laughs] The fact that I am a big old strong cowboy and I cry about this—that’s the answer to your question. Things are changing, and we’ve been able to see that. It’s awesome.
Do you think that Cody Alan, being an out person on CMT, has helped the Nashville and country music loving community become more accepting and open-minded?
I think everybody knows how luxurious and awesome and wonderful Cody Allen is. The way he speaks [with] confidence and authenticity, and how he can stand next to people who agree and people who don’t agree, and they still know that he matters. I’ve told him this to his face: “What you’re doing is probably the greatest work.”
Yes, it’s good to have him in the community. Because of the Concert for Love & Acceptance, and your involvement in various charitable events, you can proudly call yourself a philanthropist. What does it mean to you to be able to have that distinction?
[Laughs] I’m going to say something, and I think all my LGBTQ brothers and sisters will laugh about this. I’ve often thought that “philanthropist” sounds like the name of a drag queen. “Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the stage Miss Phyl-Ann Thropist!” But seriously, I just try, on a daily basis, to wake up and do something for someone else. You know I’m a sober guy, so [following my program and doing something for others] is what saves my own ass. I feel like being who I am today keeps me alive.
Finally, Ty, is there any chance that there is some new music from you in the works?
I’m going to give you the scoop, my friend. The album is called Jacob. It’s a body of work that I have written with some of the most wide-awake, sober, intelligent, life-changing people in the world. The lyrics mean a lot, and we tracked nine songs yesterday. It was one of the most emotional days I’ve ever had, because the album is so personal.
For more information on Ty Herndon, visit tyherndon.com.
This article appears in the June 2021 edition of OutSmart magazine.