Pride ends tonight on a high note, thanks to Ty Herndon’s Concert For Love And Acceptance. The country star shares who inspired the show to go virtual, his thoughts on the new generation of LGBT+ stars, and more.
“I’ve lived through a few interesting times in my life,” Ty Herndon says at the start of an EXCLUSIVE interview with HollywoodLife. “This has been one of the I won’t even call it interesting — it’s been one of most trying times in America that I’ve seen and in my lifetime, and especially in the music industry,” the “What Mattered Most” singer adds. He’s not wrong. The COVID-19 pandemic has shuttered concert venues, delayed album releases, and postponed countless tours. It even forced the cancellation of Pride events across the world, and that same fate almost befell Ty’s Concert For Love & Acceptance after CMA Fest – when the Concert usually takes place – was axed.
“I just assumed that since [CMA Fest] was canceled that we couldn’t do the event,” said Ty. “And then my dear friend Kristin Chenoweth said, ‘sweetheart, there is no reason we can’t have this event. We’re gonna change what it looks like.'” With help from Country Music Television, and a little bit of ingenuity, the Concert for Love & Acceptance will be live-streamed tonight (June 30) at 7pm ET on YouTube, Facebook, and at www.F4LA.org/concert (where fans can also donate.)
Ty — who came out in 2014, becoming the first male country artist to be openly gay – also credits another powerful woman for giving him a much-needed kick to make this show happen. “My mom’s a Steel Magnolia,” says Ty, after his mother texted him during the interview. “I think for about five minutes, I wanted to sit in the corner when all the pandemic hit. And my mom had to remind me — like a lot of folks, you know, we lost a lot of things. We lost touring, and people lost their jobs. And it just, it was crazy. And — I’ve been sober a long time, but for the first time in my life, my entire system went back to ‘Oh, I don’t know what to do.’ My brain just triggered a shutdown in my system.”
“And it was my mother that called me,” says Ty, before laughing at the memory. “She said, ‘you know, that platform that you use? You stand on stage, and you help people?’ And I said, ‘Yeah, Mom. It’s called the stage.’ She goes, ‘No, son. It’s not. I’m talking about your platform, that that you’ve worked your whole life to build.’ And she says, ‘Well, I’m going to sell it on Facebook. So, what’s it worth? How much is it? What should I price it at, because you’re clearly not using it.'”
“I say, ‘my platform’s not for sale,’ and my mother – my little Southern mother, who’s never cusses– she goes, ‘well, you’re not being my son right now. Get your ass up out of the corner.’ And she hung up on me – the first time in my life! She didn’t take my call back for a few days. She was done with me. She was really mad at me. And it took that for me to say, ‘Okay, wait a minute. This is not about what we’ve lost. This is about what we’re going to do about it, and how we’re going to rise up and make a change and then fix this.”
With that bit of “mother’s love,” Ty got back to “fixing it.” And so, the 2020 Concert For Love And Acceptance was back on. This year, the virtual event will feature appearances and performances by Chely Wright, Rita Wilson, Lauren Alaina, Matt Bomer, Lewis Brice, Terri Clark, Harper Grae, the Indigo Girls, Dennis Quaid, Jake Owen, Mickey Guyton, Jamie O’Neal, Billy Gilman, Brett Young, Kalie Shorr, and more. The iconic Tanya Tucker will also open up the night because if Ty was going to do this, he had to do it right.
He’ also going to do some good with this show. For the past five years, Ty has partnered with GLAAD to put on the Concert For Love and Acceptance to help raise funds for the LGBT+ community. This year’s event — co-hosted by Ty’s “dear friend” Kristen Chenoweth, and CMT’s Cody Alan — will also raise money the Academy of County Music’s Lifting Lives, a nonprofit organization serving members of the music community who face unexpected hardships.
“I live in East Nashville, and there’s a lot of music community here, and in the last month, I’ve seen a lot of moving trucks, because people can’t afford their rent or their house payments. And it’s just been, it’s been hard to see,” says Ty. “And I was, I was sitting around, and I was thinking, ‘you know, I’m not getting to tour right now, but I do own a foundation that’s connected to my Concert For Love and Acceptance. And we do a lot of work for the LGBTQ community, which I’m a part of, of course, but I’m also part of the music community. That’s my legacy that I have been in my whole life.”
Ty’s legacy might also be seen in the new generation of LGBTQIA+ country acts. Cody Alan, Shelly Fairchild, Orville Peck, and Little Nas X are just some of the names challenging the stereotype of County being a genre for “straight white dudes.” When asked if he sees these stars as being the result of him being the first openly gay male country music star, he’s quite humbled at the notion. “Like, wow,” says Ty. “I would say that is a large compliment you gave me, if I were to think that way. I feel like I might have had a small part in that? Maybe just being a legacy artist from the 90s?
“What I see in these guys is — they’re great musicians. I teach this when I talk to kids today. I say, ‘don’t come to town and thinking, you know, ‘I got to be this powerful gay person.’ Come to town and think you’ve got to be this powerful musician. ‘You got to be a powerful songwriter, you gotta be this powerful businessperson because the rest will fall in place. And I see these guys doing that. And I love it.”
“I’ve never been a person that’s been about labels. But when I came out, I had to respect the fact that I did have a label –talking about that I’m standing up for a group of people. And my whole goal has been to marry other groups of people together so that we don’t have to deal with labels one day because these [labels] doesn’t matter. And they stand up for everything that’s right in this world. They are their full circle, and that is going to make them successful not only in their life but in their careers.”
But, his legacy will be the last thing on Ty’s mind tonight. Instead, he’ll be focused on helping those currently in need. “I think everything is going on in the nation right now,” says Ty, “it’s just about change, and change comes with loving and accepting. And – Kristen and I were talking last night, it couldn’t come at a better time, that we can just all lift each other up.”
The Concert For Love And Acceptance Airs Tonight, June 30, at 7pm ET on CMT’s YouTube and Facebook pages.