The countdown to this year’s Back Lot Bash party weekend has already started and while I can’t believe June is here – I am beyond ready to get my gay outdoor festival season going! Midsommerfest, I’m winking at you!
As most of you know by now, the fantastic ladies behind Back Lot Bash know how to put on one hell of a a show. This year, we are lucky enough to have out Country cutie, Chely Wright, headlining a great night of music for us. Starting tonight, we even get treated to three weeks of local singer-songwriters vying for the opportunity to open for Chely at Back L ot. I spoke with Chely recently and we talked about her upcoming performance, tips she would give the musicians participating in the competition and some great advice for how to approach your first Pride parade.
Mia Jones: Thanks for taking the time to speak to me, I know that everybody is really excited for you to get here to Chicago.
Chely Wright: Oh I’m really excited and I’m happy to talk to you and I’m happy to be coming back to Chicago!
MJ: Now, in a previous interview with AfterEllen’s Dara Nai – this was at the beginning of 2011, you had said that you weren’t much of a drinker. Later that year, you went on to headline at The Dinah – did you become a drinker while you were at The Dinah? I mean, you had just come out, you’re a celebrity and you were surrounded by ladies who love ladies. It sounds like one of my biggest fantasies and biggest nightmares. What was that like for you?
CW: Well, I didn’t have anything to drink at the Dinah if that’s what you’re asking. (laughs) You know, the Dinah itself is kind of known for being a great, let your hair down party for a lot of gals. My job was to basically be the soundtrack to their fun. I certainly hope I did that. I know I had a lot of fun meeting people and signing books and records. I had a great time! It’s certainly always nice to have a lot of fun. But I didn’t turn over a new leaf and start drinking. (laughs) I’m more of a “Do my show, go back to my room and watch Law and Order” kind of gal.
MJ: (Laughs) SVU or what?
CW: SVU is a favorite however if it’s not on I’ll watch Criminal Intent. But if there is an SVU marathon on, forget about it. It’s done. I will watch it no matter what.
MJ: I am the same way. Even if I feel like I have just watched a particular episode, it’s like my eyes just won’t let me stop watching. It’s also a show that seems to be on at least one channel at any given hour.
CW: Yep it’s on TNT or USA or NBC. So your odds of getting to see an episode are good. It always amazes me when I find episodes that I haven’t already seen – (laughs) it’s pretty remarkable.
MJ: So you signed on to do the Back Lot Bash and this year, because of your addition to the lineup, there’s going to be a whole competition between singer-songwriters for the opportunity to open up for you. I’m actually going to be one of the judges! What advice would you give the ladies going into this competition.
CW: Well first of all, I am so excited that people want to come and get that opening slot. As a former and sometimes still opening act, you know I started my career opening up for people like Johnny Cash and Jerry Reed and some of those early performers. So I totally get it – I get how important it is.
For whoever wins it, just get some rest the night before and drink a lot of water the night before. Don’t drink alcohol the night before and by all means don’t do your set drunk! (laughs) Invite your friends and loved ones who you know will support you; get out there and do your thing.
Also, remember the goal for entertainment and art is to be innovative and be an individual. So you don’t want to go out there and do songs that you think people want you to do. Do songs that speak to your heart. And most of all just have fun!
MJ: Yeah, definitely! When you said, don’t do what you think people want you to do, perform what comes from your heart – as someone who reviews music for part of a living, I feel like it’s easy to tell right away if someone isn’t putting their heart into it.
CW: Yeah, I think (for the ladies competing) if there’s a song by The Fray that you feel passionately about and you aren’t sure if your songs are all there yet, do the one by The Fray. I mean, play at least one of your songs during your set, but make sure you sing a song you feel passionately about.
MJ: Great advice. This leads to another question I guess – have you ever had to bounce back from an embarrassing moment on stage?
CW: Oh. Yeah. (laughs) Yeah. And it’s hard. I started playing the Grand Ole Opry back on September 16, 1989. I performed there many many times, even before I got a record deal. Well once I got a record deal – the first time I played the Opry with my own songs. Oh and it was the televised portion. Well my band and I were getting ready to go on stage and half of my band was coming in from one side and the other half was coming in from the other side. So they started playing and half the band was playing one song and half the band was playing another song. So I walked out there with my guitar and tried to figure out what they were doing and tried to communicate to them that they all weren’t playing the same thing.
Then they both ended up switching to the song the other one was playing. We sounded like a big ol trainwreck. It took us about 30 or 40 seconds before we landed on the right song and got everyone on track. And I was so nervous, you know, my shins started to sweat.
So I was a wreck. I just did my best to recover and talk to the audience after the song and told them how thankful I was to be there. I felt like I was out of my body.
MJ: That must’ve been quite a life lesson. I mean, it seems like such a fluke that something like that would happen. It sounds like you either go big or go home. Everything that I’ve heard from you it’s like you get everything out of the way really quickly. First problems playing your songs at the Grand Ol Opry right away; taking on some big performing gigs with a bunch of queer ladies. You do it all.
CW: Well yeah, you kind of have to (laughs). You’ve gotta swing at every pitch and that’s what success is all about. I mean, more importantly I’m not a brain surgeon. You know? I’m not out there saving people. I’m making music and it’s fun. I’m one of the few lucky people who gets to do what they love for a living. So, I think it’s a little bit easier for me to swing at everything that comes my way. I mean why wouldn’t I right?
MJ: Well definitely. We had the honor of having you as our Pride Marshall a couple of years ago –
CW: Yeah! It was 2010, I had just come out!
MJ: What was it like for you to be right in the middle of everything? Had you been to a Pride Parade before?
CW: Let’s see, prior to Chicago, I had done Capitol Pride in D.C. and I had also done Lansing, Michigan Pride. And of course you know, Chicago’s pride is bigger than most. It was the most profound, and hot and sweaty and encouraging and heartening to see thousands of people lining the streets. I don’t know what the actual number was – but it seemed like a million people to me. And my emotional toll was high because I was really out. And I really felt like I could remember every single face that I saw in the audience. It was one of those once in a lifetime moments. It was special.
MJ: That’s great to hear. Now that you’ve got that experience under your belt, is there any advice you would give to someone who may be nervous about coming to their first pride event? My first was so, soooo very long ago I can’t even think about what that was like. So if someone is a little bit nervous about going to their first pride, what would you say to them?
CW: Well, I would say go into it knowing that parades by nature can tend to be freakshows. When I went to my first pride, I went in secret. I went to New York City pride in 2008. I put a ballcap on and walked around with some of my friends. Although part of it was inspiring. PFLAG was very inspiring.
MJ: UM, that makes me cry every single year.
CW: Every time right!
MJ: Every. Single. Time.
CW: But the rest of the parade really kind of made me feel isolated in a lot of ways. I think that I thought that when I went to a pride parade, I would see a float of country singers who were fem. Like, I would go and find my people. But what I’ve realized in my two years of being out and really affirming myself more and more – I can see myself in the other demographics within our community. I can look at the Dykes on Bikes and see I fit in there. I fit it with the lipstick lesbians. I fit in with the gay men. I fit in with the bears. If you really affirm yourself and are comfortable with yourself, you’ll find that you’re really part of a quilt. You’re a part of a patchwork of the community and so I’ve kind of learned to take that into the parades with me. I feel like I exist in every group and I belong in every group. We’ve got that common humanity.
MJ: I think that’s actually a really great point to make because I think many people who are just starting to come out have a lot of expectations for what happens after they come out and things don’t always go as planned. I know I was personally offended that there wasn’t a race to see who could date me when I first came out. Even if my self-esteem wasn’t all that great, I still sort of expected things to be easier.
But really, your point is a good one because in the end, we’re all just people. So, even if you did find the country singing, fem people to march with – it wouldn’t necessarily mean you had anything else in common with them. So widening the group of people to align yourself with and realizing we’re all part of one big community is important.
CW: Yes. Definitely. And I encourage everybody to go to the Pride Parade with people you trust. And if you’re going to have a couple beers, it’s never more important to be with people you trust. We need to look out for each other. And most of all, have fun! Know that you’re part of a big beautiful quilt of people.
Friday June 22, 2012
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Mia can probably call herself a professional when it comes to blogging, music listening, whiskey drinking, French bulldog cuddling and sarcasm. She writes two weekly music columns for After Ellen and is psyched to be part of The L Stop and have the opportunity to write for fellow Chicagoans. Mia loves almost nothing more than dancing with old people at weddings and bar mitzvahs. You can find more of her randomness at ChubbyJones.com