Orville Peck has been a leading figure in the gay country scene for quite some time now.
His heartfelt lyrics about queer love and vulnerability have resonated with members of the LGBTQIA+ community, as well as those who avoid the genre because of the stereotypes about women, alcohol and trucks.
Songs like “Roses Are Falling” – a fan favorite – and “Queen of the Rodeo,” – dedicated to the drag queen Thanks Jem – are just a few examples of Peck’s deep, passionate voice at work, and I was fortunate enough to see him live on his “Drive Me, Crazy” Tour.
We arrived early at College Street Music Hall in New Haven–no line, no wait. There was a tour bus parked in front. Curious and dying to get an autograph, I asked if Orville was inside.
“I am not at liberty to confirm or deny that,” was all the ticket booth associate could say. We never actually saw him leave the bus, so we assumed he was already in the venue.
This was the first time I watched a concert in the general admission area, which I was very excited about. I previously imagined GA crowds as a motley crew; pushy fans willing to do whatever it takes to get a glance their way. I was happily proven wrong. The crowd felt like a sense of unity; the comfort that comes with being yourself was palpable in the crowd. The only masks on display were medical, along with the country star’s iconic tasseled face covering.
There was only one unspoken rule that everyone seemed to know that would make you feel out of place if you didn’t: Wear western attire.
In addition to the rise of country lovers in recent years, traditional rootin’-tootin’ plaid patterns and cowboy boots have become a part of the latest fashion. A friend wore a pair of pink cowboy boots she received from her aunt for this event. Some came in full bronco gear: embroidered chaps, belts with descriptive buckles – the whole nine yards. The only western-esque items I had on hand were a white bandana and bootcut jeans. Embarrassing, to say the least.
After a lively performance from the opening band, Dale Hollow and The Long Con – who were really good – the lone cowboy finally took the stage with his incredible band. Bria Salmena, Peck’s right hand woman is an absolute powerhouse all by herself. Vocalist and guitarist, she’s the complete package. I had the pleasure of standing right in front of her; her light pink cowgirl costume gleamed in the stage lights as she backed vocals and began the opening chords of “Winds Change.”
“Had a lover but I lost my patience, gonna get a song on a radio station,” Peck began to sing.
Prior to the concert, there was a discussion about what kind of crowd to expect. Would there be a quiet, somber audience filled with tears? Or maybe a bouncy crowd celebrating queerfulness in its entirety? It was definitely both.
In a world where LGBTQIA+ communities are often suffocated, hidden and have limited opportunities for authentic representation, this show succeeded in illustrating how the LGBTQIA+ community deserves to be shown love and tenderness every day. Peck’s reassuring voice filled the room with sympathy and sorrow that could only be experienced through heartbreak and loneliness. Albeit chilling, his raw voice felt like a breath of fresh air. Having the ability to show such sensitivity in the face of strangers was thrilling to see.
If I could keep one moment of the concert in my memory for the rest of my days, it would be the encore performance. Celebrating the 10th anniversary of “Born This Way” by Lady Gaga and the monumental impact it had, Peck was asked to release a reimagined version of the single. At first, being so used to the upbeat original, it took my ears some adjustment to appreciate Peck’s version. It was slow and sweet, much like the tone of the rest of his discography.
The significance of the lyrics struck me when he sang, “In the religion of the insecure, I must be myself, respect my youth. A different lover is not a sin, believe capital H-I-M.” I had an introspective thought there. Respect my youth. Respect MY youth.
10 years ago, “Born This Way” was most likely one of the better liked queer representation in the public eye. Now, in 2021, the emergence of gay icons such as Orville Peck and Lil Nas X in the limelight is now possible with unrestrained support from young queer people today.