Pioneering gay country singer behind “Lavender Country” plays Sonoma
Every now and then, a story comes along that is so unusual and interesting, it screams for a limerick to start it off.
“There once was a boy named Haggerty, who’s style stood out quite mannerly, his dad said, ‘be yourself, but they might call you an elf, your sexuality is thought to be anarchy.’”
“Lavender Country” is the name of an album that was recorded and released in 1973 by a self-described “gay farm boy” from Washington state named Patrick Haggerty. Buoyed by his parent’s liberal tolerance, Haggerty was able to live a life very different than most boys growing up on dairy farms.
“My parents were very supportive of me, about my ‘sissiness,’ my father in particular,” said Haggerty when reached by phone at his home in Bermerton, Washington. “Mothers are famous for loving their gay sons. It is our fathers who (mess) us up. When I was 13, my dad drove me to a talent show where I performed ‘Tan Shoes and Pink Shoelaces’ in full drag. I was introduced to the crowd as a ‘cousin from out of town.’”
He said his parents were musically “catastrophic” – there was no music in the house.
“We were busy being poor,” he said. “But they noticed a spark in me. When I was 10, my dad bought me a guitar as a Christmas present. It came from Sears Roebuck, and I had to wait for days to open it.”
Haggerty was able to listen to Canadian radio stations as a child. They played all the classic country songs. “I was pretty influenced by Canadian radio actually. They had a different way of presenting radio,” he said.
By 1972, he had written some gay-themed songs, formed a band, and hit the studio. Originally a bootleg of only 1,000 copies, “Lavender Country,” released in 1973, is considered to be among the first gay-themed albums in country music history. The song that put the band on the musical map, and caused a bit of controversy in the process, was called “Cryin’ These C--k-sucking Tears.”
The national gay rights movement sparked by the 1969 Stonewall riots fueled interest in Lavender Country. The band received much notoriety and performed at Seattle’s very first Pride Parade in 1974.
The success of Haggerty’s band was short lived, calling it a day in 1976. He was not surprised. “We played flat out radical, political, gay country music. It was gonna be poison anyway. I am the classic example of ‘three chords and the truth,’” he said.
Haggerty went on to a life of social and political activism.
“Lavender Country was dead as a doornail for 40 years,” said Haggerty, now 75. The album was rediscovered in 1999 and has slowly, but undeniably, simmered its way into the gay mainstream. It was deemed to be important enough to be archived at the Country Music Hall of Fame.
Haggerty is playing live at Starling Bar on Friday, Nov. 15. Opening the show is Oakland’s Secret Emchy Society. That band is fronted by Cindy Emchy, known as the “First Lady of Queer Country.”
Gay country music had been gaining traction in recent years. It hit the national spotlight this year when LGBTQ singer Brandi Carlile and her band, the Highwomen, were nominated for multiple Grammy awards.
There are currently several hotbeds of gay country music in the U.S.; Brooklyn, San Francisco, Seattle are among them. Emchy said, “So many LGBTQ folk felt they needed to leave the places where they are from. They miss ‘home.’ This reminds them of that place, this old-fashioned sound.”
Sonoma Valley resident Dale Geist is the founder of “Country Queer,” a lifestyle brand for LGBTQ fans of country music. Geist publishes an online magazine, operates an online store, and produces live music shows. He’s proud to be bringing Lavender Country to Sonoma, and said, “When we heard Patrick was going to be in the area, we jumped at the chance to put together a show. Cindy signed right up to support Lavender Country.”
When asked what a person walking into the Starling off the street might think, Emchy said, “They will think they walked into a county music show.” The two headliners, Haggerty and Emchy, will share a common band on Friday night. Each will play a one hour set, and during the third hour, “We are going to cook up something special,” Emchy said.
Expect to hear sounds reminiscent of old country; Bakersfield, Johnny Cash, Tex Ritter and Kitty Wells, and even some 1970’s outlaw country. Haggerty said, “I have a hip pocket full of old country.”
Admission to the 8:30 p.m. show on Nov. 15 is free, and Country Queer merchandise will be available for purchase. Be ready for a good ol’ time at the Starling, and to participate in a growing social trend.