This post if part of a special NowPlayingNashville.com Stories Series titled CMA Fest Gives Back, focusing on how many artists use the Festival as an opportunity to raise money and bring attention to the many charitable causes they support.
It’s been two years since Ty Herndon presented the first Concert for Love and Acceptance at the 2015 CMA Music Festival. He had only recently come out as a gay man–the first major male country star to do so–and wasn’t sure how the night would go, but not because he didn’t think people would show up.
“I didn’t have a lot of fear that it wouldn’t be successful,” Herndon says from his home in Nashville. “I had a little more fear that people wouldn’t accept me. There was a lot of great talent that night, and to walk on that stage and have people receive me so well brought me to tears.”
Plenty has happened since, in Herndon’s personal life, and in the life of America, that the singer of such hits as “What Mattered Most,” “Living in a Moment” and “It Must Be Love” felt it was time to bring people together again, “under one roof, play music and say, ‘We are United,’ which is something we often do in Nashville.” This time, the show will graduate from the 500-plus seats of the main room at City Winery to the more than 2,500 capacity of the Wild Horse Saloon on Thursday, June 8 at 7:30 p.m. He’ll be joined by longtime friends and up-and-coming artists, including Billy Gilman, Michael Ray, Kree Harrison, Ryan Kinder, Thompson Square, Diana Goldberg, Runaway June, Mickey Guyton, Street Corner Symphony, Trent Harmon, Trey Pearson, Kingston, Noah Guthrie, Anita Cochran, Ken Block and more. Cody Alan, host of CMT’s Hot 20 Countdown, producer of iHeartRadio’s CMT After Midnite and CMT Radio Live, will serve as host. Proceeds from the event will benefit the Oasis Center in Nashville, and its Just Us program for LGBT Youth.
“When I came out, I really came out for selfish reasons,” Herndon says, “because I really could no longer live in my skin not being as authentic as possible. I was a little naive going into it. But over the last 27 months, I’ve become very educated in a lot of causes, in where we are in this life and in this world with being gay or different, or whatever you label yourself as today.”
Part of that education included travelling around the country to GLAAD and HRC events as a speaker or performer. The end of 2016 also provided an opportunity to meet more people as he toured in support of House on Fire, his first record in three years and his first as a publicly out country singer. On several tracks, the album took on Herndon’s personal life head on, leading notable music writer Edward Morris on CMT.com to call the title track “heartbreakingly autobiographical … and about as far from a breezy, good-time beach song as the mind can reach,” while the bulk of the record was about “ falling in love, staying in love, sad breakups and angry breakups — all narratives the clarion-voiced Herndon has long excelled at.”
“A large part of (bringing the concert back) for me was being around the country and feeling the unrest, especially with the affirming hearts in the LGBT community,” Herndon says. “There are so many people in need of love and in pain who need to see a change. I have to remind myself that I can’t do it all, but that I can have a role. I can do music to make people feel better, or I can go into a room of 16-year-old kids and talk about my story and tell them that you can be in country music and you can be whatever you want to be in this life and be successful in it. You just have to be focused and be the best at what you’re gonna do in this life. Those are the small changes that I can make personally, and things I can do, but I know it’s such a big picture out there.”
In addition to Herndon, this year’s concert will feature Gilman, his former label mate at Sony who himself came out on the same day as Herndon. The former child star rocketed back into stardom in 2016 when he finished as the runner-up on The Voice. Many of the other above-mentioned artists, include former tour mates Thompson Square and emerging stars Guyton, Ray and Harmon, are what Herndon calls “fearless” and “the young hearts in Nashville that are the blueprint for changing hearts and minds in the country market and world.”
Tickets for the show are available now. If locals worry about fighting traffic and dealing with the masses descending on the city for CMA Music Festival, Herndon has some advice. “I have told all my friends, ‘get off your couch, get into an Uber and come support love and acceptance. I want to see Nashville’s heart.”