On Saturday, June 25, Pride in Local Music gave Austinites a reason to hope and brought people together through the undeniable power of music and art.
By Cy White, Photos by Cy White
Friday, June 24 marked a dark day in history. For women in Austin, it certainly was an ominous reminder of our tenuous hold on our bodily autonomy. Further, as many people have correctly pointed out, the repercussions of overturning of Roe v. Wade has ripples in every non-white, non-cis hetero male community. Certainly for the LGBTQIA+ community, the decision could have serious effects for marriage, health care and a multitude of other life-saving and -changing services.
But honestly, Black, Brown and queer communities are made of much sterner stuff than what SCOTUS can dish out. These are communities Black and Brown womxn built brick by brick, sacrifice after sacrifice. But more than that, these are communities are built on love, joy and unshakable belief in humanity. The very next day, the queer community of Austin came together in a celebration of life and music. Organized by the LGBT Chamber of Commerce, the third annual Pride in Local Music festival showed just how powerful the community is when it pulls together.
Around the Grounds
Color. That’s the theme for the day. Pride in Local Music is a jubilant explosion of brightness. From the multiple balloon formations scattered around the field, to the dozens of booths. Everywhere you turn something catches your eye. A fair few of the booths hand out tools to make your day a pleasant one. Ally Medical had an entire hydration station set up with various knick-knacks, energy-boosting snacks and, of course, water. As Rob Thomas said, “Man, it’s a hot one!”
In the midst of it all, one can see Tina Canon, LGBT Chamber president, milling about. She walks around the Long Center with purpose, checking on stands, making sure artists know where they need to be. At the end, one could even see her doing clean-up. Between making sure everything runs smoothly, she’s quick with a smile, a friendly pat on the back or shoulder. She’s an undeniable presence throughout the day, bringing an added layer of comfort and warmth to this beautiful Saturday.
The main stage remains active throughout the entire event. Before his jaw-dropping solo set, Baby Boi of the House of Lepore spins on the ones and twos. He also acts as musical director for many of the acts who hit the stage. In his leopard-print leotard and black corset cinching his already minimal waist, he’s an absolute star no matter what his role. The men who share their music on the stage come in a mixed bag. Everything from the searing soul pop of Tje Austin to the quirky glamcore of Pelvis Wrestley, each artist gives a stellar performance leaving the audience in a state of euphoria. (A collective feeling that’s equal parts the unprecedented Austin heat and the mystic effervescence of the occasion.)
Self-proclaimed “violin synth pop” duo Bleached Roses took the stage first. As the festival opener, anyone would’ve understood if a few nerves dropped into their performance. However, these women, led on vocals and violin by Lexi Cardenas, show nothing but poise and elegance. Theirs is a sound reminiscent of ’80s pop, but it’s grounded in emotional veritas and openness. Cardenas’ lovely soprano provides a soothing counterpoint to the harsher techno sounds of Mo Paynter’s synth. They balance each other. A delicate dance of lovely lyrics, powerful bode instruments and insatiable rhythm.
By the time they break into their cover of Nirvana’s “Heart-shaped Box,” the crowd is in awe. Their rendition is heavy in unexpected ways. Kurt would, if nothing else, be entertained by the audacity of violin and synth giving body and weight to one of his most beloved tracks.
They do themselves a disservice categorizing themselves as violin synth pop. There’s so much more meat and depth. Closer in ton to Depeche Mode or The Cure than A-ha! or Duran Duran. They would’ve been a welcome addition to the original Lilith Fair.
Bebe Zahara Benet
For many in attendance, this is the performance they’ve been waiting for. Known for being the inaugural winner of the now pop culture sensation RuPaul’s Drag Race, Ms. Bebe Zahara Benet is a legend. “Sensational” is an understatement. Ms. Bebe is a performer like no other. As her stage persona, she’s a lighting rod. An conductor that once sparked spreads her electric current into the crowd like the world’s largest Tesla coil.
She alights the stage, a goddess in a leopard chemise, ruby-red shin-high boots and glinting bangles and rings that would make Halle Barry’s Catwoman purr like a spoiled princess. But Ms. Bebe does more than bring the girls to the yard. (And, trust me, after an astounding performance of her hit “Banjo,” the girls clamor for the stage.) There’s an incredible duality to her stage presence. Yes, she’s there to entertain, and does better than most. However, she’s there with a message. It’s something we talk about in our conversation prior to her set. While she applauds us all coming together to celebrate artists and our resilience as a community, she also implores us to not remain comfortable. We must fight, and we must truly come together. Hold ourselves accountable as we hold each other in comfort.
That said, she definitely showed up to show out. Ms. Bebe’s set puts the pride in Pride in Local music. She’s a paragon of class, sass and most notably unfettered love.
Melissa Carper and her partner in love and bluegrass Rebecca Patek bring something unexpected to the table. Set up in the VIP lounge of Pride in Local Music, the pair make a welcome change of pace. Carper’s is the type of bluegrass that makes even non-fans of the genre fall in love. It’s music about feeling good, feeling love. Just feeling. Real music about real things, memories you can touch, roll around in and cherish. (“Memories you’d like to keep,” as she says.)
Beyond that, Carper and Patek make for an adorable pair. Playing off each other, sharing quick looks and knowing glances that hint at their love of music and each other. There’s a pervasive feeling throughout their set that anyone who comes in is welcome. Their performance is like walking into a neighbor’s house, sitting at their dinner table and breaking bread. A truly warm and welcoming 30 minutes of music that honestly feels like home.
Wrapping up the day’s festivities…Tina G. Let me tell you something. This woman is a powerhouse. What do you expect from someone who has some of the most impressive liner notes of any discography. Credits on a song with hip-hop legend Nas. An iconic addition to the soundtrack for one of the culture’s most iconic television series, the original Showtime iteration of The L Word. Just to name a few of some of her higher profile credentials. However, that’s just a small part of the story.
At the end of the day, Tina G is a stone-cold soul powerhouse. While she initially intended to do an acoustic set of more introspective music, she opts to use her vocal range to perform a set of legendary songs. Music that’s meant to make the audience feel something. With a playlist ranging from the Indigo Girls to Whitney Houston and Stevie Wonder, she shows just how much of a master vocalist she is. Crowd participation isn’t a suggestion here. She not only demands respect for her vocal range. Tina G acts as the ultimate mistress of ceremonies, her stage presence alone making every member of the audience move. Fittingly, she ends the event with Sister Sledge classic “We Are Family.”
At the end of the day, that’s what Pride in Local Music is about. Movement, joy, engagement. Above all else, Pride in Local Music is about a community. Coming together to let the powers that be know that we’re here, we’re queer and we’re not going any damn where!