One of the closing acts for the 2016 Maximum Ames Music Festival was Lavender Country, who I’ve written about a few times in the last week, so I’ll just give a Cliff Notes description: gay country band from the 1970s that has had a career resurgence in the last few years.
Patrick Haggerty is the only original member for current shows, with his backing band made up of an assortment of seven musicians from around the Midwest. In the last few decades, several old-time country acts have had late-in-life success by stripping things down to the essentials, with Johnny Cash’s American Recordings being the gold standard.
I think such a format could have worked for Haggerty’s recent return to performing, but it would have robbed these 1970s by way of 1950s country songs of some of their grandeur. This is the first time Lavender Country songs are being heard live in decades, and they deserve to be heard as recorded, lush and alive.
Haggerty kicked off the show with “Come Out Singing,” followed by “Cryin’ These Cocksucking Tears,” the song that first caught the internet’s ear a few years back. Haggerty’s voice sounded as good as it did on Lavender Country’s album, like a soft-spoken mix between Woody Guthrie and Hank Williams.
Haggerty is clearly an emotional man. During my interview, he cried at least once (I may have got a bit misty, too), and he welled up with tears a few times in the show. The first was when he discussed being kicked out of the Peace Corps for being gay, and a later romance with a pediatrician who chose a life in the closet for fear of losing his practice, an inspiration for the song “Georgie Pie.”
He also talked about free love of the late 60s/early 70s coming at the cost of intimacy for gay men, the inspiration for “I Can’t Shake the Stranger Out of You.” Haggerty’s husband of 40 years, J.B., was at the show, acting as his “merch girl” (Haggerty’s words), and wandered the crowd, encouraging dancing.
Haggerty briefly left the stage while the three female members of his band sang an acapella version of “To a Woman,” a lesbian love song credited to band member Eve (no last name given) on Lavender Country’s eponymous album.
“Back in the Closet Again,” drawing inspiration from Gene Autry’s “Back in the Saddle Again,” got the crowd up and dancing. Following that, Haggerty acknowledged that while homosexuality has gained acceptance over the years, many are still fighting against trans-rights, telling the story of his nephew who spent more than a year in solitary confinement in a women’s prison, before unceremoniously released to commit suicide on the street. This lead into perhaps the night’s rockingest, angriest song: “Waltzing Will Trilogy.”
But overall, the mood of the night was very positive. Haggerty is clearly enjoying the second life his songs have taken on. “Imagine how I feel, after 44 years of Lavender Country being dead, to be here singing for you. It’s a dream come true.”
Lavender Country closed out its main set with the song “Lavender Country,” before returning to the stage to “prove I can sing and old country song,” Hank Williams’ “Hey Good Lookin’,” with Maximum Ames co-founder/Mumford’s frontman Nate Logsdon joining in on vocals. It was an uplifting end to an emotional night, and a show that Logsdon should be proud he helped bring to Ames.