Singer-songwriter and activist Chely Wright made her first appearance at the Concert for Love and Acceptance on Thursday night, performing a pair of her hits as the event celebrated its fifth year.
One of those was “Shut Up and Drive,” a 1997 hit for Wright that got a huge cheer from the crowd. Leaving the original pronouns intact, Wright gave a soulful, emotive performance of the tune, which was written by Rivers Rutherford, Sam Tate and Annie Tate and included on Wright’s album Let Me In.
But Wright’s presence at the event was significant for a second reason. Host Ty Herndon, who helped organize the event with GLAAD a few years ago, remarked on how Wright had smashed through all the barriers when she came out of the closet nine years ago. Herndon, who recently re-recorded his song “What Mattered Most” with pronouns updated to reflect his experiences as a gay man, referred to Wright as a “coach” when he made the decision to publicly come out.
So it was a full-circle moment for the event, which has offered an affirming and inclusive environment in the middle of downtown Nashville during CMA Fest for the past five years. People visiting Nashville for the weekend (and the Fest) even attend this event specifically, enjoying the music alongside members of Nashville’s LGBTQ community.
Wright’s appearance at the Concert for Love and Acceptance is also indicative of its growth and diversification over that five-year stretch. This year’s lineup included Billy Gillman, Brandon Stansell, Daughtry, Harper Grae, Lee Brice, Mickey Guyton, Tayla Lynn, Tyler Rich, Brody Ray and a surprise appearance by Gavin DeGraw. Men and women, Queer performers and allies, established and rising performers, all present to offer support — it’s a small glimpse of the diversity of country fans, along with the potential it has to be a welcoming place for all.