Although singer Ty Herndon officially came out as a gay man last November, late last week he co-hosted what could be considered his – and Music City's – most star-studded coming-out party. Herndon was joined onstage Friday at Nashville's City Winery by fellow musicians, friends and supporters for the first annual Concert for Love and Acceptance, a sold-out event co-hosted by the singer with political commentator Meghan McCain (daughter of Sen. John McCain).
Among the dozen acts who joined Herndon to perform were Billy Gilman (who came out publicly on the same day as Herndon), Jamie O'Neal, Deborah Allen, Nashville's Chris Carmack, Crystal Gayle, Meghan Linsey, Jennifer Knapp, Eighties pop superstar Tiffany, American Idol finalist Melinda Doolittle, hit songwriter Desmond Child, newcomer Levi Hummon, Antigone Rising and Shelly Fairchild. The afternoon event presented three hours of music from country, pop and rock acts, with plenty of uplifting and emotional displays of affection and support for Herndon and the LGBT community in general.
Highlights of the show, which featured singer-guitarist Anita Cochran leading the band, included Tiffany's cool country spin on her classic dance hit, "I Think We're Alone Now," Gilman's spine-tingling rendition of the Roy Orbison hit, "Crying," and a pair of huge country-pop crossover smashes from Allen and Gayle ("Baby I Lied" and "Don't It Make My Brown Eyes Blue," respectively).
The performances were accompanied throughout the event by video messages of support from artists including Chely Wright, whom Herndon confirmed would be performing at the event next year, and Reba McEntire, who sent regrets for not being able to attend since she is currently in rehearsals in Las Vegas for her upcoming residency with Brooks and Dunn. Addressing Herndon directly, the country legend said, "Ty, I'm so proud of you and all those in country music and beyond who are standing up today to say that we are all God's children. Just know that I've got your back."
Prior to Carmack's performance of his new single, "Being Alone," the singer-actor, who portrays gay country singer Will Lexington on ABC's Nashville, was announced as the recipient of a RALY (Rescue a Life, Y'all) Award, presented by GLAAD, the organization that presented the event in conjunction with Herndon. Proceeds from the concert will benefit at-risk youth in the Nashville community.
Prior to the concert, artists and other participants walked the red carpet to express their support for Herndon and the cause.
"I love my friends for who they are, but I think this will probably break the chains for a lot of people and might make them feel more comfortable being themselves," Deborah Allen told Rolling Stone Country. "My purpose here today is not to make a statement; my purpose here is to love everybody. I think God's purpose for us is to find ways to love each other."
"For me to be here and to be 100 percent honest is just a very solid feeling to me, especially having literally grown up in this town," Billy Gilman said. "I really haven't changed; I'm just totally me now. It's a really, really monumental time. The response from the youth in Middle America has been emails coming in droves saying, 'Now I don't feel alone.' It went way beyond what I thought was going to happen."
Backstage during the concert, Herndon told Rolling Stone Country, "God is blessing me tremendously. Just a short time ago, in November, I wasn't even sure if I would get to continue making country music. I was so wrong about it. The fans have spoken. I'm in the middle of a brand-new album. We're almost done and I think it's the best thing I've done since my very first album, because it's just so full of truth. It makes the reason I do music so much more real to me."
Herndon also added that his autobiography is expected to be released early next year, and he's also in talks to do a documentary film about his coming-out experience.