Ty Herndon’s “Concert for Love and Acceptance,” staged Thursday night (June 8) at Nashville’s Wildhorse Saloon, appeared to have achieved both goals.
The event filled the main floor and first balcony of the cavernous venue and, apart from Herndon, who opened and closed the show, featured performances by Thompson Square, Billy Gilman, Michael Ray, Runaway June, Ryan Kinder, Trent Harmon, Kree Harrison, Kingston, Street Corner Symphony, comedian Dana Goldberg and a few last-minute drop-ins who simply wanted to show their support for LGBTQ community.
CMT’s Cody Alan hosted the three-and-a-half hour songfest, of which CMT was a corporate sponsor.
Between acts, Herndon, Alan, Goldberg, Gilman and others all spoke of the liberation they felt when they finally came out as gay after years of concealment.
The crowd greeted Herndon with loud and sustained applause when he emerged to open with “Living in a Moment.”
“I love my mama. She’s here tonight. I love my sister. She’s here too tonight,” Herndon announced.
He then sang his breakthrough hit from 1995, “What Mattered Most.” It earned him a standing ovation.
“I promised [my partner] Matthew I wouldn’t cry,” said Herndon, drinking in the applause. “I lost that bet.”
There were so many acts to showcase that few of them gained enough momentum to fully engage the crowd, although Kingston, Runaway June and Ryan Kinder all earned respectable applause.
Between acts, Alan spoke of the support he received from the music community when he came out.
“It showed me country music was a lot more open and accepting that I thought it was,” he said.
He specifically cited the “thumbs up” he’d received from Carrie Underwood, Toby Keith, Dierks Bentley and Dan + Shay.
“I’m probably the happiest and healthiest I’ve ever been,” he said.
Street Corner Symphony, the five-man a cappella group that came to prominence on The Sing-Off talent series, had the crowd rocking with their flashy takes of “Johnny B. Goode” and “Voodoo.”
After opening his set with “Kiss You in the Morning,” Michael Ray took time out to praise the concert and its purposes, calling it “the most important event going on at CMA Fest.”
“You’re making it easier for kids growing up,” he continued. “Damn it — it’s 2017! I want to help you make this stance.” He signed off with his most recent single, “Think a Little Less.”
American Idol star Kree Harrison gave a riveting set with her two songs, “This Old Thing” and “Drinking for Two,” the latter of which she performed with Sonia Leigh.
Trey Pearson, who formerly sang with a Christian rock band, explained that he came out after having married and had two children, both of whom were with him at the concert. He sang “The Good Grief,” from his album Love Is Love.
Among the other unannounced drop-ins who performed were Noah Guthrie, a cast member of Glee; Swiss singer Bastian Baker, making his first appearance in Nashville; and Ken Block, lead singer for the rock band Sister Hazel.
Herndon introduced comedian Dana Goldberg, who had to calibrate her jokes — some unquotable here–to an increasingly noisy crowd. She observed that, unlike most women, she was not impressed by Herndon’s good looks.
“I’m a lesbian. I just see a sperm donor,” she cracked.
Mickey Guyton was luminous in her two offerings, “Pretty Little Mustang” and “Better Than You Left Me.” She projected an emotional engagement and sense of excitement that lit up the room.
Well past the cuteness that helped make him a child star, Billy Gilman strode the stage like the master showman he’s become. As impossible as it sounds, he made “Anyway” into a more ringing pronouncement of determination that even Martina McBride had done in her original operatic rendering of the song.
He continued to ratchet up the crowd with “Clueless” and “I Surrender” and left the stage to a sustained standing ovation.
Thompson Square kept the crowd — or what was left of it — swaying as they breezed through “Everything I Shouldn’t Be Thinking About,” “Are You Gonna Kiss Me or Not” and “If I Didn’t Have You”
Herndon used the last 15 minutes of the show to express his appreciate to the crowd and debut selections from his new album, specifically the title tune, “House on Fire” and “Fighter,” both of which were accompanied by dancers performing in front of the stage.
Thompson Square returned to sing with Herndon on the high-voltage finale “Living in a Moment.”
A part of the proceeds from the concert, Herndon said, will be donated to the Oasis Center, the Nashville charity that helps at-risk youths.