Country Proud Makes History as First Official LGBTQ+ CMA Fest Event

Maia Sharp: “Whether or not you have the support of your family, you have the support of the people in this room. We are a community."

Country music’s queer community filled Assembly Food Hall on Nashville’s Lower Broad for hours last week as members of the genre’s LGBTQ+ community entertained hundreds of fans.

The event, presented by the Nash News and RNBW Queer Music Collective in partnership with CMA and CMT, makes history as the first LGBTQ+ event officially presented as part of CMA Fest.

“We’re making F*ing history tonight,” said singer Steff Mahan, who then shared her story. “I was getting a record deal, and I had lied all night about my girlfriend, and I felt dirty.”

She told her record label her truth, and the label canceled the contract. A few days later, her publishing company dropped her, too.

Mahan was preparing to leave Nashville when a friend encouraged her to stay, saying, “Baby girl, God doesn’t give a bird wings if he doesn’t want it to fly.”

Mahan told the packed area that she’d been in town longer than many of the fans have been alive. But if they have talent, she told them, they have to “do it.”

“I’m not rich,” she explained. “I’m not famous. But I get to do what I love, and I get to do it with great people, and that’s what matters.”

The night’s lineup included Sonia Leigh, Gina Venier, Jessica Rose, Chris Housman, Charlie Worsham, Kristen Merlin, Harper Grae, Kentucky Gentlemen, Zoe Cummins, Adam Mac, Breann Young, Maia Sharp, Shelly Fairchild and Lila McCann.

“First and foremost, Chris Housman is a friend, and I am a genuine fan of his music, so when he reached out about performing together, it was a no-brainer,” said Worsham, who played with Housman but also sang his single “Cut Your Groove.” “I also believe in supporting the cause. We are living through an important moment in country music history in which we have an opportunity to expand our view to let in all the beauty and poetry being created by our LGBTQ+ neighbors. And what’s not to love about our neighbors? Loving our neighbors is the most country thing I know to do.”

The crowd also included artists country trio Chapel Hart, members from country group The Last Bandoleros, The Young Fables, Miko Mars and more.

Seeing the support that country music fans poured into the queer country community at an official CMA Fest event warmed Hunter Kelly’s heart. Kelly is the host of Proud Radio on Apple Music Country.

“It’s a huge milestone for this gay kid who grew up going to Fan Fair in the ‘90s but never seeing myself reflected on stage before now,” he said. “The talent coming out of this scene along with the communities like Black Opry is giving country music the creative shot in the arm it needs.”

Sharp, McCann and Fairchild got a standing ovation for their collaboration on The Chicks’ “A Home,” which Sharp co-wrote with her father, famous songwriter Randy Sharp. She said she always had the support of her family, but she knew others didn’t.

“Whether or not you have the support of your family, you have the support of the people in this room,” she told the standing room-only crowd. “We are a community. This is an amazing night, and I’m so proud to be a part of it.”