The best country music, it could be argued, is born of hardship and heartbreak—if you can't make 'em cry in their beers, you ain't playing real country.
Lavender Country's Patrick Haggerty, like most members of the LGTBQ community who came of age in the pre-Stonewall era, has had more than his share of both. When Haggerty wrote Lavender Country's self-titled debut, the first openly gay country album ever released, in 1973, the world wasn't ready for an unashamed queer country band with song titles like "Cryin' These Cocksucking Tears." But in the years since, Lavender Country's music has been discovered via the internet, leading to a reissue by Paradise of Bachelors and a triumphant if improbable return.
Lavender Country's show Jan. 26 at the Fixin' To, with its young, modern-day crowd, was a perfect setting to be charmed by Haggerty's music and stories, and was exemplary of how far we've come as a society. Haggerty played the role of ringleader from atop his perch on a stool surrounded by his band of honky-tonkers, whom he'd summon forward for fiddle or guitar solos.
The 75-years-young Haggerty beamed from the stage as the crowd sang along to his songs and listened while he spun yarns both humorous ("Did y'all know I was the first person kicked out of the Peace Corps for sucking dick?") and heartbreaking. When Haggerty related the story of his friend and "AIDS poster boy" Bobbi Campbell, who outclimbed astonished straight males at Pinnacles National Park despite the Kaposi sarcoma lesions on his feet, Haggerty held the audience rapt. Haggerty's introduction to "I Can't Shake the Stranger Out of You" was one of the show's most affecting moments.
"We knew how to have sex—but we didn't know how to love," he told us, tears running down his face. "I don't remember all my lovers, but I remember all my girlfriends who fought alongside me for a better life. I will never forget their faces."
There wasn't a dry eye in the house.