Cynical And Southern: Our Queer Voices United And Rocked Easton Mountain
Terrified. I was terrified to leave my apartment, to leave my city, and to leave my state. A thousand miles away I was being waited for on top of a mountain. I was not friends in real life with anybody that was going to be on that mountain. I left Tampa with myself, my music, and a circulatory system charged with anxiety.
I was one of the performers scheduled at “Out In The Woods”, a two day fest of LGBT performers taking place on Easton Mountain, a queer spiritualist retreat an hour north of Albany. All of the names on the bill were familiar to me. Heavy hitters. Legends. Some of them I’d been emailing for years.
I boarded my flight sour-pussed and finicky. A thousand worst-case scenarios zigzagged through my head. I am secure about my music performance. I don’t get stage fright. It’s what happens before and after the performances that terrify me. What if no one talks to me? What if I get on everyone’s nerves? What if everyone gets on my nerves?
A three hour layover in Philly left me in a food court full of tired and weather-worn Northerners. No one smiled. I sent a dozen texts to a dozen people. I wanted company. My Sbarro pizza was lukewarm and the person I hoped would text back the most didn’t. Color me sour.
As I boarded my plane to Albany I longed for the safety and seclusion of my warm bed. There’s no danger in seclusion. There’s no risk in hibernation.
The Albany airport was eerie and quiet. It was 10 PM and the shops were closed. My Albany snow globe and Snickers would have to wait. I waited for my ride.
Sean picked me up. Sean was a conversational redhead with a thorough knowledge of Albany’s history. This introduction to Albany was friendly and smooth and I knew I was in good hands. I was taken through downtown and enchanted by the historical tales of a quiet and beautiful city.
Upon entering Sean’s apartment I knew I was on safe ground. I was introduced to the other house guest – legendary queer music historian J.D. Doyle. The night’s conversation was varied and fulfilling. In Tampa there is no one to share my thoughts on queer music with. To uncage this interest with other people interested in the same thing was a liberation. If sleep weren’t a necessity the conversation may have never ended.
Early the next morning I was to meet festival organizer Stephen Sims at 9am. Would the hour car ride to the mountain be awkward? Walking into Stephen’s house I felt a coziness that had nothing to do with temperature. Not only was Stephen warm and accommodating – his house guests (fellow out-artist Norine Braun and her partner Alice) were an immediate delight.
The drive into the country was serene. As memories of my childhood in Western New York emerged a surge of regret and nostalgia came and went. As a teenager I recalled driving on similar roads under similar skies. I ran from those northern skies years ago.
The final stretch of road before reaching Easton Mountain is not paved. My cell phone reception was becoming dodgy and I knew I was at the mercy of the mountain. To endure the next 48 hours meant releasing all control of my life and letting the moments take me where they may. I was a willing prisoner of fate.
The first two hours at Easton were a whirlwind of introductions. Within 120 minutes I’d matched a half dozen faces with names I’d known for years. Tom Goss. Terry Christopher. Roger Kuhn. Scott Free. John Small. Morry Campbell.
Over the next few hours I heard possibly the best live queer music I’d ever heard in my life. Each artist was different. Each artist was emotional. In addition to everyone I already mentioned Sister Funk and Jeremy James also performed. There was no ego on the mountain. A supportive harmony between the artists presided. These artists cheered each other on and there was no sense of competition.
Night one wrapped with a mystical campfire underneath a full moon. A dozen queer voices known for their separate bodies of work united to sing sloppy and spirited cover tunes. Under a moody midnight northern sky we became one loud boisterous queer voice. Stevie Nicks could you hear us?
Day two unfurled another powerhouse lineup. Dan Manjovi. Arjuna Greist. Robert Urban. Lucas Mire. Susan Souza. And I played too.
We ate one final dinner together before we had to leave. I looked out the window at the peak of the mountain and the beautiful pond beneath it. I was reminded of the other times over the last few years I traveled alone and found myself enjoying a memorable view. Like the one outside of my hostel in San Francisco in 2009. Or the view of the sky from the Nancy Drew cruise I took alone in 2010.
I made a vow to myself at that moment to never fear again. I promised myself I’d never be enslaved by the shackles of my comfort zone again. I’ve never left my safety net and not come home with new friends. What if I’d let my fear and anxiety preside? A part of my world from that weekend on will always live at Easton Mountain.
I arrived at Easton Mountain a stranger and went home a member of a strong and vital family. I’m homesick already.
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