Country, pop and Americana artists congregated at Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena on Monday (March 20) for the benefit concert Love Rising to support the LGBTQIA+ community and to oppose a slate of bills that negatively impact the LGBTQIA+ community and transgender teens.
The arena was packed, as the evening featured a bill featuring Maren Morris, Paramore’s Hayley Williams, Jason Isbell, Sheryl Crow, Allison Russell, Yola, Amanda Shires, Yola, Joy Oladokun, Jake Wesley Rogers, Wrabel, Brittany Howard, Fancy Hagood, Autumn Nicholas, Mya Byrne, Julien Baker, Shea Diamond and more. Sibling duo Brothers Osborne, who had been slated to perform during the show, was forced to back out of the performance just prior to the show, as member John Osborne and his wife Lucie were welcoming twins.
The concert also raised awareness and funds to battle a slate of legislation that is seen by many as anti-LGBTQIA+ — particularly Senate Bill 1/House Bill 1 and House Bill 9/Senate Bill 3, which ban drag shows in the presence of minors, and transgender procedures for minors. On March 2, Tennessee’s Gov. Bill Lee signed SB1/HB1 and SB3/HB9; SB3 takes effect April 1 and is already impacting live events and queer artists in the state.
Just days after these legislations were signed, four-time Grammy nominee Russell and radio personality Hunter Kelly (who hosts the LGBTQIA-themed country music show Proud Radio on Apple Music) began working to rally a stellar slate of artists from the Nashville music community and beyond to oppose the legislation.
The evening began with a video featuring cast members of RuPaul’s Drag Race Live!, with drag performer Asia O’Hara emceeing the evening.
“Drag is not a crime,” O’Hara said. “We are here tonight to say one thing and one thing only: Enough is enough.”
In addition to the top-shelf lineup of performers on hand, drag artists were featured throughout the evening, including Nashville-based Veronika Electronika, who said, “I think it comes down to our LGBTQIA+ communities are not being afford the same protections as other groups. … If you think this stops with legislation against the trans community and the drag community, wake up!”
The evening featured repeated calls for donations (by texting “Love” to 99126) to the organizations aided by the concert, including Inclusion Tennessee, OUTMemphis, Tennessee Equality Project and the Tennessee Pride Chamber, as well as Brandi Carlile’s Looking Out Foundation. (The Looking Out Foundation doubled donations up to $100,000.) Donations can still be made at propeller.la.
Nashville mayor John Cooper surprised the crowd by taking the stage to proclaim March 20 Love Rising Day in Nashville.
“Every person, regardless of who they love, how they dress and how they identify, deserves to be treated with love and respect,” Cooper said. “We will always be a welcoming city. Let me say that again: We will always be a welcoming city. I speak for all of Nashville when I say to all of our LGBTQ+ neighbors, we are glad you are here … we must support one another by speaking up and speaking out against discrimination and hate when we see it, because we are better and stronger together.”
Here, we look at 10 top moments from the evening:
Adeem the Artist
Nonbinary singer-songwriter Adeem the Artist expressed gratitude for the organizers of Love Rising, including Russell (who backed Adeem on banjo), David Macias and Ali Harnell.
“It’s a weird juxtaposition of jubilation and fear … I live in Tennessee a state that wants to criminalize my very identity,” they said before performing “For Judas” from their latest album, White Trash Revelry.
Jake Wesley Rogers
Queer performer Jake Wesley Rogers, whose career launched in Nashville, started off by telling a story of a childhood school memory, prior to launching into the dramatic “Pluto,” including the key line “at the end of the day, you and me are both the same/ We just wanna be loved.”
“A few weeks after our test, our teacher informed us that Pluto was no longer invited. It’s one of my earliest traumas, because if you are an outsider you know how that feels … Tonight, Nashville, we realize that oftentimes our insecurity is our superpower. Take all your fears, worries and let it explode in this arena and let in all the love that you are.”
“This is a statement about what kind of world we want to live in, living our free truth … and that we don’t let politicians inflict their fear story on any of us,” Crow said before launching into her 1996 hit “Everyday Is a Winding Road.”
She later shared how she has to explain to her sons how “some people don’t get to live like they want to because it doesn’t align to someone’s political agenda.” Crow went on to perform “Hard to Make a Stand,” and encouraged those in the audience to register to vote.
After performing “Crowded Table” alongside Russell, Oladokun, Amanda Shires and more, Morris returned to the stage for a solo performance, recalling how earlier in the day, her young son visited several drag queens in their dressing rooms and delighted in watching as they perfected their hair and makeup for the show.
“Yes, I introduced my son to some drag queens today, so Tennessee, f–king arrest me,” Morris said. She went on to perform “Better Than We Found It” and then welcomed drag performer Alexia Noelle to perform “Meet Me in the Middle.”
Brandishing a guitar emblazoned with “Keep Hope Alive” Joy Oladokun performed the hopeful “Somehow, Things Just Get Better.”
“I never thought there would be a world where I could be out loud about who I love … it’s f–king hard to live here and specifically a country that feels like it’s always attacking who you are. It’s hard not to just hide in the f–king house and I wrote this about the cyclical nature of life and how things turn around hopefully,” Oladokun told the crowd.
While taking the stage to introduce transgender performer Mya Byrne, Bullens took a moment to share a powerful testimony of a life that includes time performing with Elton John and Rod Stewart, singing lead vocals on the Grease soundtrack, and working in Nashville with artists including Lucinda Williams, Steve Earle, Emmylou Harris and more. Bullens also spoke of physically transitioning from Cindy Bullens to Cidny Bullens in 2011.
Speaking of the ream of Tennessee legislations, Bullens said, “The state of Tennessee does not support me, or any other LGBTQ, transgender, or non-binary person. They targeted us all, they targeted humanity, they targeted love. This can’t stand because we won’t let it.”
“I can’t tell y’all how happy I am to be in this room with so many good people,” he said before launching into his now decade-old song “Cover Me Up.”
“Everybody deserves to be free to love yourself for who you are. You can’t really love someone else until you love who you are, so that should be available to everyone,” he said before welcoming the Rainbow Coalition band, which had been backing the artists all night, back to the stage. He continued with a rendition of Wet Willie’s “Keep on Smilin’,” tweaking a key lyric to say, “The state of Tennessee’s playing games/ And they say that you’re to blame.”
Hozier and Allison Russell
“What an honor it is to be part of this event, and to be part of your beautiful city” the Irish-born Hozier told the crowd while taking the stage. “[Irish political leader] James Connolly once said that no revolutionary movement is complete without its poetical expression. There are so many elements of queer culture that are no less than revolutionary. In a time of fear-mongering, just standing up for who you are is revolutionary.”
One of the most powerful moments — in an evening filled with powerful moments — came as Hozier was joined by Russell to perform “Nina Cried Power,” with Russell’s fiery belting a perfect match for Hozier’s grainy, fervent voice.
Hayley Williams and Becca Mancari
Williams, known both for her solo work and with Paramore, recounted her family’s move to Nashville when she was 13, and how the community — in particular, the creatives in the LGBTQIA+ community — influenced her music and artistry. She also brought a moment of levity to the show, telling the crowd, “If you’re a drag performer — skilled, talented — I’m sure some of them wake up thinking, ‘Why did I shave my legs for this?’” Williams said, before performing Deana Carter’s 1997 hit “Did I Shave My Legs for This?”
Williams teamed with Becca Mancari for an acoustic rendition of “Inordinary” from Williams’ second solo album, Flowers for Vases/Descansos.
Russell, Ruby Amanfu and Shea Diamond
“Never let them extinguish your fire — we were all born into the same world. Nobody has the right to take your rights,” said singer-songwriter Shea Diamond. “We are so much bigger than the hate they divide us with … Trans is beautiful, and drag queens are saving the world. So in this moment, we can’t allow them to stop everything we’ve built.”
Brandi Carlile and her family, who could not be in attendance, sent in a video tribute and introduced Russell, who welcomed to the stage Ruby Amanfu to join Russell and Diamond. Together, their three illustrious voices elevated “A Beautiful Noise.”
Russell then welcomed her daughter and several friends to join them for “You’re Not Alone,” which Russell originally recorded with Carlile.
“This is circle work that we are engaged in,” Russell said. “Circles are powerful — there is no one above, no one below … every single one of us equal worthy and beautiful. There is nothing we together can’t do when we work together in these magic circles.”