LGBT artists Heather Mae and Crys Matthews are in the midst of their Singing Out tour that has seen them virtually drop into cities across the U.S. from Portland, Oregon to Asheville, North Carolina. Their 20-plus date trek moved online after social gathering bans to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus halted physical touring across the globe.
Mae and Matthews were scheduled to perform throughout the month of June including several stops at Pride festivals along the way. Rather than throw in the towel for the summer, the duo pivoted their tour online using platform Side Door Access and have continued to support themselves and the community along the way.
In 2019, “We were selling out venues way bigger than we’ve ever played before. This year we had brand partnerships lined up. We had venues way bigger than we’ve ever played who were so excited to do it. And then COVID happened,” says Mae, who explains that over the course of three years their tours have gone from 12 dates to what was looking like more than 40 for 2020 pre-pandemic. “But then all the pride festivals got canceled and that’s when the fear kind of set in because they’re literally lifesaving events for many people in our community.”
The duo decided quickly to continue to provide support for their community by creating a tour that still celebrated Pride and brought locals together virtually. Throughout their tour, Mae and Matthews perform at LGBTQ+ venues or LGBTQ+ affirming rooms to encourage safe spaces and have continued to work with the same venues for their virtual dates. The tour, which hits various cities across the country, is being treated like an in-person trek. Shows are not booked in overlapping regions and venues are promoting the gigs that take place in Mae’s home as if they are specifically for local fans.
“When we’re turning a show from a physical in-person show to a virtual show, we have to take into consideration things like what [the venue’s] socials look like? How many Facebook followers, how big are their mailing lists, their websites? Because we’re thinking of this as a regular tour where we’re asking these venues to market specifically to their particular fan base and audience,” says Fleming Artists’ Jim Fleming. “We want to be able to go from city to city without one city conflicting with another city. I wouldn’t go in and do a show in Los Angeles than do a show in Long Beach back to back because one would conflict with the other. It’s the same approach.”
Mae adds: “We’re using the language of the Ivy room in San Francisco Presents The Singing Out virtual tour. Most of the venues I know are giving the money to musicians. So we are really stoked to be helping them because they have helped us, our community.”
Tickets for the virtual tour are going for $15 which each venue gets a cut of for their promotional efforts. Fleming explains that venues have been excited and appreciative of the revenue share given that many have been shuttered since mid-March.
“We’re putting them in pretty much no risk situations where all we’re basically asking them to do is market the shows,” Fleming tells Billboard. “It’s also a gesture on our part to support the venues because we know that they need some revenue too. They’re not in the position to take risks. We hear that ‘We’re all this together’ thing a lot, but that is literally the approach we’re taking.”
In addition to continuing to engage their fans and support LGBTQ+ venues, the Singing Out tour is bringing local fans together in the absence of Pride celebrations. Fans from all over can attend any show virtually, but LGBTQ+ fans who would have met up at Pride festivals can see and interact via the Zoom video and connect with new and familiar queer folk in their area.
“It is not exactly the same as a Pride festival, but isolation breeds a lot of toxic feelings and we want to help as much as we can. Community, togetherness, and connection really helps to fight those feelings of depression during isolation,” says Mae. “We built this set that is all about social justice music. It celebrates the story of our people. There’s music about Black Lives Matter. There’s music about women’s empowerment, gender equality, obviously LGBTQ love and mental health. It’s all things that our community is affected by. A huge part of Pride is seeing people who look like you or love like you.”
The Singing Out tour continues tonight for Minnesota and reaches Wisconsin and Pennsylvania throughout the week. Check out a full list of dates below.