Orville Peck: Gay Country’s Favorite Outlaw.
Shot & Written By Chris Bogard For The Art of Being Queer
Even if you’re not a Country music fan, you’ve probably heard of Orville Peck. As one of the industry’s newest rising stars, he’s been taking the genre by storm, and not just with his traditional sound. His bold fashion sense, concealed identity, and subversive lyrics made Peck a standout when I had the chance to photograph him at the 20th Annual AMERICANAFEST in Nashville.
What first drew me to Orville Peck wasn’t his music, it was his look. As a photographer and visual artist, I was captivated by the leather fringe mask and red cowboy hat that he dons in the art for his debut album Pony. I’ll admit, it took me a couple weeks to actually listen to the album—I was afraid of compromising his visual appeal, of deflating my fascination with this queer country act. Sure, he looks amazing, but does he soundjust as good? I’d heard other “gay country singers” before, and always ended up disappointed; their music just wasn’t deep enough—either more gay or more country (usually the former), never a balanced marriage of the two.
When I finally did sit down and listen to Pony, I was instantly moved. First by the production value and quality of Peck’s voice, second by the tender queer stories he was telling through his lyrics. Reminiscent of the classic country and rock-and-roll legends Roy Orbison and Elvis Presley, Peck sings lamentingly of past male lovers in “Big Sky” and “Winds Change,” making it clear that despite being a mysterious masked musician, he’s not afraid to be shamelessly vulnerable through his lyrics. I’d been waiting for an artist just like this - gritty, theatrical, and unabashedly gay.
Growing up, I often adorned myself with cowboy hat and boots, as so many other American boys have before me, but it was my queerness that set me apart from them. I saw cowboys not only as role models, but also as sex symbols. The tight denim, leather boots, wide-brimmed hats, everything hyper-masculine and raw. You get the picture. When Orville sings in the opening track “Dead of Night” in a soaring falsetto: See the boys as they walk on by / It’s enough to make a young man, it feels more authentic than anything I’d ever heard in this genre before.
And speaking of sex symbols, enter Orville Peck: the latest sensual sensation to dominate pop culture’s “Yeehaw Moment,” embellished in head-to-toe fringe, leather, and Brooklyn-style tattoo sleeves. He’s the embodiment of a true modern cowboy. His signature look revolves around his trademark mask, shrouding half his face in long fringe, cloaking his mouth like an outlaw’s bandana. As he took the stage at AMERICANAFEST with his red Stetson, he feltlike an outlaw, ready to stir up the preconceived notions of the mostly conservative crowd.
Orville’s set at AMERICANAFEST was one of many, with over 200 artists on the lineup, including giants like Josh Ritter and Andrew Bird. The showcases are spread out across the city at multiple venues over the course of a week, and anyone with a wristband can come and go as they please. Held at Mercy Lounge, a multi-story, multi-stage venue in the Gulch neighborhood, Orville’s set drew a surprisingly large crowd despite a modest billing. I couldn’t help but wonder how many in the audience were there by chance or by choice, considering the demographic of the Nashville crowd and Peck’s progressive fanbase. Once the show started, it didn’t matter. The crowd was gripped. Orville’s stage presence, beyond the fringe and the fashion, is captivating and theatrical. He owns the room with finessed vocals, rock-star riffs, and a passion that transcends the mask.
It’s no mystery why there’s so much hype around this masked maverick. It’s not often we see such subversive artists with the talent, style, and charisma to match their hype, and Orville Peck’s got it all. I hope to see more artists follow his lead—breaking barriers in their genres, picking up speed, and riding off-into the sunset in true outlaw style.