We were lucky enough to have Chris Bogard and Katherine Lipp covering Outloud Festival for The Art of Being Queer!
OUTLOUD MUSIC FESTIVAL
Story by Katherine Lipp
Over just a few packed blocks, downtown Nashville stretches wild and screaming into the night like greek row lifted from an early two-thousands comedy. It’s a ceaseless bustle of drinking in bars, of live bands battling for sonic real estate, of shops offering three pairs of boots for the price of one. In other words, the straightest place you can imagine.
On the other end of Church Street, OUTLOUD Music Festival is the kooky house party, beckoning all the kids who are into the kind of bands played on the independent radio station—makeup smudgy and clothes mismatched in a way that makes a crowd of a couple hundred feel more full of life than the thousands just a ten minute Uber away.
Founded in 2018, OUTLOUD Music Festival is a celebration of queer life in Nashville, and they’ve managed to bring buzzworthy names like Betty Who and CupCakKe to the table. Hosted in the lot right outside of Play Dance Bar (one of the most popular gay clubs in Nashville, I’m told by festival goers), it’s clear they’ve opted to use their funds on bringing the best acts they can afford. Vendors sell gay-friendly tees and trinkets, fried foods, and lemonade. Charmingly cobbled-together drag queens flit from booth to booth, familiar like a neighborhood block party.
There’s a sense that everyone at OUTLOUD knows each other. As more people arrive, cliques start to form around the bar; a guy points out my friend’s Instax camera and asks him to take a group photo of he and his friends, casual and unassuming in a way that feels impossibly Southern. I get the feeling that these people see one another at events all the time—a pocket of gay culture tucked away from the bright, straight lights of Broadway.
Acts are playing throughout the day, but things really kick off around sunset with a beautiful set by Nasvhille native, Katie Pruitt, and her backing band. Pruitt’s style hits somewhere between Hozier and Julien Baker, with the songwriting chops to match.
“This is the only song I’m gonna play about being gay today, I hope that’s alright,” Pruitt drawls before launching into another lightly smoky tune about “my beautiful girlfriend,” who catcalls back to her from somewhere near the front of the standing crowd.
Gia Woods brings her own brand of heat to festival goers after sundown. The singer has only just started to make a name for herself as an LGBT pop star alongside the likes of Halsey and Hayley Kiyoko, but she’s doing a hell of a job. She plays a set of recent singles, including the massive “Only a Girl.”
“Writing this song was how I came out to my parents,” She says, smiling wide like she’s commiserating among close friends.
Enjoyable performances aside, OUTLOUD Fest’s smaller acts are met with a pervasive sense of waiting. The bite-sized, German-born elephant in the room is Kim Petras, whose swift rise to fame (especially within the LGBT community) makes her a supernova amidst distant stars. It makes me wonder how far in advance she’d been booked, but if artists with beginnings as humble as Petras can’t rep the tiny festivals made for people who occupy the fringe in an already small space, who can?
“I thought there was gonna be like, no one here, but you guys really turned out,” She says as the largest crowd of the night gathers. She commands the stage in a mono-leopard-print getup, the spitting image of a young Madonna, or an elderly Parisian woman, or a Pomeranian.
I managed to see one in a small slate of headlining shows Petras performed in Brooklyn back in February. Since then, she’s released an album to enthusiastic critical praise, headlined multiple events for Pride, and organized a tour that kicks off this October. It’s amazing to see how readily she’s taken to her new role as pop princess, and her small but mighty set at OUTLOUD proves her a force to be reckoned with—a mix of singles and album cuts showing off her hair-rising vocal gymnastics as much as her talent for dazzling a crowd.
“Who here loves Sophie?” she asks (there’s a pitiful cheer, unheard of in New York) just before “123 Dayz Up,” a collaboration between her and the Scottish PC sensation. The Southern crowd may not be familiar with Sophie by name, but they meet the track with as much enthusiasm as the night I saw it debut back in Brooklyn. It’s undeniable that for queer fans in less fashionable parts of the states, Kim herself, not her star-studded collaborator, is the main attraction.
The crowd filters away to enjoy an evening full of drinks and friends—community, in the true sense of the word—but the night aids the sense that good things are happening everywhere. This may only be OUTLOUD Music Fest’s second year in operation, but with an even bigger name under their belt, I have hope that queer Nasvhille will continue to thrive and bring a new take on music to the city that’s quick to assume it has everything to offer.