Like a Paisley cowboy: Queer country band kicks off music festival

Like a Paisley cowboy: Queer country band kicks off music festival
Photo by Stefano Giovannini

They’re here, they’re queer, and they’re country.

A country band with songs about romance between urban cowboys kicks off the 10th annual Brooklyn Country Music Festival on Aug. 20. The Paisley Fields, a five-piece country outfit with an openly gay frontman, will perform on the opening night of the four-day festival at the Bell House. A queer country group may sound like an oxymoron, but the group’s lead singer says they are in good company.

“There’s a really good community for queer and gay country musicians and singers,” said James Wilson, who lives in Carroll Gardens but grew up listening to Graham Parsons and Dolly Parton in his native Iowa. “We’ve encountered a bit of homophobia outside of New York, but for the most part everyone’s been really accepting.”

Those in the know say the Brooklyn country scene has always had a rainbow hue and a come-as-you-are attitude.

“The neat thing about Brooklyn country is: if you’re country to you, you’re country to me,” said Alex Battles, founder of the Brooklyn Country Music Festival and head of the Whiskey Rebellion band. “There are no rules about what’s country in Brooklyn and that’s what makes it great.”

Wilson says he was thrilled to discover the borough’s thriving queer country scene, which centers on Prospect Heights honky-tonk Branded Saloon, which hosts a regular event called “Queer Country Monthly.” Another Brooklyn extravaganza, “The Gay Ole Opry,” organized by the band Karen and the Sorrows, also offers an annual venue for gay and country cultures to mingle.

Wilson, who writes songs about tortured love affairs with other men, says that the country genre lends itself to storytellers from all walks of life.

“I think country music is just about stories,” said Wilson. “And there are so many stories in New York and peoples’ lives intertwine so often.”

Battles says he has watched the Brooklyn country scene bloom since he put down roots in Park Slope in 1995. The proliferation of Texas-style barbeque joints and country-western bars has helped the scene grow, putting country music on urban stages across the borough. The growth of Brooklyn country music, says Battles, also led to unconventional twists on the genre, with pioneers like Wilson taking the reigns of a historically macho culture and injecting some Brooklyn chutzpah.

“That sums up what Brooklyn country is,” said Battles. “If you’re gonna be courageous, this is the place to do it.”

The Paisley Fields at the Bell House [149 Seventh St. between Second and Third avenues in Gowanus, (718) 643–6510, www.thebellhouseny.com.] Aug. 20 at 6 pm. $15. Brooklyn Country Music Festival at the Bell House Aug. 20–23, $15–$20 per night, $50 four-day pass.

Reach reporter Allegra Hobbs at ahobbs@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260–8312.