AUSTIN (KXAN) — When the coronavirus pandemic hit in March 2020, Austin musician Omar Phoenix was already in a dark place. Struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder, alcoholism and his mental health, the joys he once felt performing had dimmed, only to then be exacerbated by forced isolation, canceled performances and limited music opportunities.
Connecting with the SIMS Foundation for treatment, the past year has been one of growth, renewal and refocused purpose for Phoenix. And just like his namesake suggests, now’s only the beginning of Austin’s queer music scene re-emergence.
“I’ve reconnected with my true love for music,” he said. “I’ve gotten thirsty again, so to speak, to where I really just want to play. I want to see people out there enjoying the scene, enjoying the lights and the sound, being together.”
Phoenix is one of five Austin-based musicians set to perform in the second annual Pride in Local Music, a livestreamed concert June 30 that will highlight queer artists.
The event is a collaboration between Austin and its sister city Nashville. Hosted by both cities’ LGBT chambers of commerce, each city will feature five local LGBTQ+ artists in the lineup.
This year’s Pride in Local Music is a reimagined version of its inaugural debut last June, said Tina Cannon, president and CEO of the Austin LGBT Chamber of Commerce. The 2021 livestream was prerecorded at music venues across Austin and Nashville, and will be livestreamed virtually as well as at watch parties throughout downtown.
In a 15-month timespan that has proven particularly difficult for musicians, the ability to reunite on the stage and share in that love of music again is a welcomed change of pace, she said. But even more so, the means of gathering as a community at these watch parties speaks to the sentiment of what pride is, and what it means to LGBTQ+ people throughout the greater Austin area.
“Pride is the time definitely to celebrate, to recognize and respect the past, and now where we’re headed in the future and standing up for these artists is just another great way to support what we’re trying to accomplish,” Cannon said.
While there have been virtual Austin music showcases throughout the pandemic, Cannon said it was a pointed effort to hone in specifically on queer artists who might not have the same opportunities or exposure as their industry counterparts. She also stressed the importance of featuring artists across genres and sounds to create an eclectic mix that hits everyone’s music tastes.
“We have everything from an amazing violinist — who, when you think violin, this guy is going to blow your mind — to, you know, punk art and punk rock,” she said. “There’s a little bit for everything.”
Audrey Campbell fronts Pleasure Venom, a garage punk group here in Austin. She said there is a sense of unity and unspoken understanding between queer artists who have shared lived experiences, which drew her to this event. Getting to do what she loves alongside others in the industry is just the cherry on top, she said.
“It’s almost like highlighting on things we need to work on today and current injustices as well,” she said, adding: “I feel like it’s just about like, that kind of catharsis of all of us being in it together, you know, in representing….we all have a shared history, and shared things that we go through as queer people.”
Austin pop artist and DJ P1nkstar said being able to represent the city’s queer and transgender artists is a privilege. Originally from Mexico, she has spent the past five years growing both as an artist and as a person here in Austin. This performance, as are all others, serve as love letters to those who have supported her artistry.
“Every time I think of Austin, and like the queer community and the arts community here, I’m just like — I just don’t understand,” she said. “I grew up in like, very conservative, Catholic Mexico, and like, I did not even think this was a possibility.”
While Pride Month is a celebratory occasion for members of the LGBTQ+ community each June, it’s also a noted period of remembrance and reflection, Cannon said. When it comes to straight allies looking to support Austin’s queer artistry, she said that same support needs to carry forward and extend to nonprofit organizations and initiatives long after Pride Month ends.
For Phoenix, Austin is his hometown. And as much as he loves the city that raised him, he also wants to see its residents raise themselves to the level of not only tolerating LGBTQ+ people and enjoying their artistry, but championing them and advocating for them year-round.
“As many rainbow flags signs are put up, there still is such an underlying current and sentiment against lesbian or gay, or bisexual or trans, or intersex or non-binary or gender fluid people. That’s a very tense feeling because they want our art, but they don’t want our humanity,” he said.
Phoenix added: “If I can be one of the faces that says, no, we are here and queer and we’re not going anywhere, then it’s a blessing and it’s a privilege to be able to just get up there and slay and play, regardless of what anyone thinks about me or my brothers and sisters.”
For more information about the 2021 Pride in Local Music watch party locations, click here.
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