By Deborah Evans Price
When Ty Herndon launched the first Concert for Love & Acceptance in 2015, he was hopeful the event would help change lives. Now six years later, as he prepares for this year’s event on June 30, the singer/songwriter/philanthropist can’t believe how much the event has grown, and he’s even proud of the growing pains.
“We have a big problem,” Herndon says with a grin. “This started last year. We have a problem saying no. We used to have to go out and chase talent and now we are in a position where we’re like, ‘Oh my God! I don’t want to tell you no.’”
Having more artist asking to perform than they can accommodate is a problem Herndon is happy to have. This year’s impressive lineup will be live-streamed exclusively on CMT’s Facebook and YouTube channels, and at F4LA.org/concert. Brothers Osborne, Kristin Chenoweth, Terri Clark, Brooke Eden, Harper Grae, Chris Housman, Kathy Mattea, Rissi Palmer, Gretchen Peters, Tenille Townes, Walker County and Chase Wright were previously announced as performers. This week Michael Ray, Lily Rose, Jake Hoot, Jamie Floyd, Paul Cardall, Cody Belew and comedian Dana Goldberg were added to the lineup. Additionally, former NFL quarterback Steve Young and his wife Barbara Graham Young, both advocates for LGBTQ equality and acceptance, are scheduled to make special appearance together in support of LGBTQ youth.
To accommodate all the talented artist who are graciously offering their time, Herndon came up with a clever solution. “That’s why we created the red-carpet performances,” he says of giving fans as much entertainment as possible. “We always had our red carpet before the show and even when we’re back live next year, we’re going to have the red-carpet performances. They are filmed separately and scattered throughout the show, which is amazing. Last year we had an hour and a half of performances before the show even started. This year we kind of narrowed it down. We have a one-hour red carpet show that has 10 artists on it.”
For the fourth consecutive year, CMT will be returning as Presenting Partner of the event, which will benefit GLAAD, MusiCares, and Nashville’s Oasis Center.
Herndon, well known for such country hits as “What Mattered Most,” “Living in a Moment” and “I Want My Goodbye Back,” came out as gay in 2014, becoming the first male country artist to do so. “I lived a long time in my body with bones and blood that were not authentic to the gifts God gave me and it was important to me when I had the opportunity to tell my truth to the world that people still see me as a viable country artist,” he tells News Break. “My Grandma Myrtle always said if you put a thousand great hearts on the table, there’s no sexuality. There’s no race. There’s just a thousand great hearts that are living in unity, and I loved her for that.”
Herndon made it his mission to help others on the journey. “My whole purpose was living authentically and then teaching others to live authentically and letting them know that they are beautifully and perfectly made just as they are,” says Herndon. “So The Foundation for Love & Acceptance was born. The Concert for Love & Acceptance, of course, came first, and we are a full-on foundation now and have grown into almost a corporation. I dreamed that it would come to this one day, but I didn’t know for sure that Nashville was ready for it. I was so proud of them because I think it gave people an opportunity to get off the dirt road and get up on the highway and say, ‘Hey, you know I’m just a lover of people.’ So here we are six years later partnered with CMT and Music Cares and some huge foundations that are going to go out there and help people with mental health, help LGBQ families and Nashville families. Our branches have grown into some really lovely directions.”
Herndon’s mission has earned respect and passionate support from others in the Nashville community. “I really do believe that music is an extension of love and acceptance. And that it has a powerful way of uniting us and reminding us how important it is for all of us as human beings to feel like we are not alone. I think this event is a joyful reminder of that,” says Tenille Townes, who recently won the Juno Award for Country Album of the Year. “I’m so excited to get to hear everybody’s songs and feel our community coming together to lift up and support the LGBTQ community I think this is a really important and special event and I'm honored to be a part.”
“When I moved to Nashville several years ago, Ty Herndon was one of the first people I met,” says Paul Cardall. “He became a fast friend and musical collaborator. I invited him to perform at the Loveloud Festival in Utah where we performed a song we wrote together and recorded for my latest album, The Broken Miracle. We also collaborated with Kristin Chenoweth on the song ‘Orphans of God.’ So, there was no doubt I would accept his invitation to perform at his Concert for Love and Acceptance. Growing up in Salt Lake City, I’ve had a lot of friends deal with depression, some who are openly gay, and they’ve taken their lives. I had a heart transplant 10 years ago. My organ donor took his life. Because of all the losses I've witnessed, I’ve spent many years creating music with the intent to help people understand their value, how valuable they are and not to give up. Sharing that message at this event is what I look forward to most."
This year Kathy Mattea will receive the second annual Foundation for Love & Acceptance R.A.L.Y. (Rescue A Life, Y’all) Award, presented in recognition of her early advocacy for the LGBTQ community and HIV/AIDS awareness. “Last year our R.A.L.Y. award went to Kristen Chenoweth and she said it was one of her favorite awards ever,” Herndon says. “This year the award goes to Kathy Mattea. She’s been an advocate since day one, since the first day I met her, and when I say advocate, I mean a lover of life, a supporter of human beings. She has a heart full of love and has been a brave soldier. That’s what the award stands for.”
This marks the fourth consecutive year CMT has served as a Presenting Partner, and it’s Cody Alan’s sixth year as co-host of the event. “It’s a privilege to return as co-host of the annual Concert For Love & Acceptance, whose mission is as important today as when it launched six years ago,” Alan said in a statement. “With dangerous and discriminatory legislation pending in our home state of Tennessee, the vocal support of the country music community is immeasurable in changing hearts and minds. I’m eager to again partner with TyHerndon, CMT, GLAAD, and our new beneficiaries at MusiCares and Nashville’s Oasis Center to highlight the critical work to move LGBTQ+ rights forward.”
Herndon serves as executive producer of the 2021 Concert for Love & Acceptance. Zeke Stokes, president of ZS STRATEGIES and a former Vice President of GLAAD, also serves as executive producer, a role he’s held since the Concert began in 2015.
“I’ve got a great team of people around me that work really hard, so it’s very emotional for me,” says Herndon, who plans to release a new album in September. “To think that I was this dude who had a really tough time, who ended up a drug addict, who got arrested, almost ruined his whole life, almost ruined his whole career and has been able to change the ending because of the amazing people around me that have helped me. I want anyone to hear that you can change your ending. You can go out there in the world and be successful. You can be anybody you want to be and do anything you want to do if it’s authentically done.”