I was more than a little drunk when Canadian underground rapper Tommy Genesis pulled me on stage to rap Charli XCX’s verse on her “100 Bad.”
“Do you know the Charli verse?” she’d shouted in my and my roommate’s faces as the song’s glitchy trap-infused refrain blasted all around us. I’m still not sure if we seemed particularly enthusiastic or if we were just being typecast as white twinks (XCX’s target demographic), but either way, the answer was a resounding yes, followed by the least graceful entrance onto a stage the Basement East has ever seen.
It was a fitting coda to a deeply unpredictable and eclectic iteration of Nashville Pride (which, I might add, also saw me brushing elbows with Kacey Musgraves, who responded to my complimenting her outfit with a simple “I know, right?”)—one befitting the weekend’s unorthodox placement in September.
Among other things, this year has taught us that holding festivals in September in the South is, at best, misguided. Between the cancellations of Bonnaroo and Imagine this month and the heavy storms that threatened to cancel this weekend’s Music Midtown, acts of God (read: the irreversible damage done by climate change) have challenged the industry notion that the show must go on. Nashville Pride was no exception, starting late on Saturday due to rain concerns and ultimately forgoing the festival entirely on Sunday.
But gay people are going to find a way to party no matter what.
Saturday’s performers took the stage in front of a park that was more mud than solid ground—though you wouldn’t know it from the size and immense enthusiasm of the crowd before them.
First up on the main stage lineup was indie-pop outfit The Aces, who brought their sunny, bouncy, and deeply queer anthems to a crowd that ate them right up. Their set, a solid forty minutes of non-stop energy, felt equal parts larger-than-life and intimately raw, stadium-ready without sacrificing any of their trademark vulnerability. By the time lead singer Cristal Ramirez introduced their debut single “Stuck,” which served as the set’s closer, you could practically feel a wave of euphoria rush over the park.
Masked gay Canadian country crooner (what a string of words!) Orville Peck followed, presenting arguably the rawest musical talent of the night with a somewhat barebones (not a read) set that placed his unparalleled Cashian vocals front and center. His aesthetic and sound felt like a perfect fit for the Nashville setting, pairing a stunning retro sensibility with more modern and subversive gender commentary. Peck’s cover of Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way,” released recently in honor of the tenth anniversary of its namesake album, was a festival highlight—especially in a set of performances surprisingly devoid of Pride mainstays like Cher’s “Believe” or Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive.”
With no disrespect to Peck or The Aces, there was no chance either could have prepared the Pride audience for the maximalist excellence of Kim Petras’ headlining set. The hour-long production, likely not too dissimilar from the Bonnaroo set that almost was, saw the pop trailblazer run through her myriad of flawless anthems—with a striking amount of A-list confidence to back it up. New single “Future Starts Now” (the song’s first live performance after its release) kicked things off with vogue-inspired choreography and formations before giving way to a breakneck barrage of (for the LGBTQ+ community) hit after hit after hit.
The few times the momentum stopped, it was only for a few rounds of call-and-response of the trans superstar’s trademark “woo-ah”—as if to give us the chance to catch our breath and let the adrenaline settle a bit, though she seemed content and able to keep on trucking.
Seeing a trans woman command the stage so effortlessly felt nothing short of revolutionary—especially in light of the recently departed SOPHIE’s birthday the day prior. Although Petras didn’t include her own collaboration with the producer, 2019’s “1,2,3 dayz up,” on the setlist—really my only qualm with her performance—it felt like SOPHIE was smiling down on the whole thing, watching over as her trans sister was, for a moment, on top of the world.
Something tells me there’ll be many of those moments in the next few months.