Patrick Haggerty and his 1973 album 'Lavender Country,' deemed the first openly gay country album, were celebrated at Austin's buzziest festival.

By Jessica Goodman
March 22, 2016 at 12:00 PM EDT

When struggling country singer Patrick Haggerty first formed Lavender Country and put out a self-titled album in 1973, less than 1,000 copies were sold. Billed as the first openly gay country record, the tracks fought back against homophobic rhetoric and had titles like “Back in the Closet Again” and “Cryin’ These C—sucking Tears.” Calling the collection ahead of its times was an understatement. Hardly anyone would play it, and one DJ who did had her FCC licenses revoked. “It was too outrageous,” Haggerty, now 71 years old, tells EW.

But in 2000 the album was reissued with three new recordings, and in 2014 it was given a massive push when Nashville-based label Paradise of Bachelors rereleased the collection. “Cryin’ These C—sucking Tears” turned into a cult hit with critics and country fans, and at this year’s South by Southwest Film and Music festival, a short documentary about Haggerty (also called These C—sucking Tears) received honors. Haggerty played multiple sets to rabid fans thrilled by the chance to sing out vintage lyrics like, “Waking up to say hip hip hooray, I’m glad I’m gay/ Can’t repress my happiness ever since I tried your way.”

“Back in 1973, I knew, and the people who were helping me make the album knew, we were dead in the water for any kind of mainstream anything,” Haggerty told EW on the final day of the festival. “It opened a door. I knew this wasn’t going to go anywhere so I got to say my real truth. I get to tell the whole story without watering it down to please executives anywhere because no executives are going to be pleased no matter what I said. So in a sense that was an opportunity.”

Now, more than 40 years later, the reasons why Lavender Country was deemed dead on arrival are exactly why fans in 2016 are lapping up its tracks. “‘These C—sucking Tears’ is the song everyone relates to,” he says. “That’s what everyone clicks on; it flipped.'”

The sentiment was felt on Friday when Haggerty, accompanied by a backing band, performed as one of the early afternoon acts in Pitchfork’s two-day showcase at Barracuda, which had also hosted buzzy, new indie and rap artists like Frankie Cosmos and Vince Staples. The crowd, made up of mostly millennials, sang along to every word in the venue’s jam-packed backyard.

“After so being dead for so many years, it’s back and people care about it. It’s beautiful,” he said at the showcase after calling out fascism, racism, and social injustice on stage.

“The real backbone of what’s jettisoned Lavender Country into the forefront is the rocked out, anarchist, screw-you crowd,” Haggerty said the day after the show. “It’s coming from the under-30 set; they’re the ones who want to hear Lavender Country, who are booking Lavender Country shows, who are showing up for the shows.”

He’ll continue to take Lavender Country on the road in the coming weeks too, with shows booked in North Carolina, Nashville, his hometown Seattle, and rodeo town Ellensburg, Washington, where he’ll perform at their first gay pride parade.

Up next, Haggerty hopes to release another album under the Lavender Country moniker. “The struggle for racial equality, for women’s equality, for transgender equality has become more intense, more significant than the struggle for gay rights. It’s time for us to support them.” He says he has an album about racial injustices half written. “I stumble with the idea, but in a lot of ways it’s put me in the same place emotionally that I was in when I wrote Lavender Country. I don’t know whether I’ll pull it off, but that’s where I’m headed.”