The debut, self-titled album from Patrick Haggerty and his country group, Lavender Country, waited in obscurity for 40 years before finding its moment. A 2014 reissue brought Haggerty and his heartfelt songs about being an openly gay man in rural America back into the spotlight. For a new generation of queer country musicians, it was an affirming discovery, described by one “like finding a bit of lost history … that makes everything fall into place.”

Beyond his art, Haggerty made a point of building relationships with these musicians, sharing wisdom or inviting them to tour and play with Lavender Country. Haggerty passed away in late 2022 at the age of 78. Graphic Journalist Nhatt Nichols looks back on his influence and shares the story of some of those younger musicians who are now carrying on the tradition Haggerty started.

On October 31, 2022, country music lost Patrick Haggerty, who founded the world's first gay country band, Lavender Country. Born in 1944, Haggerty grew up with nine siblings on a dairy farm in Clallam County, Washington.
Haggerty knew from a young age he was gay, and when he formed Lavender Country, it made sense to him that the music of his childhood would be the kind of music he would keep making. Lavender Country's 1973 self-titled album is funny, shocking, and beautiful.
It's also ground-shattering; the album's heartfelt songs about the trials and joys of being an out gay man in rural America were outside the comfort zone of the conservative country music industry. "There's nothing left but holes in your weary sexist roles."
Because of this, the album didn't garner the attention it deserved. For 40 years, Haggerty disappeared from the public eye to be an active member of the AIDS justice organization ACT UP with his husband JB and to raise a family.
He never stopped playing music during that time, regularly performing what he called "old music for old people" at a local retirement home. Haggerty credits these performances with keeping him musically sharp over the years.
Then in 2014, "Lavender Country" was reissued by the label Paradise of Bachelors, which kicked off an incredible renaissance, giving a new generation of queer country musicians the pleasure of discovering Lavender Country.
"I think he paved the way for all of us to be doing what we're doing." -Country Musician Paisley Fields.
Fields learned about Lavender Country after searching for other queer people making country music.
"Before meeting him and hearing him, I thought I had to conform to fit into country music. But he gave me some of that confidence to be a queer person, to share my experience and tell my story without being embarrassed or afraid."
Haggerty was known for making time for younger musicians and serving as both a friend and a mentor. Fields even toured with Lavender Country and played keyboard on their final album, "Blackberry Rose," which was also reissued earlier this year after being self-released in 2019.
Ashleigh Flynn, who fronts Ashleigh Flynn and the Riveters, a female and non-binary country band from Oregon, also found Haggerty happy to open his doors for her.
"I reached out and said, 'I am a queer Americana musician, and I just discovered you, and I'm just so grateful. We would love to open for you sometime.' And he got right back to me and was really into it. We became friends and started playing shows together."
Touring with Haggerty changed how Flynn felt about playing in venues she had previously dreaded.
"I've gone out with people like Todd Snyder and Billy Joe Shaver, and their crowds are very 'Bro country,' very Texas, and it can feel pretty dangerous. I saw through Patrick that it was worth going into the scary venues, being myself, and telling my story."
"And now I don't feel scared anymore because we're gonna go into this venue that might be very country straight and we're gonna burn it down with our joy and our music."
Zach Bryson, another musician who played with Haggerty, was introduced to Lavender Country through a fellow musician and was blown away by it.
"When you have something like Lavender Country, that first album, it really is like finding a bit of lost history or something. It's the piece that makes everything fall into place."
After becoming friends with Haggerty, Bryson played with him as part of the west coast band.
Lavender Country often played small venues in small towns, giving queer rural people a chance to see musicians perform the kind of music they loved but rarely saw themselves play.
Haggerty was famous for taking a break in the middle of the set to tell stories about his father, a man who, in the 1950s, supported his son's sexuality.
According to Haggerty, his father advised him to be proud of who he was. "Don't sneak. Because if you sneak, it's because you think you're doing the wrong thing."
Haggerty took his father's advice and used it to build a beautiful life, a legendary band, and an incredible community.
Bryson: "It was like he just knew exactly what his message was and what he wanted to say. And he knew that he didn't have a lot of time."
"He wanted to get out there and play as much as he could and get the message out that it doesn't matter who you are. You're welcome here."

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