Beyond “We Are Family”
by Steve Blanchard
There is no such thing as a gay niche when it comes to music. That’s proven by the diverse lineup of entertainers scheduled to take the stage at St. Pete Pride June 30.
Everything from drag kings and queens to a gay Christian rock band will keep the estimated 70,000 people attending the festival in high spirits throughout the day.
“I think most entertainers approach gay Pride events differently than regular gigs,” says St. Pete resident and entertainer Ricky Wilcox. “This gives me a chance to let my hair down a little, and at Pride there aren’t as many rules. You can truly be who you are.”
Wilcox is working on his second solo album and has performed with bands for almost two decades. Last year, he performed a song about then-Hillsborough County Commissioner Ronda Storms and her apparent hatred toward the GLBT community.
“It’s complicated to describe my music,” Wilcox says. “It’s me and the acoustic guitar up there. I know playing in front of a bunch of gay men who want to see drag queens can be difficult, but my sound can captivate people. I’m not folk music, but I’m not dance music either. I’m somewhere in between.”
Julie Schurr wants to make it clear she’s not a folk singer either, even though she is a lesbian with a guitar.
“I don’t do hardcore rock, but I guess my sound is more rock than anything,” says Schurr, who calls St. Louis home. “I rarely include the word ‘folk’ when I describe my style, because that’s not my sound.”
Schurr only recently began touring full time, but she has performed at several Pride events across the country. Before coming to St. Pete Pride this year, she made a stop at Daytona Pride on June 24.
“Everyone is so excited at Pride, and it is our day,” Schurr enthuses while taking a tour break in Jacksonville. “It’s great to have the whole community out there being who they are.”
And it’s okay to be whoever you are, according to David Lee of the Christian contemporary rock group Canaan Band. The Tampa Bay quartet is working on its second album and will release a brand-new single the day of St. Pete Pride.
Their message is simple: You can be gay and a Christian, despite what mainstream churches preach.
“We have all had our own sort of bad experiences [with religious groups] but we want to remind people that God loves you no matter what,” Lee explains. “That’s why it’s so important for us to be involved in Pride events.”
The Canaan Band’s new single, “Red Solid Line,” is about HIV testing in the GLBT community; it is the new anthem for the AIDS Services Association of Pinellas and will debut on stage at the festival.
“We all put our minds and musical talents together when it comes to writing songs,” Lee says. “We work with the words, or someone will suggest a different melody at a point in the song, and it eventually just falls together.” Songwriting collaborations usually take anywhere from 30 minutes to three hours, Lee notes.
Schurr also writes her own songs, which she started out of necessity, as she tired of replacing pronouns in cover songs.
“It got to be such a pain to change the ‘hes’ to ‘shes,’” Schurr says. “There aren’t many performers out there who write exactly what lesbians want to hear and what we’re feeling.”
Schurr’s knows her fans are mostly lesbians, and she’s proud of that fact. She says she has nothing against gay men, but she admits the lesbian community is her heart, and that’s where she wants to stay.
“But Pride events are great to cross over into the gay male audience,” Schurr says. “This day is about the community; it’s about accepting who we are and that we deserve basic rights.”
That’s also what inspires Wilcox to perform – even at events other than Pride. Wilcox has taken his guitar to several fundraisers, including one for Equality Florida and the Human Rights Campaign.
“I’m proud to be involved in any way I can,” Wilcox says. “I don’t define myself as a gay person who plays the guitar, but as a gay man, I understand the importance and the need for equality.”
Julie Schurr was raised in a very religious family. Her parents were so religious that they wouldn’t play any secular music on the family stereo, unless you count Bach, Mozart and Beethoven.
“I was always interested in music, and I’d always mimic the sounds of classical music with my voice,” Schurr says. “It wasn’t until much later that I heard music that truly expressed what people were thinking and feeling.”
In college, a friend loaned a guitar to Schurr and eventually encouraged her to perform at an open mic night. At first she was hesitant.
“I was terrified to go on stage,” Schurr remembers. “But I was more terrified that she’d kick my ass if I didn’t do it. I was so shy then, and it’s such a drastic change now as to how I perform.”
Soon, the poetry Schurr was writing became songs. She has toured full time for almost a year.
Wilcox was never considered a musical prodigy either. He performed in school plays and choirs, but his parents weren’t musicians.
“But they appreciated music, which helped me develop my interest in it,” he says. “They were very cool and loved to let us listen to the Beatles and Jimi Hendrix and other sounds of that time. They may not have understood it, but they let me discover it.” Wilcox, who has been partnered for seven years, says he takes those styles he admired at a young age and uses them in his music today.
“If I had my preference I’d be playing all the time with a whole rock band,” Wilcox says. “But playing solo is fun too, and it allows me to put my own feel and touch on the performance.”
But what happens when you have four unique perspectives on one performance, like when The Canaan Band performs?
It’s easy, according to Lee. The band works together and each member adds his or her own musical observations.
“All of us were raised in the church and performed in the church as kids and young adults,” Lee explains. “When I met James [Blanchard] at a karaoke night, we were talking about our pasts. He had been kicked out of a position as a church choir director because he was gay. I had a similar experience.”
After the pair struck up a friendship, they decided to perform together at the Lakeland Metropolitan Community Church. Soon they met Melanie Wilkinson, and the three realized their harmonies were perfectly in synch.
“We added Cathy [Taylor] more than a year ago, and she just rounds out our sound,” Lee says. “We’re all passionate about what we’re doing, and we know we have a message to relay. That’s what music is all about, isn’t it?”
The Canaan Band, Julie Schurr and Ricky Wilcox are scheduled to perform at 12:30 p.m., 1:05 p.m. and 2:15 p.m., respectively, June 30 on the St. Pete Pride stage. For more information on the performers, visit www.MySpace.com/TheCanaanBand.