Glenn Stewart’s story is not the one you normally hear among those making their living off their music in Nashville. He didn’t come to Music City to break into the industry by plying labels for backing, hoping to make his chops later. And he didn’t wait until comfortably late in his career to come out of the closet.
Strictly speaking, Glenn never was in the closet as a musician. But Glenn also didn’t get his start in Nashville, and that explains a lot about his success. “I’ve been out there since the 1980s. I didn’t broadcast it but I don’t hide it, and up north it’s even less of an issue.” Stewart built his career on a performance circuit in New England, where country is less of a musical staple but where the fans are just as rabid.
So how did this gay boy from outside of Boston get into country music? “My dad was a country fan,” Stewart said. “Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash…. I loved that stuff but I also grew up loving Kiss and hair metal—the big theatrics. I picked up the drums and started in a band freshman year.” He performed with Roxxi for a few years in the late-1980s and early-1990s, but soon Nirvana and grunge rock changed the music scene.
Stewart then spent years in cover bands, where he was encouraged to take up lead vocals, which led to a complete shift for him. Stewart started to perform his own music, with acoustic guitar, during the band breaks. “The 80’s formula for writing music isn’t that different from modern country,” he said. His performances grew so popular that it upset the band, and Stewart set out on his own. “I put myself in the studio in 2006,” he reported, “and recorded my own CD. Friends helped with what I couldn’t do on my own.”
While Stewart’s career has been independently driven, support from friends and fans has been essential. A couple of years ago, Stewart met Becky Szymcik: “I had posted on Facebook hoping to find an angel investor, and she contacted me. We sat down a couple of weeks later, talked about my contacts, and she became a backer for the first part of the album.” With Szymcik’s support, a Kickstarter campaign was able to fund the rest of what would become Stewart’s new album, “Breaking Boundaries.”
There’s a lot to be excited about in “Breaking Boundaries,” and it has gained some notable and vocal fans. Last year, Stewart met Joslyn Fox at Worcester Pride, and when she was cast on Season 6 of Drag Race, “I sent her a text from the plane,” Stewart said, explaining, “I’m a huge fan of the show. And she said, ‘I wanna be your video ho!’ And I knew I had the perfect thing.” The two began collaborating on the video for “Little Miss John Wayne,” which would feature Fox and Stewart at Louisville’s Dark Star Tavern.
In the video, a very fishy Joslyn heads out to a country bar, where she makes herself the life of the party and makes all the flannel-clad boys swoon. The video plays with a country music classic: “A seductive, beautiful woman draws all the men’s eyes, but that’s what the song is about. The people who know drag know what’s going on, but what’s really funny is that those who don’t [know drag] just see a beautiful woman. And that ought to tell them something.”
Joslyn's status on RuPaul led to the video going viral almost overnight. But that’s not RuPaul’s only connection to “Breaking Boundaries.” Stewart is an unabashed fan, and his album features his cover of RuPaul’s “Around Again.” In the months since the video and album were released, RuPaul lent Stewart support, tweeting about his music and calling his cover “beautifully done.” This inspired Stewart and Foxx to organize a video, to be produced in 2015, for his version of “Around Again,” featuring over a dozen queens from Drag Race.
In the Nashville country scene, even coming out is risky, unless you’re established. So, one can hardly help but smile at the idea of independent country music on the ascent, powered even in part by the star power of drag queens. Maybe a little bit of the North is just what it will take to make a New Nashville?