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Ira Kaplan Yo La Tengo Nashville Tennessee in drag
Ira Kaplan of Yo La Tengo performing in Nashville, Tennessee in drag@JohnQBoxler via Twitter

Indie legends Yo La Tengo perform in drag to protest Tennessee’s drag ban

As Tennessee passes a raft of anti-LGBTQ+ legislation, the band performed a gig in Nashville last night – in full drag

Last night, acclaimed indie rock band Yo La Tengo played a gig in Nashville, Tennessee in drag, to protest the state’s new legislation that restricts drag performances in public spaces. Amid a rising tide of anti-LGBTQ+ laws in the US, it’s heartening to see a bunch of straight, cisgender men in their 50s and 60s showing solidarity.

According to the local paper, The Tennessean, the band opened with their usual set, before leaving the stage and returning in drag for the rest of the show, with singer Ira Kaplan wearing “make-up, a red dress and a long black wig” and guitarist James McCew donning a “shawl and a sun hat” (which doesn’t sound like the most glamorous look, but it’s the thought that counts!). The band didn’t make a statement during the show itself but later said, “What we did last night couldn’t have been clearer, and requires no further comment.”

This comes after Tennessee’s governor Bill Lee signed a draconian new bill into law, which targets not just drag performances, but gender nonconformity at large. It classifies drag as a form of ‘adult entertainment’ which appeals to a ‘prurient interest,’ comparable to ‘topless dancers’ and ‘strippers’. It makes it an offence to perform drag on public property and in any location where it could be viewed by a minor. Some commentators have suggested the bill could be used to criminalise Pride parades or any trans person performing in public in any capacity. While it’s not an outright ban on drag, it’s worded so vaguely that it could easily allow government officials and the police to target any performance which they, subjectively, deem inappropriate.

Yo La Tengo aren’t the only musicians to protest the bill. Last month, Mississippi-born Hayley Williams, who spent part of her adolescence in Tennessee, wrote an impassioned defence of both drag and gender-affirming healthcare (also under attack in Tennessee) on her Instagram page, stating, “Drag is not a crime. Gender-affirming health care for all, including our youth, is a necessity.” Along with acts like Sheryl Crow and Julian Baker, Williams will be performing at a benefit concert in Nashville later this month, intended to raise money for LGBTQ+ charities in the state.

If you don’t know Yo La Tengo, but you enjoy wistfulness and bittersweet melancholy, you should check them out. Having been around for four decades, they are still making good music, winning over new fans and influencing a new generation of musicians. They have long enjoyed critical acclaim and a cult following, but they deserve their place among Phoebe Bridgers and Mitski in the sad girl canon, too.