Redefining the country music star 

Openly gay country singer Patrick Masse plays as part of WinterPRIDE

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It's a funny thing, you know, how wrong people often are. Take the case of Patrick Masse, who was told time and again that if he came out of the closet his career as a country singer would putter out.

Successful male country singers uphold a certain image — big hats and bare arms tattooed with American symbols who sing about heartache, love for their country and thinly veiled praises of their "Lord and Saviour." Nashville is a predominantly Christian town and Masse says the advice he'd received from managers at that time was to keep his sexuality under wraps. Otherwise, it might become something of a complication.

But when Masse came out as a gay country singer in 2004, he proved the naysayers wrong. The opportunities, he says, came rolling in.

"It was ironic because for all the time that I tried to cover it up, it was harder to get things going," Masse says in a phone interview from Vancouver.

"As soon as I let the door open, the opportunities just walked right in. It's bizarre how it was the total opposite of what I was told."

His performance at WinterPRIDE's Echo Valley Ranch Cowboy/Cowgirl Party this Tuesday at Buffalo Bills (9 p.m. start) has earned him an incredible amount of coverage. Major Vancouver media outlets, not to mention a throng of gay media outlets, are jumping on his story. The fact is there are very few openly gay male country singers working professionally.

"There's a whole whack of gay guys in Nashville who are very successful who are in the closet and they'll never come out," he says. "I just thought do I want to sell myself out for money, or do I want to do something that I'm proud of and just be who I am?"

But it really has little to do with the music he writes. His lyrics are not gender specific. He makes no mention of man-on-man love — or man-on-woman love, for that matter. If he were a straight or closeted performer, the music would sound like the work of a typical country singer.

"I never even thought about it when I got into country music. It never even crossed my mind at that point that I would have to deal with this. You are who you are," he says.

"At the end of the day it's going to come back to your talent. If you were using that as a vehicle to get out there and you had no talent, eventually people would see through it. The novelty would wear out and you'd just be this guy who's gay that can't even sing country music."

His latest album Mend the Man ignores popular country conventions, bypassing the country-lite dominating the chart. It's country music for country fans and he's not too concerned about landing a crossover hit. He's been down that road before. In 2004, he released an album through a label, which was trying to fit him into a mold that would appeal to popular tastes at the time. Masse was having none of it.

"I didn't like doing the songs. I didn't like performing them live and it came across. You can kind of tell when someone's passionate about something," he says.

He's been offered two record deals for his latest record, Mend the Man, neither of which have been the right opportunity. Until the sweetest plum drops from above, he's content working as an indie artist. He can do exactly what he wants to do, sing how he wants to sing, twang the guitar as he sees fit, and with the Internet he can reach just about anybody.

Masse is currently working with MTV to develop a reality show about his career. The show will follow the path of an openly gay country music artist because there aren't really any others in the open as he records his new album. It will include the standard bits of drama that are necessary for selling reality TV to the masses, while offering viewers a different perspective of both gay culture and the country music industry.

But at the end the day, the show is a vehicle to showcase his art.

"I want to get my music into more people's ears and make a decent living," he says.

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