How Charlotte’s LGBTQ entertainers conquered COVID-19
‘The Show Must Go On’
by Anders Hare (he/him)
Featured Photo Above: Shaine Laine, right, stands with Charlotte Pride Programs & Development Director Jerry Yelton, middle, and Lolita Chanel in the Charlotte Pride studio created for this year’s virtual festival and parade livestreams.
Welcome to the 2020 Charlotte Pride Magazine! This article is part of the annual Charlotte Pride Magazine, published this year as a special year-end retrospective for 2020. You can see all 2020 Charlotte Pride Magazine content here, as well as finding distribution locations for our limited print run.
2020 has been nothing short of tumultuous. Lives lost to COVID-19, businesses closing indefinitely and the economy spinning into a recession before our eyes are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the agony endured.
As autumn came, Charlotte cautiously reemerged from this year’s cloud of constant uncertainty blanketing livelihoods and upending realities. For the local entertainment industry, however, that uncertainty would remain a little more constant still, as innumerable clubs, bars and venues remained barred from opening or operating at limited capacity until further notice.
The effects of the pandemic undoubtedly have hindered Charlotte’s entertainment quarters to a point of no return. Regal Twin Manor, the Queen City’s oldest and last art-house cinema, indelibly closed its doors this summer after 73 years of service at the disappointment of long-time patrons and the city as a whole.
What’s more, NoDa’s widely-favored Neighborhood Theatre began auctioning off pieces from local artists made out of planks of wood taken from its former stage as a way of keeping money coming in.
While the brutal results of the entertainment market standstill have wounded on multiple levels, entertainers in Charlotte’s LGBTQ community have found ways to cope with the magnitude of the loss.
Artists and entertainers in the LGBTQ community have been subject to cruel realities as the world paused back in March. With venues closing, they have been obliged to seek other methods of keeping their audiences laughing, smiling, dancing, and hoping for a turnaround to this chaotic time.
Many of them were willing to sacrifice their own desires to keep pushing their craft, and the outcomes were progressive, generating a connection with die-hard and new fans through social media posts and virtual performances. While it was a difficult journey to live out, their stories are compelling and inspire their audiences to make sense of the cards dealt by 2020.
Courtney Lynn and Quinn
As royalty in Charlotte’s country and Americana music scene, wife-duo and band Courtney Lynn and Quinn are an unstoppable force. Gritty, soulful delivery paired with seamless harmonies live in a state of concord and bliss for listeners of a spectrum of music genres.
After meeting in Los Angeles some years back, CLQ moved to the Queen City in 2016 to lay the groundwork for their artistic maturation and, ultimately, their blossoming union. The couple eventually wed in the fall of 2018, and much like their relationship, their music is built on the bricks that make up each of their individual unique personas and styles, fastened together to produce a lasting foundation.
Their artistry branches into numerous musical realms and spaces, from the heart-wrenching wails of Grace Potter and The Nocturnals to the innate and thought-provoking songwriting skills of Brandi Carlile. As past performers at the Charlotte Pride Festival, CLQ knows how to rock the mic right. But on the heels of their creative breakthrough, a year and a half of densely-gathered momentum dispelled before their eyes.
In merely 48 hours following North Carolina’s mandated shelter-in-place orders, nearly 90% of music gigs acquired by the band over 3-4 months had been scrapped. But this was about more than just performing for CLQ, as the couple practically upended their lives to make this moment work only to have their dream crumble.
In January, CLQ unveiled its long-awaited debut project Remiss to critical acclaim from local and national news outlets. However, a stagnant promotion cycle ensued following the pandemic, one that Quinn describes as making the EP “feel irrelevant.”
“It feels like we lost a lot of the steam behind it because we released it purposefully three months before we were supposed to go on tour. It was a hard, emotional hit,” Quinn expressed in an interview held, appropriately enough during this time, via Zoom. “I think the hardest part for me was that this dream that we had worked on for a whole year and a half was just swept from under our feet without any question.”
The pair’s mental health became a priority during the pandemic, superseding their desire to record new music. “I think the very best thing we could have done for ourselves is to take care of our mental health through all of this,” Courtney Lynn detailed. “At some point, you just have to give yourself a rest because it’s a lot. Sometimes we didn’t do all the things we thought we should do for music that week; we just took care of ourselves.”
Financial strife and mental health aside, the frontwomen’s desire to perform in front of live audiences was barred for months. But to find new means to engage with fans, CLQ revamped its YouTube page inaugurating an exciting new series called “On The Farm Sessions” in April.
Encapsulated in virtual performances lasting no longer than five minutes, the “sessions” were filmed on location at CLQ’s horse farm. With the series’ unique setting paired with selected covers and their original music, the series was a deafening boom on YouTube and eventually made its way to other social media platforms like Instagram.
The songs featured in the series covered a wide range of artists including Little Big Town, Lil Nas X, Adele, and Whitney Houston. An eclectic, yet sophisticated mesh, the group says they chose to cover artists who blurred genres whose sounds they associated with their unique taste.
“Those are the artists in my past that I’ve been most inspired by. Like the band Queen who will have like a rock song and then like a weird opera ballad. I love artists who aren’t scared to dance the line in different genres,” Quinn explained. “It’s fun for us,” Courtney Lynn adds. “When we get to do cover shows, it’s fun for us to play everything from ‘No Diggity’ to ‘I Wanna Dance With Somebody’ to ‘Home.’ It’s just all over the place, and that’s fun for us.”
Quinn also explains how embracing social media during the pandemic has given the medium new meaning and encourages her to use it as a mechanism to inspire others. “One of my great friends, she messaged me the other day and she said, ‘I really love your live streams, and I miss them.’ And that to me is so positive. If I’m doing something therapeutic for someone else, then this is a positive take on it that I misunderstood for a long time.”
The duo has plans to take their sessions on the road in a spin-off aptly-titled “On The Road Sessions.” “‘On the Road Sessions’ is one of our fun ideas because we’re set up to travel but we love music and want to keep engaging our fanbase and keep writing, so that’s an idea that we have. But we’re just trying to figure it out day-by-day,” Quinn informed.
As the year concludes, many things remain uncertain for CLQ. But the last few months have provided an arsenal of new ideas and more ways to connect with their audience than ever before. “I don’t know what life looks like. I think right now we’re trying to be okay with that and be open to new opportunities and explore whatever is in front of us.”
“Clap if you know you’re the baddest in the game / clap if you know no one’s in your lane.” These are lyrics that rising rap phenom Nekeith lives by. Inspired by the keen flows and vividly extroverted instrumentals of artists like Nicki Minaj and Missy Elliot, this provocative and overt lyricist is a long-time partner with Charlotte Pride, performing at the annual festival and other events for multiple years now.
A graduate of UNC Charlotte, Nekeith is native to High Point, N.C., but he ultimately decided to stay in Charlotte to hone his craft and bloom into the star he is today. The “Androgynous Queen” rapper garnered attention with his “bad bitch” energy-infused anthems, but let it be known that Nekeith is an all-around entertainer, shutting down stages in Charlotte and all across the country.
Nekeith ushers in addictive vitality with his demanding stage presence and complex dance numbers. Not only that, he has delved into other ventures such as acting, making him a triple threat. It’s clear that Nekeith’s world revolves around performing. However, things became murky when clubs and venues were shut down in March.
In an instant, numerous appearances and performances by the entertainer were canceled or postponed indefinitely. However, Nekeith was able to find the silver lining in this abrupt halt.
“The positive was that it made me focus on what matters to me the most which are my family, music, supporters, and community,” he explained. “During this tough time, I always tried to focus on the positive. I don’t try to dwell on the negatives.”
A constructive outlook on this untimely situation is what kept the frontman active in pushing his career forward. He continued securing virtual gigs and attending casting calls with ease. But perhaps his pinnacle moment of 2020 so far is the release of his latest single “Gimme Some More.” A confidence-boosting bop, “Gimme Some More” was written inherently to provide a jolt in energy that was missing from the world due to the pandemic.
The Ciara-sampled track went on to become a summer anthem for Nekeith, and its accompanying video garnered over tens of thousands of views on YouTube upon its unveiling. While the track was a success for Nekeith, its release was bombarded by swelling events that occurred this summer.
“I was going to release it in June but there was so much heaviness surrounding the murder of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and I thought ‘I don’t think it’s a good idea to put it out right now,’” Nekeith explained.
As a Black entertainer, Nekeith felt immensely supported by the LGBTQ community despite the increased racial division in the country this year. “I definitely have been feeling the love and support. I’m always so thankful for anyone who shows support for my movement. I haven’t received anything but love and I’m truly thankful for that.”
Releasing new music was an obvious goal for Nekeith, and apart from putting on live performances, he took to writing new material as a form of therapy. Journaling about his goals and aspirations have also become routine, but the rapper is eager to resume performing, looking to enhance the Nekeith experience for a virtual audience.
Social media has always been a tool Nekeith wielded to his advantage with his #FreestyleFriday videos being a highlight on Instagram. But creating an elaborate performance for the smartphone screen is a new frontier he is ready to face head-on.
“I recently bought some green screens and a home mic and some editing software, so if I need to do a performance I can do it from the comfort of my home safely,” Nekeith explained. “I love social media! It puts you right in front of everybody. It’s really a good tool to use to make your voice heard.”
Nekeith is currently promoting his next body work. “Pollowtalk,” released in December, reflects many of the discoveries Nekeith has made about himself during the pandemic, as well as touching on topics that are sure to uplift fans and newcomers alike.
When asked about the resounding themes this project has to offer, he replied, “Definitely self-confidence. Also, not relying on anybody, and being independent. And, most importantly love yourself for who you are.”
He continued, “This is the first album that really hits differently for me because I really had time to focus on the lyrics and hooks and everything and the message I want to send to my audience. There’s something on the album for everybody from R&B to Pop to vogue, and of course hip-hop and rap. So get ready. It’s time. Let’s go!”
Similar to comforts such as music and food, comedy can be a path to a person’s heart. For Charlotte native and prominent, openly transgender comedian Shaine Laine, it is the driving force behind his journey to becoming the man he knew he always was.
Shaine’s comedy is intertwined with his transition, so much so that the first time he came out as trans was onstage. The comic clearly knows who he is and experiences in his life help to build the comedy that has become his life’s purpose. Shaine was looking to further expand his career and audience with a planned move to New York City, but the pandemic and its quarantine restrictions shifted his life goals.
“I was actually supposed to have moved to New York in June, however with COVID that went on the backburner right away,” he explained. “I thought that there would be some hope a couple of months before of me moving, even in like March and April. But things never cleared up.”
The transition from in-person to virtual shows was slow initially. Many of Shaine’s shows would go from dozens of attendees to fewer than a dozen. Moreover, it was hard at first for the comic to adapt to the reformatted audience. Many of the attendees via Zoom either had delayed laughs or kept themselves muted.
“It’s a little awkward because I’m, like, who am I going to focus on, and who has the longest laugh or the shortest laugh,” Laine details. “And it’s just all from facial expressions, so it’s become more of like a fun storytelling adventure rather than what stand-up comedy is where it’s like, ‘boom-joke-boom-joke-laugh.’”
But many of Charlotte’s brightest comedians, including Shaine, were able to adapt smoothly. The funnyman eventually took to social media outlets like Tik Tok and Instagram and blew up seemingly overnight. He currently holds 14,300 followers on the former. At first, the attention online was confusing to Shaine, and he briefly left social media altogether in order to get a firm grasp on how he was going to wield it.
“I didn’t know how to deal with all the people sending me messages and asking me questions they wanted to know about me,” Shaine explained. “I needed to figure out what this means and talk to you the way you want to be talked to. It took a lot in me to read through all the comments and respond to those people directly. I had to have my sister who’s 18 teach me everything.”
Performing aside, Shaine’s made the most of the lemons dealt by COVID-19. In fact, he credits the events of this year for igniting his current relationship. He made the choice to commit after his move was postponed, and the two were able to focus primarily on each other because of social distancing. But the summit of Shaine’s experience in 2020 was moving forward with his top surgery. When asked if the pandemic delayed this process, Shaine replied, “no, if anything, it’s sped it up.”
He continued, “I had a complete vision of moving to New York and dealing with my transition later. At that point, I was, like, my craft and my comedy comes first, and when I get that, I can go do something else, but because the pandemic hit, there were no shows and it made me think about things like ‘what do I want?’ I started working a lot because that’s all I could do to keep me somewhat sane, and I realized I could start working for my top surgery. I was working doubles and all this stuff, and I actually was able to pay it off [in October].”
Shaine’s realization of his identity didn’t come full circle until he was in college. Every moment up until then, he was surrounded by perceived women in his family. Because he did not have a strong male figure growing up, the comedian considers himself a “self-made man.” It is a phrase that he lives by; it’s in his Instagram bio, on his merch, and embedded into the way he lives life.
“I started at a very feminine place not knowing what anything was, and also being in the South being transgender was not something I thought about until I got to college. So the fact that I had come so far and built myself up, I had built myself into the man I want to become,” he said.
After his top surgery took place on Nov. 9, Laine is more than eager to face his “new-normal” despite the adversaries COVID-19 has laid in his path. “The new normal is what is next, and then going through that,” he explains.
2020 has taught the comic that everything you do in life must be intentional. He continues, “There was a quote I saw on Instagram about procrastination and it was, ‘how dare you think you can’t do this thing right now because you may never get the chance to again.’”
Want to see Courtney Lynn & Quinn, Nekeith, and Shaine in action? Visit charlottepride.org/springspotlight/ to see their performances under the“Comedy” and “Music” sections.