Hometown Girl

From her start in D.C. to her support for LGBT issues, Mary Chapin Carpenter is not your typical country music star

MW: You have been pretty passionate in support of gay rights throughout your career. And when Chely Wright came out, you were apparently the only country star to publicly support her.

CARPENTER: Well, you know, I still find that hard to believe. I mean I know it’s a fact, but it just kind of makes me shake my head, ”Oh, my God.” I just don’t know, I don’t get it. I find it just bewildering.

MW: I understand that Wright has expressed concern about her career now. Sales of her last album, 2010’s Lifted Off The Ground, were much lower than previous sets, and she speculates that her coming out is a culprit.

CARPENTER: Well, I can’t speak to that, in the sense that I’m not privy to the nuts and bolts of someone else’s daily career. But obviously, if that’s the sense that she’s getting, that to me is tragic. It’s ridiculous. But I don’t know. I guess I shouldn’t – Oh, don’t get me started. [Laughs.]

MW: Have you encountered any sort of controversy or blowback for anything you’ve expressed or done?

CARPENTER: Not that I’m acutely aware of, or right in my face. I know that there are people out there who don’t care for what I do, for whatever reason, whether they don’t like my politics or whether they don’t like my music. It’s hard to know precisely why someone decides they reject you or they don’t want you or they don’t like you or they want to badmouth you or whatever. I don’t know. The Internet is a place where people can say anything they want and hide behind anonymous names. There was one time I remember doing a Today show broadcast. I played ”Why Shouldn’t We?” which is a topical song about coming together, that people should love and accept each other, whatever their politics. The next day there were these really nasty [comments] about me and my Democratic or liberal leanings or something. [But] what am I going to do about it? I have to just be who I am. That’s all Chely is doing. She’s being who she is. And that’s what we should all seek to be.

MW: Do you consider yourself a political person?

CARPENTER: I consider myself a committed citizen. Political, there’s a lot of layers to that. Have I spoken up for or advocated on behalf of certain causes over the course of my career? Yes, I have. Have I campaigned for certain candidates? Yes, I have. I just did an event for the vice president a few weeks ago in California. I’ve never made any secret of the fact that my parents raised me to be a liberal Democrat. I think liberal is a word of honor. It makes me ill when people use it as an epithet. I have nothing to be ashamed of. That’s who I am.

MW: I would imagine you stand out as a liberal where you live – not Charlottesville, a classic college town, but south central Virginia, certainly.

CARPENTER: I suppose. But you know four years ago, Obama won the state. I don’t know if he will this year. I hope he will, obviously. I don’t know.

I’m still pondering your question [about Wright]. I realize that I didn’t have to make the kind of decision that Chely had to, to be the authentic person she is. I didn’t have to confront the choices that she did, so I don’t mean to come across in any way as diminishing the importance [of it], and how difficult it was for her. I think what she did was courageous and brave and important, and if it has come at a cost of her career, to me it’s nothing but tragic. It’s just not right. But I also believe that she made the right choice, whatever the repercussions are for her.

MW: And in the grand scheme of things, Wright is blazing a trail. Future country singers will be able to follow her course without losing their fans or risking their popularity.

CARPENTER: I think it’s true. I think it’s inevitable that, you know, marriage for everyone is a part of all of our lives, all the rights that go along with that. It may be gradual, but I think it’s inevitable. I wish it wasn’t gradual, but I do believe that it’s inevitable, and that’s a very important thing.

MW: Do you have a lot of gay fans – is that something you’re conscious of?

CARPENTER: Well, people sit in the audience and I sort of see people and they look just like me — they look a little older, a little younger, right in between. I look out in the audience and I see people that, again, I feel like we’re all in this together, and we all have experienced the same things in our lives. I’ve always wanted to believe that in my audience there are gay and straight, and black and white, and short and tall. I welcome all comers.

Mary Chapin Carpenter performs Saturday, Aug. 18, at 8 p.m., at ‘The Filene Center at Wolf Trap, 1551 Trap Road, Vienna. Tickets are $25 to $42. Call 877-WOLFTRAP or visit wolftrap.org.

Doug Rule is a theater critic and contributing editor for Metro Weekly.

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