Country superstars with strong gay ties play tonight at Philips Arena

Atlanta’s own Sugarland comes home

There will be plenty of LGBT fans at Philips Arena tonight as superstar country duo Sugarland returns to Atlanta to wind down the “Incredible Machine” tour. And the band had many more queer connections than the usual gay love for any strong-willed songstress.

In fact, Atlanta’s lesbian (and gay, to a somewhat lesser extent) community was among the first, strongest fans of Sugarland. The band grew out of Atlanta’s acoustic music scene, which has its base at Eddie’s Attic in Decatur, also the stomping grounds of Indigo Girls and many of the acoustic musicians who have devoted support from lesbian fans. Sugarland’s Jennifer Nettles performed as the Jennifer Nettles Band and part of Soul Miner’s Daughter; Sugarland partner Kristian Bush performed as the band Billy Pilgrim with Andrew Hyra, after the duo began as simply Andrew & Kristian.

The third original member of Sugarland was out lesbian singer-songwriter Kristin Hall. The band was conceived by Hall and Bush; Hall then asked Nettles to join as the lead singer. Among Sugarland’s early shows was a brief appearance at Atlanta Pride (which Nettles had also played with her other projects), where they came on stage with Indigo Girls to perform “Baby Girl.”

The relationship between Hall and the band soured after their debut album was a smashing success. Hall left Sugarland in 2005 and later sued, claiming she was owed one-third of their profits; the lawsuit was settled without the terms being made public.

In an interview with Pride Source after the release of Sugarland’s current album, “Incredible Machine,” Nettles was asked — prepare for bad pun — whether the lawsuit with Hall “left a bad taste in [her] mouth for lesbians.”

“I’m not allowed to speak about the legal battles, but I love lesbians. Come on, let’s be honest. It doesn’t matter. Whatever. How hypocritical of me would that be to say I had a bad experience with this one individual or a good experience with this other individual and it totally makes me think that everyone is like that? Oh, please. It doesn’t. But I love the way you asked the question,” Nettles said.

The band’s song “Stand Up” resonated with many LGBT fans in the wake of a spate of gay youth suicides. While the song wasn’t written specifically about these incidents, Nettles noted the connection.

“There wasn’t one specific event that inspired it. It’s really a song about finding one’s own voice wherever you feel unseen or wherever it is you feel you need to be empowered. Just as you’re saying it resonated with you regarding the bullying and gay teen suicides, if the song can be a place of healing and a place of inspiration – man, I mean, that’s why we do what we do as artists. So there wasn’t one specific event that inspired that song as much as it is, I guess I should say both fortunately and unfortunately, a message that people need to hear and have needed to hear throughout the ages,” she said.

Asked about Sugarland’s gay fans in a 2009 interview with The Boot, Nettles said, , “I’ve been aware even before Sugarland. I’ve actually performed at Gay Pride in Atlanta three times in my career. I’ve always had a large gay following, particularly in the lesbian community. I am grateful for that. To me, it means my music transcends categories. It also means that I’m a cute girl singing a rock song in an alto voice!”

Will you be there for Sugarland tonight? If so, what songs do you hope they perform?