Don't be afraid. Be open. Be who you are, whatever, wherever that is.
My name is Marc Barrett, and I’m from Belchertown, Massachusetts.
In the late 70s, when I was basically on the road with a band as a musician and entertainer, I had to watch what I did, what I said, how I acted, so that other people would not find out the true me.
So while I was playing as a musician in the straight clubs, most of the bands were what they called show bands. So I would be a keyboardist usually in the back of the band. When I left those type of groups and the ’80s came around and I started doing my own thing, I moved from the back row to the front row. In the past, in the show bands, we would all dress alike, usually in tuxedos or something like that. So it was pretty standard fair for that day. When I started playing with my group, we loosened up the dress code, so to speak.
I was hired to play at a wedding, and during the wedding reception, we were playing the music. I was with some of the musicians, and it was a relatively easy crowd, they seemed to be enjoying themself. So it was later in the afternoon, I think, if I remember correctly. This woman came up, and obviously she was drunk and decided, I mean, right in my face to call me faggot. I
I was stunned. I didn’t know what to do because at that point, no one had ever addressed me like that. I kind of had to stop and think, but I actually stopped the music, which was kind of strange because I think it drew the attention of the crowd to turn towards me to see what was going on. I decided to do nothing. She’ll be taken care of by herself, just by the crowd alone, the response of the crowd. They would take care of it.
So we just continued to play music for the rest of the afternoon, and I could see her over in the corner mouthing things and making motions or whatever else. It was just a very uncomfortable day for the rest of the day.
A year or two after the situation, I was still playing in straight clubs, but I got a call from a gay bar. And two of my friends who were entertainers there had to cancel their gig and asked if I would fill in. It’s a local bar in Springfield, and it was known for having a, I would say, an older crowd. I thought to myself, it’s a very strange, different vibe than I’ve ever had at a gig. So I played that night and that’s when all hell broke loose.
It was a different audience that I’d ever seen. I was a different type of entertainer than they’d ever seen, and I just went into basically a bad wedding format. I played all sorts of music. They were dancing the twists, they were dancing the hokey pokey, they moved all the tables out of the way. They just basically changed the entire venue to suit me, which was great because then I just sort of metamorphed into a gay entertainer.
I started feeling more comfortable with myself, and I started feeling more confident about myself. I also was going to gay bars, I was listening to the disco of the day, I was listening to the juke boxes that played different types of music, and I picked up on the different styles. Not only was I changing, the music was changing, the venue was changing, that people were changing, the times were changing.
I played in gay bars for about 25 years, that includes the bars in Springfield. I also did some of the clubs in Provincetown, the Boat Slip, and that season, they made the most money in the disco at night they’d ever made. So I was kind of proud of myself. And then I went back a couple years later early ’90s and I played a club called The Townhouse. I did the same thing. They were dancing aisles, they were dancing in the streets outside because they had never heard somebody entertain with fun music, upbeat music. This was after the AIDS epidemic had started. So we had lost a lot of people and we were trying to do our best to survive.
I kept going, playing up until about 2004. At 2004, of course, the gay bars were dwindling because of the internet, and then I decided it was time for a change. I started getting involved in some of the other groups in the area because the LGBTQ community was starting to form different groups outside of the bars, online. What I did is I thought to myself, Self, you need to do something in Belchertown. So I put together a LGBTQIA+ Senior Coffee Hour. And what it did is it brought out all the members that had sort of basically just gone into the woods, into the closet again, it just drew them out. The first meeting we had was phenomenal. People were saying, we don’t understand where everybody’s been. So basically, I’ve been a catalyst to try to bring things together.
We all, in quotes, come out, develop, change, whatever word you want to use, however you want to label it, we all have that happen to us in our life story. Don’t be afraid. Be open. Be who you are, whatever, wherever that is. Don’t let other people dictate to you what you are and who you are because you don’t live your life for them, you live your life for you.