Ty Herndon has come a long way down the road for advocacy since he first launched the Concert for Love and Acceptance in 2015 — in fact, maybe too far, as he laughingly tells Taste of Country.

"'Be careful what you wish for' is the old saying," Herndon says by phone as he prepares to launch the 2018 Concert for Love and Acceptance. Herndon has become such a prominent voice for the LGBTQ community since he came out in 2014 that he's actually had to make a conscious decision to focus more on making music recently.

"This last year I had to start turning some stuff down, because I had to remember that I also have a legacy in country music," he admits. "I did 114 dates last year, so I'm out there doing what I love to do, which is singing. But anytime I can add music into changing heart and minds — which is kinda the thing I do now; I do some speaking at high schools and colleges and stuff, but I would incorporate music and just talk about where I was in my life during the time that I recorded the song, and maybe who was in my life at the time. The secrets that I had to keep that almost killed me. And so my whole thing about music today is just making sure that kids out there are not taking their lives over being authentically who they are. It's really become a part of my music and my life."

Herndon admits he himself had a lot to learn about the challenges the LGBTQ community faces back when he began the event. His mission from the start has been to reduce the number of youth, particularly in the more conservative regions of the South, who take their own lives every year because they have been ostracized from their families or churches over their sexual identity.

"A lot of these kids that are coming out to their parents today are seeing a lot more support, simply because of being educated," Herndon observes. "That's why I love working with HRC [Human Rights Campaign] and GLAAD, just getting to put things out there and let people know that you can save a life."

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That's always been the underlying motive for the annual performance.

"This event is really exactly what it says it is. It's about love and acceptance. It's about getting under one big tabernacle and having a revival of music, and just remembering that we all love each other, no matter what walk of life we come from," Herndon says.

He's quick to stress that the Concert for Love and Acceptance is not a political event.

"Our political climate is so harsh right now, so it's really hard to put a music program together and have people have their political opinions, so we leave that at the door," he says. "It's just about folks that are out there in their music changing hearts and minds and standing up for humanity."

Herndon readily admits that when he first came out, he wondered whether it would spell the end of his career in country music. Instead, he's found remarkable support from the Nashville music community. CMT's Cody Alan is co-hosting the 2018 Concert for Love and Acceptance alongside Herndon, and this year's lineup includes Terri Clark, Cassadee Pope, Michael Ray, Cam, Billy Dean, Thompson Square and more.

"I think country music's come a long way. There are all kinds of bands; there's gay, straight, whatever you are," he reflects. "I think a lot of the LGBT community felt that country music didn't love them, so therefore, they didn't love country music. I think that has also changed a lot. The community feels safer liking country music, and  I think a lot of the millennial artists who are coming up now, it's just not a big deal. They want all of the fans to love the music."

Herndon is also at work on a new recording project that finds him re-recording his past hits in new arrangements. To that end, he's releasing 10 new recordings in batches of three at a time, with the first batch of three songs due on June 7. In addition to his own hits, Herndon is also covering some song from friends including Bonnie Raitt, Marc Cohn and Carrie Underwood, and those special releases will culminate in a full-length project titled Got It Covered.

Though it's an album of covers, Herndon is quick to point out that he is taking great pains to present the songs in a new light.

"The originals have been done. I wanted to create something different," he tells us.

The 2018 Concert for Love and Acceptance is set to take place at the Wildhorse Saloon in Nashville on June 7. For more information, visit the event's website.

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