One morning in the autumn of 2016, Drew Beckman — a 28-year-old nonprofit fundraiser with no musical experience whatsoever — rolled out of bed and became a country singer. “I literally woke up with a song in my head,” he says, which was strange. “But I wrote two verses and a chorus in, like, 10 minutes and just thought, ‘Oh, this will be a cute thing to sing for my friends at dinner.’ ”
That night, he did. His friends flipped out, then encouraged him to write some more. So Beckman got to it, penning another tune while driving home. And then another. And another. Before long, he’d written more than 60 of them. “It was like unlocking a secret compartment inside myself that I didn’t know existed,” Beckman, now 30, says, “and it was full of things to say.”
By 2017, he was saying those things in public at the weekly open mic nights at Boundary Stone in Bloomingdale. At first, Beckman would sing in twangy a cappella while reading his lyrics from the glow of his phone, but other musicians would soon join him onstage, until they formally became members of his band, the Boundary Boys. And while the singer and his comrades were fine-tuning their harmonies, Beckman was simultaneously crafting a concept he describes as “cowboy drag.”
“All of the songs for Drew Beckman and the Boundary Boys are written from the perspective of a queer cowboy living in the 1800s,” Beckman says. “I think the cowboy is the perfect metaphor for the queer experience. It’s lonely and isolating. . . . Throughout most of American history, if you were a queer person, you were guaranteed a lonely, difficult, hard, sad life. And if you dared to express your feelings or present yourself in an authentic way, your life was on the line.”
All of that make-believe and dead-seriousness can be heard in the growling twang of Beckman’s voice, which might be traceable to his childhood in Florida and Virginia — or not. “I’m really just imitating my idea of what a country voice should sound like,” Beckman says, “and then earnestly leaning into it and not worrying about it sounding corny or fake, because I’m being incredibly genuine about what I’m saying.”
You can hear it — and see it — in Beckman’s incredible music video for “Fallin’,” a ballad that the singer calls “my apocalyptic breakup song.” In the clip, he’s lounging in the lap of a stone sculpture in Malcolm X Park, staring us down in his dude ranch finery. Watch carefully as camera zooms in on Beckman’s wounded face and you might see a tear glint in his right eye. Listen carefully as he sings about how “the earth is breaking” and you might even feel one puddling in yours.
Show: Saturday at the Kingman Island Bluegrass and Folk Festival, 575 Oklahoma Ave. NE. Festival begins at noon; Beckman is scheduled to perform at 3 p.m. kingmanislandbluegrass.info. $35.