On the ground: LGBT alumni celebrate with Wainwright

“I’m gonna see some folks who have already been let down. I’m so tired of America,” sang Rufus Wainwright, opening his concert with the melodic strains of his popular song “Going To A Town.” As the audience erupted into applause, Wainwright shook his head and tweaked the words for his next line: “They never really seem to want to tell the truth. I’m so tired of homophobia.”

This nod was to Yale GALA, the University’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Alumni Network, which celebrated its first reunion and its 25th anniversary Thursday night. Wainwright’s solo concert in the nearly sold-out Woolsey Hall was the kickoff event for the reunion.

Singer Rufus Wainwright performs at a benefit concert on Thursday night in a nearly sold-out Woolsey Hall.
Eva Galvan
Singer Rufus Wainwright performs at a benefit concert on Thursday night in a nearly sold-out Woolsey Hall.

While the $50 general admission and $25 student tickets were more costly than a typical Yale show, audience members interviewed said Wainwright’s concert was worth the money, especially because all proceeds went to AIDS Project New Haven and the Connecticut chapter of the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network.

“It wasn’t like just another concert ticket,” Leah Hoffman SPH ’10 said.

Finishing the first song, Wainwright elaborated on why he got involved with the GALA concert. Dressed in a purple pinstripe suit and sporting a shaggy beard, Wainwright lounged on the piano chair and discussed homosexuality and politics with the audience.

“It was great to be invited to play, and that there is money going to AIDS causes,” Wainwright said. “There is still an AIDS/gay connection and we all need to work on that.”

While the concert was a charity benefit for local organizations, it was mainly a celebratory event for Yale alumni who arrived on campus Thursday afternoon for GALA’s first reunion weekend. Many arrived early to tour the campus and attend LGBT classes at the University, but Wainwright’s concert was the main event of the night.

“This is the first reunion, and all the events this weekend were worth showing up for,” Kevin Batt ’71 said. “Plus, I love Rufus.”

Although Wainwright reportedly performed while inebriated at his previous visit to New Haven, a 2003 concert at Toad’s Place, several attendees said Wainwright was in top form Thursday night. While he did stop his songs multiple times and exclaim that he was confused or tired — “Everyone makes mistakes in America,” Wainwright explained — Robert Tunney ’11 said the singer was a good choice and a great guest for Yale to showcase.

The 15-song set list demonstrated diversity and experimentation with themes and genres of music. Wainwright even performed Shakespeare’s sonnet “A Woman’s Face With Nature’s Own Hand Printed,” which he musically arranged in collaboration with the Berlin Ensemble.

“I’ve sung this a couple of times, but I find it good to read the sonnet first,” Wainwright said before launching into a reading.

“I feel like I’m in a lecture right now,” he added midway, to the audience’s laughter. “I didn’t write it — no need to applaud.”

While the concert was punctuated by these moments of levity — after all, Wainwright was wearing one gold shoe and one brown shoe — Wainwright still reminded the audience of the concert’s cause. Before beginning “Liberty Cabbage,” which he wrote when he was 16, he discussed how his anxiety about AIDS had inspired the song.

“I wrote it at a time during the AIDS epidemic when nobody knew what was going on and the government wasn’t reacting at all,” Wainwright said. “It was just such a horrible time.”

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