It was close to midnight before Steve Grand took the stage inside a downtown Fort Lauderdale bar where only a few diehard fans remained.
Grand’s concert had been delayed by a bizarre incident earlier in the evening when a man drove his car into the Pride Fort Lauderdale festivities, forcing police to shoot the vehicle’s tires before any serious damage could be done. The chaos resulted in authorities closing sections of Himmarshee Village and leaving many to think the party was over.
“Our party became a crime scene,” bemoaned Bryan Wilson, director of training and marketing for SunServe, South Florida’s leading LGBT social services agency.
As the show went on, Grand told his loyal audience he was glad no one was hurt and hoped the suspect was not motivated by hate. His cheerful performance, however, masked a deeper battle going on inside the singer.
“I’m a different person than I was two years ago when I started this journey and my music definitely reflects that,” Grand told SFGN in an exclusive backstage interview. “You have to make decisions about how honest you want to be. I’m always honest in what I do, but how much of myself do I want to put forward. It’s more scarier than ever when you really put your heart and soul out there. There’s a lot I want to say, but how much can I handle? How much can a complicated sensitive human being go through and still carry on?”
It is a great question and Grand has certainly gone through a transformation this year. He has traveled globally as a musical ambassador for the U.S. State Department, visiting countries such as Latvia, Lithuania and Austria. Grand said the experience in the former Soviet republics was “eye opening.”
“It was definitely meaningful for a lot of people there,” Grand said. “It’s not the same as over here. Granted over here we have our own struggles and we are not universally accepted in this country. We are not out of the woods yet, but it’s even tougher over there.”
Grand’s mid-western country sound had an impact on at least one European. Ignas Rėkašius, a university student, attended Grand’s gig in Vilnius, Lithuania and described the occasion as “uplifting.”
“I believe visibility is a key to engage people into a conversation of LGBT people that is so needed in countries like Lithuania,” said Rėkašius, who studies at the University of Dundee in Scotland. “Performing arts are a great tool to show people that regardless of gender, race and sexuality, we are all humans, unique in our own way and need to be respected.”
Respect is often said to be earned and Grand at the tender age of 25 is discovering just that. He recently made waves with a social media post asking for people to pay closer attention to his work as opposed to his looks. Prior to launching his music career, Grand worked as a model and his chiseled physique is often mentioned by the media, particularly the gay media.
“My expectations needed to be realigned,” Grand said of the controversy. “I’m grateful that I have a lot of really supportive fans. Not everybody is going to see you for what you have to say or the kind of person you are. That’s fine. That’s just the reality of it. I’ve come to accept that.”
For a performer who is a rising star, Grand said the whole episode of his appearance illustrates the laws of attraction and how far some will take it.
“My message definitely was not don’t ever objectify me,” Grand said. “That’s not what I said. My message was more reasonable and nuanced. What I found was that it is really impossible to make some kind of statement and not have it taken to an absolute extreme.”
As he looks to the future, Grand is preparing to attend the U.S. Marine Corps Ball next month in North Carolina at the request of Tanner White, an out gay marine. White, who is HIV positive, put together a video asking Grand to be his date to the ball.
“I’m really looking forward to that,” Grand said. “It’s still fresh that people can be out in the military. (Tanner) seems like a great guy. It’s going to be a fun experience that I feel honored to be invited.”
Musically, Grand said he is ready to move in a new direction. At his Fort Lauderdale show, he opened with “Stay” a whimsical number about Southern kings and living for daydreams before thrilling fans with “All American Boy” – the hit that put him on the map.