In just over two years Manacle’s resident crooner Justin JBear has gone from country bumpkin to city leather star.
With the 2005 CMAA Country Male Vocalist Of The Year award under his big-buckled belt, the singing bear packed his swag to take his chances with the Sydney club scene.
But JBear’s life hasn’t always been as simple as apple pie. His path to Sydney and cult status in the fur-loving community has been a maze of twists and turns – of tragedy and life lessons.
There have been two broken marriages, the evils of prostate cancer and plenty of hard knocks to contend with.
But rather than feel sorry for himself, JBear turned his pain and bad luck into bucketloads of powerful ballads and a leather-clad stage show drawing plenty of punters each week.
“Since I was young, I’ve always had a secret dream to dress in leather and sing for a gay audience – it’s very bizarre,” JBear said.
“I achieved the dream when I won the Mr Manacle competition.
“Every time I came to the city I went to Manacle because of its focus on masculinity.”
That was in 2005 – and JBear hasn’t looked back since. He is fast on his way to becoming a gay country music superstar. He has already toured San Francisco and scored a gig on a gay cruise.
He even does regular charity gigs for the Luncheon Club.
But if you think the words gay and country don’t fit together, JBear insists you think again.
He believes country music is perfectly placed to infiltrate Australia’s gay community, much as it has in the United States. And when it does, JBear is poised to capitalise on the change.
“What I like about country music is that the lyrics tell a story – and I’m a sucker for a good story,” he said.
“I like hearing how things start and finish, whereas most pop-rock music is about a statement.”
The out and proud, leather-clad father of three is hard at work on an album, which he plans to release early next year. But between sets in the studio he is drawing solid crowds to gigs at Manacle and Mr Mary’s.
The gigs fit well with his image, particularly his God-given gift of layers of luxuriant body hair – an asset that has helped build his Sydney scene following.
“For many years, I’ve been covered in hair,” JBear said.
“I’m extremely furry with inches-long hair on my back and front. When I moved to the city and found out there were bears I was excited.”
JBear will be performing at Manacle with cow-bear dancers on Sunday 8 July.