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Indigo Girls rejoin Lilith Fair for local stop

All-female tour is like ‘summer camp,’ Ray says

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Lilith Fair comes to the Washington, D.C., area on Tuesday as the tour finishes its revival after an 11-year hiatus featuring artists from previous years as well as some fresh faces.

Lilith Fair started in 1997, led by Sarah McLachlan because she’d become frustrated with concert promoters and radio stations that refused to feature two female musicians together. In its first year, Lilith Fair earned $16 million, making it the top-grossing touring festival at the time.

“The first time around, we had a great time,” said Amy Ray of the Indigo Girls in an interview with the Blade this week. “It’s always fun to do stuff on Lilith with a bunch of different artists.”

The Indigo Girls, who have been a part of Lilith on each tour, return to the tour for the last three dates. They were on the lineup for more, including a stop in Atlanta, but many dates were canceled.

“I don’t want to gush too much, but for us it’s like summer camp,” Ray said. “We get to go hear a bunch of music we’ve never heard and party with people we love and have a great audience. You just can’t go wrong.”

While touring with Lilith Fair, the Indigo Girls have met and collaborated with many different artists, especially while performing “Closer to Fine,” which Ray said often draws other artists to the stage to sing with them.

“Meeting Chrissy Hines was a really big deal, I was a huge Pretenders fan,” said Ray of one of her favorite Lilith moments.

Other returning acts include Sheryl Crow and Suzanne Vega. The members of Courtyard Hounds have also been a part of Lilith previously as members of the Dixie Chicks. Some of the newer faces on tour this year include Selena Gomez, Colbie Caillat and Janelle Monáe.

“My favorite thing is to see people that I’ve just never really heard of,” said Ray. “I go watch them and get to hear new music.”

Coming off the release of a live two-CD set, “Staring Down the Brilliant Dream,” the girls are excited to perform again according to Ray.

“Staring Down the Brilliant Dream” is a compilation of live recordings from shows spanning from 2006 to 2009, hand picked by the Indigo Girls with the help of Brian Speiser.

“We didn’t start out thinking, ‘hey, we need to put these specific songs on the record,’” said Ray. “We just said, let’s listen to everything we have and see what sounds good.”

The set has 31 tracks including “The Wood Song,” “Got Out the Map,” a cover of “Wild Horses,” and probably the best known Indigo Girls’ song, “Closer to Fine.”

“We tried to make it a balance between me and Emily’s songs,” said Ray about the final song choices, “and a balance of playing with the band and playing acoustically.”

There is even one song, “Ozilline,” that was recorded in D.C., at Wolf Trap with Brandi Carlile.

“Wolf Trap’s one of our favorite places to play historically,” said Ray. “So it was good to be able to get something from that.”

There are a few songs Ray would have liked to include on the album, but they just did not have a good live recording.

“One song that I really wanted to get a good recording of was ‘Fleet of Hope,’ a song by Emily,” said Ray.

The song is on their most recent studio album, “Poseidon and the Bitter Bug,” which was released in 2009.

“Our newest record, we haven’t toured it for as long, obviously, as the other stuff,” Ray said. “We didn’t have as many recordings of it.”

The Indigo Girls have another studio album coming out soon — a holiday record.

“There are a few original songs on it and the rest of them are different holiday songs. There’s a Hanukkah song, Christmas songs, and some, just kind of, secular, winter songs,” said Ray.

The record was recorded back in May in Nashville with a bluegrass band, giving it more of a country feel.

“It’s got that totally down home acoustic vibe,” said Ray.

The Indigo Girls are currently writing songs while on tour for another album.

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Music & Concerts

Madonna announces ‘Celebration’ world tour

D.C. stop planned for Sept. 2

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(Screen capture via YouTube)

Madonna announced a new world tour on Tuesday via video parody of her 1991 “Truth or Dare” in which friend Amy Schumer dares the pop superstar to go on tour and perform her greatest hits. Madonna accepts the challenge.

The NSFW video features Judd Apatow, Jack Black, Diplo, Lil Wayne, Bob the Drag Queen, and Schumer, among others. 

The 35-city tour kicks off on July 15 in Vancouver, BC with stops around the country, including Sept. 2 in D.C. The tour also heads to Europe, starting with the O2 Arena in London on Oct. 14 and ending in Amsterdam on Dec. 1. The tour is produced by Live Nation. Bob the Drag Queen was announced as special guest on all dates.

“I am excited to explore as many songs as possible in hopes to give my fans the show they have been waiting for,” Madonna said in a statement. She said the tour will feature 40 years of her greatest hits, something she has resisted in the past, while also paying tribute to the role New York City played in launching her career.

Madonna is the latest in a string of ‘80s icons to hit the road in 2023 after three years of COVID cancellations. Janet Jackson announced her “Together Again Tour,” which kicks off in April and stops in Baltimore on May 13 and Jiffy Lube Live in Bristow, Va., on May 6; Bruce Springsteen’s tour kicks off next month with a March 27 stop in D.C.; and Billy Joel and Stevie Nicks last week announced a joint tour stop in Baltimore on Oct. 7. 

The 2023 Celebration tour North American dates:

July 15 – Vancouver, BC @ Rogers Arena

July 18 – Seattle, WA @ Climate Pledge Arena

July 22 – Phoenix, AZ @ Footprint Center

July 25 – Denver, CO @ Ball Arena

July 27 – Tulsa, OK @ BOK Center

July 30 – St. Paul, MN @ Xcel Energy Center

August 2 – Cleveland, OH @ Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse

August 5 – Detroit, MI @ Little Caesars Arena

August 7 – Pittsburgh, PA @ PPG Paints Arena

August 9 – Chicago, IL @ United Center

August 13 – Toronto, ON @ Scotiabank Arena

August 19 – Montreal, QC @ Centre Bell

August 23 – New York, NY @ Madison Square Garden

August 24 – New York, NY @ Madison Square Garden

August 30 – Boston, MA @ TD Garden

Sept. 2 – Washington, DC @ Capital One Arena

Sept. 5 – Atlanta, GA @ State Farm Arena

Sept. 7 – Tampa, FL @ Amalie Arena

Sept. 9 – Miami, FL @ Miami-Dade Arena

Sept. 13 – Houston, TX @ Toyota Center

Sept. 18 – Dallas, TX @ American Airlines Center

Sept. 21 – Austin, TX @ Moody Center ATX

Sept. 27 – Los Angeles, CA @ Crypto.com Arena

Oct. 4 – San Francisco, CA @ Chase Center

Oct. 7 – Las Vegas, NV @ T-Mobile Arena

European Dates: 

Oct. 14 – London, UK @ The O2

Oct. 21 – Antwerp, BE @ Sportpaleis

Oct. 25 – Copenhagen, DK @ Royal Arena

Oct. 28 – Stockholm, SE @ Tele2

Nov. 1 – Barcelona, ES @ Palau Sant Jordi

Nov. 6 – Lisbon, PT @ Altice Arena

Nov. 12 – Paris, FR @ Accor Arena

Nov. 13 – Paris, FR @ Accor Arena

Nov. 15 – Cologne, DE @ Lanxess Arena

Nov. 23 – Milan, IT @ Mediolanum Forum

Nov. 28 – Berlin, DE @ Mercedes-Benz Arena

Dec. 1 – Amsterdam, NL @ Ziggo Dome

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Music & Concerts

New opera chronicles beauty and power of trans liberation

Don’t miss ‘What the Spirits Show’ at Washington National Opera

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Kimberly Reed, Cecelia Raker, Jens Ibsen, Walken Schweigert, Carlos Simon, Silen Wellington, B.E. Boykin, Jarrod Lee, Kelley Rourke in ‘What the Spirits Show.’ (Photo by Caitlin Oldham)

The value of the support of family. The oppression of trans identity. The euphoria and spiritual power of trans liberation. These themes and more are woven into a poignant new opera, “What the Spirits Show,” by composer-librettist team Silen Wellington and Walken Schweigert.

Their collaboration is the product of the Washington National Opera’s American Opera Initiative (AOI). Now celebrating its 10th season, AOI pairs talented creatives to develop a short, one-act opera, performed by WNO’s Cafritz Young Artists. Along the way, the creative teams receive invaluable mentorship from some of the best in the business. 

This year’s AOI performance takes place on January 21, 2023 at the Terrace Theater of the Kennedy Center. Also on the program are Oshun, with music by B.E. Boykin, and libretto by Jarrod Lee—a journey of sacrifice, self-love and redemption displayed in the face of those who would deny it. And Bubbie and the Demon, with music by Jens Ibsen and libretto by Cecelia Raker—a mashup of opera and heavy metal, which finds that Bubbie has filled the void of Covid isolation by solving as many word searches and crosswords as possible, but accidentally summoned a demon. 

The Washington Blade caught up with librettist Walken Schweigert and composer Silen Wellington, the co-creators of What the Spirits Show, to learn more about this short opera and its powerful themes.

BLADE: Congratulations on creating the original work, “What the Spirits Show.” Can you share more about the opera’s plot and musical style?

WALKEN SCHWEIGERT: It’s an opera about trans liberation, but also about friendship and the support of family. There are four characters: the protagonist, named Calamus, is a shape-shifting youth who takes a magical elixir to be themselves. Their shape-shifting is an allegory for transness. When you first meet Calamus, they have already been taking this medicine, so you meet Calamus in the fullness of themself. But then this politician enters the scene and he outlaws the elixir, claiming that it’s immoral. But the beautiful thing is that Calamus’ mother stands up for them, and because of that they both get thrown in jail. Since Calamus has stopped taking the elixir, they basically begin detransitioning. But then their friend, Sylvan, is able to sneak in some elixir to Calamus. And the strength and the power of Calamus coming back to themself is so powerful that it destroys the jail and traps the politician under the rubble, and Calamus and their mother are able to escape. It’s a moment of joy, it’s a moment of euphoria, it’s a moment of self-reclamation.

SILEN WELLINGTON: The characters themselves each have their own musical language. And musically, each scene is its own world. The first scene is all about Calamus and their shape-shifting. The music is very whimsical, beautiful and romantic. The second scene is all about the politician. His music is much more circus-like; almost like a lopsided march. In the third scene, when Calamus and Aurora are in the prison, the music is a little bit more restricted, but it still hearkens back to some of that fantastical and musical language from the opening scene. The fourth scene is really where it all comes together. Sylvan comes and helps Calamus break out of jail, so the music is more driving and rock-influenced, because in Walken’s words, Sylvan is Calamus’s “anarcho-punk friend.” And then finally, once Calamus returns to their power, we return to the fantastical music at the beginning. 

BLADE: Can you share why you wanted to write this opera? Have its themes affected you personally?

WELLINGTON: I wouldn’t write this opera if it didn’t affect me personally. That could probably be my artist statement! It’s the subtext of why I make art. I write about things that personally affect me and I always have. 

In my own journey to figuring out that I was trans and nonbinary, it took me a while to find self-acceptance and then find self-love. I wanted to write something that gave space for that love. I knew I was queer from a pretty young age, but I didn’t realize being transgender was an option. As a result, I had this unnamable sadness in me that made most things in my life feel wrong, and I spent most of my teenage years battling suicidality and depression because I couldn’t see a future for myself. 

I was 19 when I first met nonbinary adults, and that really started to turn things around for me. It sparked a journey of self-discovery. I feel like now I’m in a place of self-love and acceptance, trying to find words to express how spiritual and divine I find the experience of being trans to be.

The first time I read Walken’s libretto, I remember feeling this swell of emotion and recognition thinking, “I’ve been trying to find words for this all my life. And wow, now I get to say it with the music!”

SCHWEIGERT: When I first started making art, a lot of it was trauma porn, because of how I was raised in a religiously restrictive mindset. But now, I try to explore what gifts being trans has bestowed and bring those to light. I’m also interested in exploring why are we such a threat? Why are people so afraid of us? And I think it’s because we actually have something really powerful. There’s actual spiritual value and knowledge that comes from being trans.

BLADE: Why is this opera important now?

SCHWEIGERT: This opera was very much directly inspired by a letter the governor of Texas wrote last year to the Texas’ Department of Family and Protective Services re-interpreting the law to include trans affirming care under the definition of child abuse. Governor Abbott was trying to separate trans kids from their supportive parents. It made me think of how much it would have meant to me to have supportive parents, and then to have that be taken away, stolen by the state, was heart wrenching to imagine. I think of the relationship that I have with my parents now and imagine the pain that would be caused to them if I were young and they were being forced to separate from me.  

In this opera, there is a scene of Calamus and their mother Aurora in the jail, and they’re singing this song together, but they’re in separate cells and they can’t hear each other. Especially in that scene, I really wanted Aurora, Calamus’s mother, to say all of the things that I wish my parents had said to me when I was a teenager and coming out: “…my dear Calamus, I have to trust you know yourself better than I ever could. I love you more than I could ever say. And as long as I hold breath, I will not let them tear you away from yourself.”

It’s a powerful moment for me. My parents are Catholic and that was at the root of a lot of their own internalized and externalized transphobia. But now my dad is part of a group at his church that is drafting a statement of trans-inclusion. He wanted to contribute, hey, God actually doesn’t think that trans people are abominations, and also that there’s spiritual knowledge and spiritual value that trans people bring by nature of being trans. 

WELLINGTON: Beyond the gender and celebratory spiritual themes of the opera, this project has really given me space to process some of the hatred that’s been surrounding and sometimes feeling like it’s narrowing in on my world; the national uptick in LGBTQ+ hatred and anti-trans hatred specifically has gotten local and sometimes really personal over the last couple of years. Outside of music, I work in suicide prevention for LGBTQ+ youth. I’ve been I’ve been feeling the ripples of this hatred, both big and small on my community and especially on the trans teens that I that I work with. When advocating, I feel like I have to make sense of this hatred or try to bend and twist myself into something palatable to reach for the right words that will convince someone of our humanity. But in the artistic world, we take a different approach, one that leans into this divinity of our authenticity. Art helps us lean into the healing that I had been craving to reconnect with my own resilience. 

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Music & Concerts

Janet Jackson announces new music, tour

Baltimore show slated for May 13 with Ludacris

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Janet Jackson’s ‘Together Again’ tour kicks off April 14 in Hollywood, Fla.

Music icon Janet Jackson announced a new tour on Monday morning in a live Instagram video.

The “Together Again” tour kicks off April 14 in Florida with at least 33 dates announced so far, including May 13 in Baltimore. There’s no D.C. date as of Monday morning.

Jackson confirmed that she will debut new music in conjunction with the tour but didn’t specify if that means a full new album or when it might debut. She added that she would be joined by Ludacris on the tour.

Tickets are on sale Friday via Live Nation; pre-sale begins 11 a.m. Tuesday at ticketmaster.com.

Jackson canceled her previous tour, 2020’s “Black Diamond” due to the pandemic. She is expected to pay tribute to the 25th anniversary of her #1 album “Velvet Rope” during the new show.

Visit janetjackson.com for the full schedule.

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