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Melissa Etheridge on Wolf Trap and why drastic health steps should be weighed carefully

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Melissa Etheridge, gay news, Washington Blade
Melissa Etheridge, gay news, Washington Blade

Melissa Etheridge (Photo by James Minchin III)

Melissa Etheridge
With guest Eric Hutchinson
Tuesday
8 p.m.
Wolf Trap
Filene Center
1551 Trap Road
Vienna, VA
$35 (lawn)-$65
wolftrap.org

When we talked to Melissa Etheridge last year the conversation turned — as one might expect in an election year — to politics. So this time we focused on music. The lesbian rocker plays Wolf Trap Tuesday night. Her comments have been slightly edited for length.

 

WASHINGTON BLADE: Last time you were here you played the Strathmore, which is kind of stately, whereas Wolf Trap is outside and more earthy. Does the venue affect the kind of show you play?

MELISSA ETHERIDGE: Yes, totally. One of the things I do before I even write out a set list is I go stand on stage and look out and really get a feel for what the venue is like. Is it indoors, outdoors, is the first row up close, will people be able to stand, are they soft seats, hard seats? I’ve been touring for 25 years so I’m very conscious of what kind of show can be produced at each place and it does make a difference in what songs I play. This will definitely be different from the Strathmore show. I love playing Wolf Trap and I don’t think I’ve ever sweated as much on stage as when I’ve played Wolf Trap. It was just so humid last time I was there, I was really soaked even before the show. But yeah, it’s gonna be much more rock and roll out there.

BLADE: How do you manage to do those big rock money notes year after year? Rock singing, of course, often doesn’t use proper vocal technique that they teach you in classical singing and some singers get vocal cord nodules while others, like Tina Turner perhaps or many gospel singers, seem to be able to growl and howl for decades on end with no problem. Have you ever strained your voice letting it rip so to speak?

ETHERIDGE: I learned a long time ago playing in bars how to make that growly rock and roll sound but not harm the vocal cords. It’s not really screaming, it’s like a stage scream. That and having a good understanding of how not to tax the voice too much in doing that style of singing, also helps. I usually don’t sing more than three night in a row. I can do four, but it will start to wear down after awhile and the shape of my voice is definitely related to everything. If I’m tired, if I haven’t eaten right, if I’m stressed, all those things affect it. But as long as I can eat right and sleep well, I can be on the road and do the rock and roll stuff out there every night.

 

BLADE: How have you found the right balance throughout your career of knowing when to play up the all-out rock stuff versus having enough of a commercial, pop/AC vibe on your various projects to get some radio and mainstream exposure? Have you given much thought to those sorts of things as you’ve been writing and recording various records?

ETHERIDGE: Yeah, it’s been a big part of understanding radio and the music business in general and then just when you kind of have a handle on it, of course it changes much like it did in the mid-‘90s when I was really at the pinnacle of it. As it should — young kids grow up and they have their own stuff and I get that. I stopped, I guess around the turn of the century, trying to make my music for radio because I think that would just have been selling myself out and I realized I had a strong live audience that was not going away and would still come see me play, so I really dedicated myself to making the music that I love and not trying to be so much pop. Which is fine — I mean, I love a good pop song like everybody else does, but I don’t limit myself to that anymore. The most important thing in my mind when I’m writing and recording is how is this going to translate to the live stage. That’s more the guideline.

 


BLADE: And yet many veteran acts who have that loyal fan base have great numbers the first week out with a new album and like you said, do fine filling decent-size venues, yet without any radio traction, the albums can come and go so quickly it seems. Has there been any frustration with that at various times? Any sense of a diminishing return for all the hard work?

ETHERIDGE: Well yeah, of course you always hope there’s maybe something there radio can hold on to a little and you would always like to make your record company a little money, that’s always nice. Yet I really have learned to let it go because I think the music does sort of manage to find its own way. I just stumbled on some online music site where these two rock critics were saying my last album “4th Street Falling,” that if it had been released by some up-and-coming singer, it would have really represented kind of the future of rock and roll or something so yes, there is sometimes an advantage to being not as established but I wouldn’t trade where I am at all to be up and coming. I’m very happy with where I am overall and I feel I have a great deal of industry respect and I’m fine with that.

 

BLADE: You’ve been on Island your whole career, which is almost unheard of in this day and age. I’m sure the whole staff has changed since you started …

ETHERIDGE: Not a single person is still there from then.

 

BLADE: How have you navigated all the changeover?

ETHERIDGE: It’s funny, there was a joke a few years ago there that everytime I had a new album out, “Oh, watch out, Melissa’s got a new one, there’s going to be a complete regime change.” Different times my options have been up we’ve looked around and, you know, Island and Def Jam and Universal — it’s one of the biggest labels there is. I always felt I had good relationships there so why not? The whole business has changed so much, it’s nice to stay someplace if you can.

 

BLADE: Last time you played here, the album was just out. Do you feel freer to sing more of it live now that it’s been out awhile and people have had time to let it sink in or do you skew more hit-heavy for the summer shows?

ETHERIDGE: Last fall I did kind of the “4th Street Falling” tour and I did a lot of new stuff but at that stage, I’m still listening to the new stuff, experimenting a bit and finding out which songs seem to pop more live. So I kind of play the new stuff and see which cuts were really fun for the audience and they tend to stay in the show. But yeah, it’s a summer show — we’re going to be doing all the hits too. We’ll be singing “Come To My Window” at the top of our lungs.

 

BLADE: You had so many great TV duet shows over the years in terms of collaborations with other artists — Joan Osborne, Sophie B. Hawkins, Jewel, Dolly Parton. Any of those especially stand out in your mind?

ETHERIDGE: Well singing with Bruce Springsteen was a dream come true. It was like, “Oh, please let time stop.” That one and singing with Dolly was just one of the greatest things that ever happened to me. I felt like our entertainment ethics were the same. She’s such a great entertainer and we kind of threw things back and forth. It felt like a good game of one on one.

 

BLADE: One that I really remember was when you sang “You Can Sleep While I Drive” as a duet with Amy Grant. Here she was this gospel singer singing a sweet duet with you, which sort of gave it a lesbian undercurrent. It seemed kind of shocking at the time. Do you remember how that came about or if there was any hesitation in her camp to do it?

ETHERIDGE: Trisha Yearwood had covered that song sometime in the ‘90s, so it had kind of been in the country world, then when Amy came in and we were talking about songs we could do, she said, “Well, I want to sing ‘You Can Sleep While I Drive.’” I’ve sang that with more people than any other song. It just kind of lends itself to that harmony duet feeling. I’ve known her for a long time. I met her in Europe back in ’88 and have been friends with Vince too. You know she kind of went through her own tabloid-y thing but she’s just so open and very very easygoing so that wasn’t even part of it. It was just like, “Let’s sing together and just enjoy it.”

 

BLADE: How prolific have you been in the studio over the years? Did you overcut tracks for very many of your albums? Is there going to be a killer Melissa Etheridge box set of outtakes and rareties someday?

ETHERIDGE: I can’t believe you asked that because yes, I’m working on that right now. The record company came to me and said, “You know, it’s been 25 years, let’s put out a box set.” But I didn’t want to just say, “OK, here’s my songs again.” I think my fans will enjoy some of these other things so I started going back into the vaults and into my storage space and found some tapes I hadn’t even remembered. So it’s going to be eight CDs and there’s live tracks, covers, solo demo tracks, a recording of me made when I was 14, everything that didn’t make it onto an album, pictures and videos. I even found a TV show I did back in 1982 in L.A.

 

BLADE: ETA?

ETHERIDGE: I don’t know the exact date right off, but it will be in November.

 

BLADE: Where do you keep your Grammys, platinum albums and Oscar?

ETHERIDGE: I have a lovely office I share with my gal, Linda.

 

BLADE: You and Linda (Wallem) are still together?

ETHERIDGE: Oh yes, yes, yes. I finally got it right. It’s a bunch of things. It’s a grown-up relationship.

 

BLADE: As a breast cancer survivor yourself, what did you think of Angelina Jolie’s announcement?

ETHERIDGE: I have to say I feel a little differently. I have that gene mutation too and it’s not something I would believe in for myself. I wouldn’t call it the brave choice. I actually think it’s the most fearful choice you can make when confronting anything with cancer. My belief is that cancer comes from inside you and so much of it has to do with the environment of your body. It’s the stress that will turn that gene on or not. Plenty of people have the gene mutation and everything but it never comes to cancer so I would say to anybody faced with that, that choice is way down the line on the spectrum of what you can do and to really consider the advancements we’ve made in things like nutrition and stress levels. I’ve been cancer free for nine years now and looking back, I completely understand why I got cancer. There was so much acidity in everything. I really encourage people to go a lot longer and further before coming to that conclusion.

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Photos

Bunker celebrates one year

Popular nightclub holds ‘Battle of the DJs’ to mark milestone

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(Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The LGBTQ nightclub Bunker held a “Battle of the DJs” party to celebrate its first anniversary on Saturday, Feb. 24.

(Washington Blade photos by Michael Key)

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Travel

Quito and the Galápagos on Celebrity Flora: blog #5

Darwin was right, it is an amazing place.

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Celebrity Flora

The last full day of our Galápagos cruise dawned bright, with clear skies. The weather would change during the day. After breakfast we boarded tenders and were told it would be a dry landing. That meant we didn’t have to get in the water to get off the tender. Instead, we got to a very nice dock on the Island of Santa Cruz, in the middle of a bustling town. We were informed by the naturalist with us the population of the Island was about 25,000. We then boarded a bus for the short ride to the Charles Darwin Station, Giant Tortoise Breeding Center. We were greeted by a life size seated statue of Darwin. It was really interesting and we got to see more giant tortoises, and baby ones as well. The Center was really close to town and they told us we had an hour to walk back to meet our bus for the next part of the day. I am sure the goal of the walk was to have us shop at the various stores along the way. Some were really nice, while some were typical tourist shops. While I rarely buy anything on my travels, as I have learned after many years, whatever I buy often ends up boxed up in a closet. But many did shop, and a couple of my traveling companions bought some really nice silver jewelry.

We had been told where to meet the group, which was back at the dock, for the second part of the day. We again got on busses, and headed to a tortoise preserve in the highlands. On the way we stopped for a Scalesia tree planting activity. It is a restoration project supported by Celebrity. We each got boots to put on, two baby trees, and a trowel. Then were led into the forest to plant our trees. On the way back to our bus, my group was stuck behind a giant tortoise, who was meandering along the same path we were taking. It was fun to watch him, until we could finally walk around him, and be on our way. 

Then back on the bus to the El Manzanillo Ranch and tortoise preserve. There are a lot of tortoises on Santa Cruz Island. At the ranch we had a great buffet lunch, and were treated to entertainment, a wonderful dance program by kids in a folk-dance group. They were fun to watch. The program for the day called for us to then take a walk through the preserve. But during lunch the rains began, and they came down in buckets. So many of us chose to pass on the walk, get back on the busses, and head to the dock in town. We had been told the tenders would be running regularly and that we had up to three hours to stay on the Island and shop. I don’t know anyone who did. It was still drizzling and we all decided to head back to the ship. We heard later from the final group that came back, those who chose to take the walk through the preserve, that they nearly got stuck on the farm. There was so much rain it was washing out roads, and they needed to bring out two by fours to get the bus, and the people, out of the mud. Thankfully they did finally get out of the mud, and back to the ship.

We had a nice relaxed evening on The Flora and were treated to a slide show of pictures, taken by the naturalists, of our group, which they shared with each of us the next morning. Sunday morning The Flora headed back to Baltra Island, and we headed to the airport. It was time to say goodbye to the wonderful crew of The Flora. Of course, Captain Patricio who I have written about. But then the ship wouldn’t be the same without John Flynn, Hotel Director. From the moment we stepped on board, John was everywhere on the ship. He was always smiling and ready to answer any question someone had. He clearly kept things running superbly. He is an amazing guy. Then Boris Peralta, a Maître D. He is a really nice guy and it was incredible how many of our names he remembered, always greeting me by name. He was smiling at 6:00 am when I went for coffee, and again at the door to the dining room for dinner. Then there was Guillermo, one of the dining room staff. He was charming and also was always smiling. Always ready to bring a coffee, or anything else you needed. As I mentioned in a previous blog, there were nine naturalists on the Flora. They were all great. One who stood out to me, and answered any question I would throw at him, was Sebastian.  Clearly the competence and professionalism of the crew on The Flora, made all the difference to our great week on the ship.  

At the airport we all checked in to our chartered flight back to Quito. But there, some of the group, were heading to Peru, and on to Machu Picchu, while many of us would spend another day, or two, in Quito, before heading home. Those of us in Quito had dinner in the hotel, courtesy of Celebrity, and then on Monday, a group of us headed to the botanical gardens. It was a really nice relaxed day. But for me it was an early night, as a group of us were going to meet in the lobby of the hotel at 3:00 am to head to the airport for our 6:00 am flight to Miami, and connection to DC. That will be a separate column as I got bumped from 1st class on the Miami to DC flight, and am still debating the issue with American Airlines. So far, I have spoken to four people and got four different reasons for being bumped. Not a great look for American. But that small issue, couldn’t stop me from thinking, all-in-all, it was an amazing eleven days in Quito and the Galápagos. I got to spend time with good friends, and meet some wonderful new ones.  I would recommend a trip to the Galápagos to anyone. Darwin was right, it is an amazing place.

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Sports

Gay figure skater Colin Grafton shares his story and his dream

Boston native is contestant on British television’s ‘Dancing On Ice’

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Colin Grafton (Photo courtesy of Grafton's Instagram page)

For a second year, Boston native and professional figure skater Colin Grafton is carving up the ice on British television’s “Dancing On Ice,” and now he’s doing it as his authentic self. 

“I told my closest friends. I told the people around me and I eventually told my parents,” Grafton, 32, recalled in an interview with PinkNews, in which he discussed coming out as gay. “I was maybe 24 when all that happened. I know there’s a lot of curiosity about my sexual orientation and my love life, but I never actually came out to the public,” said ITV personality. 

“I guess this is me announcing it to you guys.”

Grafton, who has been skating since he was 7, reflected on how watching Tara Lipinski win an Olympic gold medal at the 1998 Winter Games inspired him to pursue this career. But being a male figure skater was “really tough” in the 1990s and 2000s, he told PinkNewsUK.

“I remember feeling so nervous at various points in my childhood,” said Grafton. ”I’d be skating and the hockey players would come and bang on the side of the rink and shout words. That was something all male skaters had to deal with back then. It wasn’t easy but all of it made me stronger because I took it and focused everything on my sport.”

Grafton’s focus catapulted him to competing for Team USA, winning a bronze medal at the Junior U.S. championships in 2012, with his former partner Kylie Duarte. The memory of those who taunted him only fueled him to work harder. 

“When somebody tells you, you can’t do something, or somebody makes fun of you, just prove them wrong.”

Grafton ended his competitive career in 2013 and transitioned to professional skating, leading several European tours, and even becoming a coach. Then came the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I feel very fortunate about the fact that I’ve been able to kind of dabble in so many different areas in the professional world, but tour life is quite hard, all the travel and being away for so long,” he said. “So, when ‘Dancing on Ice’ came up, I jumped on it.” That was in 2023. 

The program is broadcast Sunday nights on ITV’s Channel 3 from studios in Bovingdon, a village in Hertfordshire about an hour northwest of London. During that first season, Grafton made history being paired with “RuPaul Drag Race” star The Vivienne, the first drag performer on the show and the first time “Dancing On Ice” featured a same-sex team. They made it all the way to the finals, finishing in third place.

“Being a part of that representation, being a part of that team, it was just wonderful,” he said. “The support we got from everyone was just fantastic. If I’m honest, I didn’t really understand the impact that it would make in the end.”

And at the conclusion of last season, Grafton finally found time to read the many messages of encouragement from fans, as well as from viewers who wrote, “Seeing us helped them and gave them the courage to either come out or be themselves,” he said. “It was truly something.”

And now, as a regular on the show’s 16th season, Grafton has decided he wants everyone to know who he really is, and in doing so, show others they are not alone. 

“If I’m honest, I never really felt the need to announce it before, but the reason I am saying this now, is because I want to show that there is representation in any way I can”, the TV personality explains.

Along the way to self-acceptance, Grafton revealed he had a lot of “small steps and small triumphs” leading him to finally feel comfortable being himself in the public eye. “It was on my own terms,” he said, and feels “blessed” to have found support among friends. 

“It’s been a long journey but now I am proud of myself and I’m proud of my sexual orientation and I want to let other people know that they should be proud of every part of themselves too,” said Grafton, acknowledging he had concerns about coming out publicly. “I was really nervous of doing that to myself. It was like, ‘OK, if I come out as gay then people are going to think I’m this or that,’ when in reality the human sexuality spectrum is so vast and it’s just one small part of the person you are.”

But appearing in primetime on such a popular TV show means that Grafton is the target of speculation about his personal life. He admits to having “lived and breathed skating” until finally getting in a relationship at age 24, around the same time he decided to come out to friends and family.

While that lasted two and a half years, Grafton’s frequent travel commitments and work on the ice left him no other chance for love. “I just didn’t really have an opportunity,” he said. “You might meet someone while you’re on a contract for six months and after that, you’re both off in different directions, so, I wasn’t really able to hold down a relationship because of that.”

But now that London is his home, Grafton told PinkNewsUK he feels ready to settle down. His perfect match? Someone local and appreciative of his business obligations. 

“We live really crazy fast-paced lives as skaters,” he said. “Personally, I want to meet someone who is also fast-paced and able to keep up with that, but they don’t have to be a fellow skater. I just want someone who supports me and I can support them, too.”

“At the end of the day, we’re all just humans doing our thing on this planet and trying to find love.”

Until he does, Grafton said he is excited to keep skating on television.

“I absolutely love ‘Dancing on Ice.’ Every season that I’m asked to do it, I feel like I’m blessed and I feel very lucky to be able to keep doing the show. I would love to continue doing it while I can or while my body allows me to as well,” he said. And when it doesn’t? Grafton imagines he might try his hand at acting. 

“I think that’s what life is all about,” he said. “Learning new things and pushing yourself to do other things.”

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