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Etheridge tackles Memphis on stunning new covers album

Lesbian rocker brings vocal heft to classic Stax material like ‘Hold On, I’m Coming,’ ‘Rock Me Baby’ et. al.

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Memphis, gay news, Washington Blade

Melissa Etheridge pays homage to the legendary Stax label on her new covers album. (Photo courtesy ME Records)

With a string of classics under the belt, Melissa Etheridge is not an artist who needs to rely on the songwriter chops of others unless she want to pay homage to some of the greats, and that’s exactly what she does on her supremely entertaining ode to the birthplace of rock and roll, “Memphis Rock and Soul.”

Perhaps, given the obvious debt that Etheridge owes to the blues and the early days of R&B and rock that blasted out of Memphis and eventually took over the country, it was a logical step for Etheridge to pause her own prolific stream of songwriting and pay homage to those who made her career possible. Anybody who has been to Memphis, basked in the glorious histories of the Sun and Stax Studios, or Graceland, or listened to the endless stream of live music that can still be heard on on Beale Street, understands the importance of the city’s history in the formation of rock and roll.

Memphis is the great melting pot of soul, gospel, blues, jazz, rockabilly, country and everything else under the sun that merged to form what we know is rock and roll, and it was the pioneering local record companies and DJs who helped spread this wild new sound across the airwaves to the masses.

Etheridge runs through a dozen energetic classics, sounding fresh and revitalized. Her voice has never sounded better as she tackles the standard “Memphis Train,” paying homage not only to the city in the bluesy classic but also to the well-worn tradition of “train” songs which are an inexorable part of the fabric of early rock and roll. Her stirring cover of “Respect Yourself” answers the question once and for all — do some of these songs, many of which have been recorded dozens of times, really need yet another rendition? The answer, in the hands of Melissa Etheridge, is an emphatic yes. She’s clearly having a blast with this album, and her infectious energy comes through in every note.

Etheridge delivers a raucous, wonderfully raspy vocal on the the old R&B chestnut “Hold On, I’m Coming,” one of the album’s undeniable highlights. She also takes on the slow waltz ballad “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long (To Stop Now),” and offers a heartfelt performance that is truly breathtaking. She may not have written these great songs, but unlike some artists with the temerity to tackle the classics, Etheridge has the vocal chops and the musical knowledge to pull them off with genuine authenticity and verve.

The blues favorite “Rock Me Baby” is another standout, with some scorching lead guitar and a vocal that might not quite match Tina Turner’s seminal version, but Etheridge certainly does herself proud.

Billy Idol fans may recognize “I Forgot to Be Your Lover,” an old R&B ballad that he reworked into the high-energy ‘80s hit “To Be A Lover.” Etheridge reclaims the original and gives yet another dynamite performance of a truly beautiful ballad.

The album ends with the gospel-tinged “I’ve Got Dreams to Remember,” and it’s a perfect summation of everything that came before. Like the melting pot that was Memphis itself, Etheridge touches upon all the different styles that led to the genre to which she’s devoted her career: rock and roll. She does it with reverence and respect for the material, delivering one great vocal after another and her song choices are diverse and shrewd. It’s a fantastic showcase for Etheridge, a nostalgic but fresh celebration of the music that launched a thousand radio hits.

Many cover albums, especially genre exercises like this one, can be painful, but Etheridge pulls it off beautifully. Put it on, close your eyes, and let yourself drift back to another time when it was still taboo for black artists to be on the radio and interracial couples were strictly taboo and rock and roll was in its formative stages. There is great music to be mined from this era, and Etheridge does a marvelous job holding the shovel.

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Music & Concerts

The Atlantis to showcase musical legends of tomorrow

New venue, a near replica of original 9:30 Club, opens next month

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A look at the interior of the original 9:30 club. (Photo public domain/Library of Congress)

A new nirvana for music fans opens next month adjacent to the 9:30 Club. Dubbed The Atlantis, this intimate venue embraces a 450-person capacity – and pays homage as a near-replica of the original 9:30 Club.

The $10 million venue comes courtesy of I.M.P., the independent promoter that owns and operates the 9:30 Club and The Anthem, and operates The Lincoln Theatre and Merriweather Post Pavilion.

The Foo Fighters will inaugurate The Atlantis on May 30, which is also the 9:30 Club’s anniversary. Foo Fighters lead singer Dave Grohl, during a concert in 2021, kicked off speculation that I.M.P was planning to open a new venue, noting that, “We’ll probably be the band that opens that place, too, right?”

Other big names on the inaugural 44-show run roster: Franz Ferdinand, Barenaked Ladies, Third Eye Blind, Spoon, and Billy Idol.

To thwart scalpers, The Atlantis utilized a request system for the first 44 shows when they went on sale two weeks ago. Within four days of the announcement, fans had requested more than 520,000 tickets, many times more than the total 19,800 available. All tickets have been allocated; fans who were unable to snag tickets can attempt to do so in May, when a fan-to-fan ticket exchange opens.

While I.M.P. oversees multiple larger venues, “We’ve been doing our smallest shows in other peoples’ venues for too many years now,” said Seth Hurwitz, chairman of I.M.P. “We needed a place that’s ours. This can be the most exciting step in an artist’s career.”

The 9:30 Club holds 1,200 people, while The Anthem has space for up to 6,000.

“This will be where we help introduce new artists to the world… our smallest venue will be treated as important, if not more, than our bigger venues. If the stories are told right, both the artists and the fans begin their hopefully longterm relationship. Its stage will support bourgeoning artists and the legends of tomorrow,” Hurwitz said. Hurwitz and the team developed a tagline for the new venue: The Atlantis, Where Music Begins.

Hurwitz got his start at the original 9:30 Club, originally located at 930 F St., N.W. He was an independent booker of the club for the first six years and then he bought it, and managed the move from its original location to its current location in 1996. The venue first opened in 1980.

Audrey Fix Schaefer, I.M.P. communications director, provides further insight. “We were missing small venues in our umbrella. Big acts don’t start in stadiums. We need a place for emerging artists and for the community to discover new acts. The Atlantis can help new artists grow.”

While design elements are still coming into focus, Schaefer says that the space will be intimate, with almost no separation between the artist and the crowd. “There will be energy on both sides of the stage,” she says.

Although The Atlantis is set to be a replica of the original 9:30, I.M.P. has spared no expense. Schaefer notes that the sound and light systems use the latest available technologies, similar to next door at the current 9:30 Club.

The Atlantis takes over the footprint of now-closed Satellite Room. The venue will have at least two bars flanking the stage; cocktails but no food will be available.

Schaefer notes that since its early days, 9:30 Club and I.M.P. “has always been a place where people are welcome. People come and feel safe with us.” 9:30 Club has hosted several LGBTQ Pride parties, the BENT dance party series, and other events for LGBTQ patrons. Particular acts of note during the kickoff run include Tegan & Sarah and Tove Lo.

The Washington Blade was a neighbor to the 9:30 Club at its original F Street location back in the 1980s. Despite their proximity, noise wasn’t an issue for on deadline nights, when Blade staff worked late hours.

“We would of course work later hours back then,” said Phil Rockstroh, a longtime Blade staffer, in a 2016 Blade interview. “Everything was typeset and done by hand without computers and fax machines so getting through deadlines was much more time consuming.”

Rockstroh said the noise wasn’t a distraction.

“It wasn’t too bad as older buildings were constructed more solidly,” Rockstroh said. “There was only one entrance to the building and you entered so far to the elevator that went up to the other floors and then continued down the hall to the entrance to the 9:30 Club. Frequently at night if I was coming or going, there were people spilling out the doors.”

“The Blade has always had a friendly relationship with the 9:30 Club,” he added.

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Music & Concerts

National Philharmonic to perform classical, contemporary works

Violinist Melissa White returns

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The National Philharmonic will host “Beethoven’s 7th” on Saturday, April 15 at 8 p.m. at Strathmore.

Past and present will collide in this performance of contemporary works and classical masterpieces. Maestro Piotr Gajewski will direct Valerie Coleman’s “Umoja, Anthem for Unity for Orchestra” Violinist Melissa White will also return to the Philharmonic to perform Florence Price’s sweeping, melodic “Violin Concerto No. 2.”

Tickets start at $19 and can be purchased on the Philharmonic’s website.

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Music & Concerts

Bruce & Janet & John Legend, oh my!

Slew of iconic acts hitting the road after pandemic cancellations

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Janet Jackson is among the iconic acts touring this spring.

Pop and rock icons are releasing their pent-up pandemic frustrations by mounting huge tours this spring and summer. After three years of canceled and postponed shows, everyone from Bruce Springsteen to Janet Jackson is hitting the road at long last. But save your coins because the TicketMaster algorithms are driving ticket prices to astronomical highs. Here are a few highlights from D.C.-area venues this spring. Although some of the iconic acts aren’t coming until summer — Beyonce, Madonna, Pink — several others are hitting the road this spring.

ANTHEM
Betty Who plays March 10; Keyshia Cole headlines the All Black Extravaganza 20 Year Anniversary tour on March 18; the Yeah Yeah Yeahs come to town on May 3; Seal brings his world tour to town on May 10; and the beloved Pixies are back on the road with a new North American tour stopping here on June 10.

9:30 CLUB
Don’t miss Gimme Gimme Disco, an Abba dance party on March 18; Inzo arrives on March 31, followed by Bent on April 1; Ruston Kelly brings his The Weakness tour on April 17 along with Purr; The New Pornographers show on May 19 is sold out but there are tickets available for the May 20 show; The Walkmen have added a fourth show on May 23 because the other three shows are sold our;

CAPITAL ONE ARENA
Living legend Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band are back with a vengeance, playing one of four area shows on March 27. (They’re in Baltimore the night before.) If you missed out this time, don’t worry, Bruce is playing Nats Park in September as well as at Baltimore’s Camden Yards. April 1 brings the R&B Music Experience, including Xscape, Monica, Tamar Braxton, and 112. Blink-182 comes to town on May 23. And this summer watch for Sam Smith to continue his hot streak, bringing his “Gloria” tour to town on Aug.4.

JIFFY LUBE LIVE
Janet Jackson makes her highly anticipated return to the stage this spring, arriving in our area on May 6 along with guest Ludacris. The LGBTQ ally and icon has promised new music on her upcoming “Together Again Tour,” which follows the pandemic-related cancellation of her “Black Diamond Tour.” Jackson also plays Baltimore’s newly renovated CFG Bank Arena on May 13.

OTHER HIGHLIGHTS
John Legend plays two nights at Wolf Trap on June 2 and 3; Charlie Puth follows on June 4. Wolf Trap also hosts the Indigo Girls on June 7 just in time for Pride month. Celebrate St. Patrick’s Day with the Smithereens at the Birchmere on March 17. Fans of ‘80s alternative will be lined up for the Church also at the Birchmere at April 4, followed by Suzanne Vega on April 26. Amy Grant returns to the stage this spring and plays the Birchmere on May 2. Echostage plays host to a slew of buzz worthy shows this spring, including Ella Mai on April 8 and Fisher on May 12.

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