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Check out these holiday shows in D.C.

Renee Fleming, ‘Nutcracker’ and more coming to area stages



holiday shows, gay news, Washington Blade

The National Philharmonic Orchestra and Chorale will perform ‘The Messiah’ at the Strathmore Dec. 17-18. (Photo by Don Lassell; courtesy National Philharmonic)

There will be lots of chances to get in the holiday spirit in the coming weeks. Here are some you may want to check out.

The National Philharmonic Singers under the direction of conductors Stan Engebretson and Victoria Gau will present a holiday concert on Saturday, Dec. 3 at 8 p.m. at Christ Episcopal Church (107 S. Washington Street) in Rockville. Stanford’s “Magnificat in G Major” and famous Renaissance motets “In Dulci Jubilo” and “Resonent in Laudibus” will be performed along with popular carols and a sing-along. It’s free but donations will be accepted. Details at

The National Philharmonic will also perform the “Messiah” at the Strathmore Dec. 17-18 with a nearly 200-voice choir. Tickets start at $28. Details at

Olney Theatre Company presents “A Christmas Carol: a Ghost Story of Christmas Past” by Charles Dickens performed as a one-man-show by Paul Morella Nov. 25-Dec. 31 at its Mulitz-Gudelsky Theatre Lab (2001 Olney-Sandy Spring Road, Olney, Md.). Tickets range from $20-40. Details at

Holiday shows, gay news, Washington Blade

Paul Morella as Scrooge in the one-man show ‘A Christmas Carol; a Ghost Story of Christmas Past’ at Olney Theatre Company. (Photo courtesy Olney)

The Washington Revels present “The Christmas Revels: a Nordic Celebration of the Winter Solstice in Music, Dance & Drama” Dec. 10-18 at the GW Lisner Auditorium (730 21st St., N.W.). The performance will include Nordic winter traditions from Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden performed by a cast of more than 100 ages 8-85. Tickets range from $12-60. Visit for details.

The Washington Chorus under the direction of Julian Wachner will perform “A Candlelight Christmas” Dec. 11-22 at the Kennedy Center Concert Hall (2700 F St., N.W.) and on Monday, Dec. 19 at the Music Center at Strathmore (5301 Tuckerman Lane, North Bethesda, Md.). The show features brass, organ, sing-alongs, major choral works such as “The Dream Isaiah Saw” and the “Hallelujah Chorus.” Tickets range from $18-72. Details at

Country diva Lorrie Morgan brings her “Enchanted Christmas” tour to the Birchmere (3701 Mount Vernon Ave., Alexandria, Va.) on Sunday, Dec. 18. Tickets are $45. Details at

The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra has several holiday-themed performances coming up including Handel’s “Messiah” Dec. 2-4, “Family Concert: the Snowman” on Dec. 3, “Swingin’ Nutcracker a la Ellington featuring Step Afrika!” Dec. 8-11, “Music Box: Snowflakes on Parade” Dec. 10, a screening of “It’s a Wonderful Life” in which the score will be performed live on Dec. 15-16, “Holiday Pops with Storm Large” Dec. 17-18 and more. The BSO performs at the Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall (1212 Cathedral St., Baltimore) and at the Music Center at Strathmore (5301 Tuckerman Lane, North Bethesda, Md.). Ticket prices vary. Details at

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Members of the local dance company Step Afrika! perform ‘A Swingin’ Nutracker a la Ellington,’ which will be performed Dec. 8-11 at the Strathmore in North Bethesda, Md., and the Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall in Baltimore. (Photo courtesy Weinbergharris & Associates)

Drag outfit the Kinsey Sicks perform their show “Oy Vey in a Manger” at Theater J (1529 16th St., N.W.) Dec. 20-28. Tickets are $19-52. Details at

Jewmongous,” a comedy-song concert featuring Jewish hipster comedy created and performed by Sean Altman, will be performed on Saturday, Dec. 3 at 8:30 p.m. at BlackRock Center for the Arts (12901 Town Commons Dr., Germantown, Md.). Tickets are $17-25. Details at

Kwanzaa Celebration” will be held Dec. 17-18 at Dance Place (3225 8th St., N.E.) featuring the Coyaba Dance Theater under the direction of Sylvia Stoumah. Tickets are $15-30. Details at

Kwanzaa celebrations for each day will be held at the Smithsonian Anacostia Community Museum (1901 Fort P., S.E.) Dec. 27-Jan. 1 with Culture Queen (Jessica Smith) offering music, movement and storytelling for all ages. It’s free each day at 11 a.m. Details at

Hot 99.5’s “Jingle Ball 2016” will be held Monday, Dec. 12 at 7:30 p.m. at the Verizon Center (601 F St., N.W.) featuring Meghan Trainor, the Chainsmokers, G-Eazy, Fifth Harmony, Diplo, Ellie Goulding and more. It’s sold out but last-minute tickets may be available on Stubhub.

If you’re up for a New York visit, Cyndi Lauper and friends present their annual “Home for the Holidays” benefit concert on Saturday, Dec. 3 at 8 p.m. at the Beacon Theatre (2124 Broadway) in New York. Lauper’s guests include Aloe Blacc, Ballets with a Twist, Big Thief, Billy Corgan and more in a holiday-themed benefit concert for the True Colors Fund, an LGBT youth charity. Tickets range from $50-150. Details at

Creative Cauldron presents “A Christmas Carol Memory,” a world premiere re-imagining of the Dickens classic featuring puppets, Dec. 1-20 at ArtSpace Falls Church (410 S. Maple Ave., Falls Church, Va.). Tickets are $15-30. Details at

Saxophonist Dave Koz brings his Christmas Tour 2016 to the National Theatre (1301 Pennsylvania Ave., N.W.) on Saturday, Dec. 3 with guests Jonathan Butler, Valerie Simpson and Kenny Lattimore. Tickets are $68-98. Details at

holiday shows, gay news, Washington Blade

Out saxophonist Dave Koz returns to the region again this year with his annual Christmas tour. He plays the National on Saturday, Dec. 3. (Photo by Bryan Sheffield)

The Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington presents its annual Christmas show “Naughty and Nice” Dec. 10, 17 and 18 at the Lincoln Theatre (1215 U St., NW.). This year’s show features songs such as “Sleigh Ride,” “Merry Christmas, I Win,” “Snow,” “Text Me Merry Christmas” and more. Tickets range from $25-65. Details at

The New Wave Singers of Baltimore, an LGBT chorus under the direction of Adam P. Koch, will perform their annual holiday show “Holiday Memories” Dec. 10-11 at Immanuel Church of Christ (1905 Edmonson Ave., Catonsville, Md.). Admission is free. Details at

Contemporary gospel legends Amy Grant and Michael W. Smith bring their show “Christmas” with a full symphony orchestra and guest star Jordan Smith of “The Voice” to Royal Farms Arena (201 W. Baltimore St.) in Baltimore on Sunday, Dec. 18. Tickets range from $36.50-147. Details at

Pope of Trash John Waters brings his show “A John Waters Christmas” to the Birchmere (3701 Mount Vernon Ave., Alexandria) again this year on Tuesday, Dec. 20. Tickets are $49.50. Details at

The Rockville Civic Ballet will perform “The Nutcracker” Dec. 3-11 at the F. Scott Fitzgerald Theatre (603 Edmonston Dr., Rockville, Md.). Tickets are $17. Details at

The Hope Garden Children’s Ballet presents “A Christmas Carol” at the F. Scott Fitzgerald Theatre (603 Edmonton Dr., Rockville, Md.) on Saturday, Dec. 17 at 1:30 and 6 p.m. Details at

The Swingles, a UK-based a cappella group, will perform their show “Yule Songs” at the Barnes at Wolf Trap (1635 Trap Road, Vienna, Va.) on Friday, Dec. 2 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $38. Details at

Wolf Trap’s annual Holiday Sing-A-Long with the United States Marine Band and members of several local choirs, will be held at the Filene Center (1551 Trap Road, Vienna, Va.) on Saturday, Dec. 3 at 4 p.m. It’s free and gates for the lawn and in-house seating open at 3. New unwrapped toys will be accepted for Toys for Tots at the Filene Center entrance. Donations are optional. Bring a candle and a bell to participate in various parts of the show. Details at

holiday shows, gay news, Washington Blade

The Holiday Sing-A-Long is an annual tradition at Wolf Trap. Bundle up if you go — it’s held at the Filene Center (Wolf Trap’s massive shed) on Saturday, Dec. 3 at 4 p.m. (Photo courtesy Wolf Trap)

The Boston Brass will perform “Christmas Bells are Swingin’!” at the Barns at Wolf Trap (1635 Trap Road, Vienna, Va.) on Sunday, Dec. 4 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $38. Details at

Metropolitan Community Church of Washington, D.C.’s largest mostly LGBT church, has its annual Christmas concert on Friday, Dec. 3 at 6 p.m. at the church (474 Ridge St., N.W.). The MCC choir under the direction of Tyrone Stanley will perform along with guests. It’s free but reservations are encouraged. Reserve a free ticket by e-mailing the church office at [email protected].

A Christmas Carol” will be performed at Ford’s Theatre (511 10th St., N.W.) through Dec. 31 with Craig Wallace as Scrooge. Tickets are $22-92. Details at

Congressional Chorus will perform “Holiday Cheers: a Musical Champagne Evening for Grownups” on Saturday, Dec. 10 at 8:30 p.m. at the Atlas Performing Arts Center (1333 H St., N.E.). Tickets are $40. Details at

Congressional Chorus, the American Youth Chorus and the Capital City Symphony will perform “Holiday Sing-a-Long: an Annual H Street Tradition for the Whole Family” on Sunday, Dec. 11 at 4:30 and 7 p.m. at Atlas Performing Arts Center. Tickets are $12.50 but get them now — both shows invariably sell out. Details at

The Kennedy Center has several holiday-themed events planned.

The Cincinnati Ballet will perform “The Nutcracker” Nov. 23-27 at the Kennedy Center Opera House (2700 F St., N.W.). Renee Fleming will perform “Voices: a Merry Little Christmas” with Megan Hilty Dec. 8-9 in the Kennedy Center Family Theater. The National Symphony Orchestra will perform Handel’s “Messiah” Dec. 15-18 in the Concert Hall. The NSO Pops will perform “A Holiday Pops” featuring Laura Osnes and Santino Fontana Dec. 9-10 in the Concert Hall. NPR’s “A Jazz Piano Christmas” will be held on Saturday, Dec. 10 in the Family Theater.  The Second City will perform “Twist Your Dickens” Dec. 9-31 in the Theater Lab. Sherrie Maricle and the DIVA Jazz Orchestra will perform “Ella Wishes You a Swingin’ Christmas” Dec. 16-17 in the KC Jazz Club. A “Messiah” sing-a-long will be held Dec. 23 in the Concert Hall at 6 p.m.

Ticket prices vary. Full details on this and all Kennedy Center shows at

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CAMP Rehoboth’s president talks pandemic, planning, and the future

Wesley Combs marks six months in new role



Wesley Combs took over as president of CAMP Rehoboth six months ago and is now focused on searching for a new permanent executive director. (Blade photo by Daniel Truitt)

June marks half a year since Wesley Combs stepped into his role as president of CAMP Rehoboth. In a conversation with the Blade, Combs recounted his first six months in the position — a time he said was characterized by transition and learning.

Since 1991, CAMP Rehoboth has worked to develop programming “inclusive of all sexual orientations and gender identities” in the Rehoboth Beach, Del. area, according to the nonprofit’s website. As president, Combs oversees the organization’s board of directors and executive director, helping determine areas of focus and ensure programming meets community needs.

For Combs, his more than three decades of involvement with CAMP Rehoboth have shaped the course of his life. In the summer of 1989 — just before the organization’s creation — he met his now-husband, who was then living in a beach house with Steve Elkins and Murray Archibald, CAMP Rehoboth’s founders.

Since then, he has served as a financial supporter of the organization, noting that it has been crucial to fostering understanding that works against an “undercurrent of anti-LGBTQ sentiment” in Rehoboth Beach’s history that has, at times, propagated violence against LGBTQ community members.

In 2019, after Elkins passed away, Combs was called upon by CAMP Rehoboth’s Board of Directors to serve on a search committee for the organization’s next executive director. Later that year, he was invited to become a board member and, this past November, was elected president.

Combs noted that CAMP Rehoboth is also still recovering from the pandemic, and is working to restart programming paused in the switch to remote operations. In his first six months, he has sought to ensure that people feel “comfortable” visiting and engaging with CAMP Rehoboth again, and wants to ensure all community members can access its programming, including those from rural parts of Delaware and those without a means of getting downtown.

Still, Combs’s first six months were not without unexpected turns: On May 31, David Mariner stepped down from his role as CAMP Rehoboth executive director, necessitating a search for his replacement. Combs noted that he would help facilitate the search for an interim director to serve for the remainder of the year and ensure that there is “a stable transition of power.” CAMP Rehoboth last week announced it has named Lisa Evans to the interim director role.

Chris Beagle, whose term as president of CAMP Rehoboth preceded Combs’s own, noted that the experience of participating in a search committee with the organization will “better enable him to lead the process this time.”

Before completing his term, Beagle helped prepare Combs for the new role, noting that the “combination of his professional background, his executive leadership (and) his passion for the organization” make Combs a strong president. Regarding the results of the election, “I was extremely confident, and I remain extremely confident,” Beagle said.

Bob Witeck, a pioneer in LGBTQ marketing and communications, has known Combs for nearly four decades. The two founded a public relations firm together in 1993 and went on to work together for 20 years, with clients ranging from major businesses like Ford Motor Company to celebrities including Chaz Bono and Christopher Reeve. According to Witeck, Combs’s work in the firm is a testament to his commitment to LGBTQ advocacy.

“Our firm was the first founded primarily to work on issues specific to LGBTQ identities, because we wanted to counsel corporations about their marketing and media strategies and working in the LGBTQ market,” he explained. By helping develop communications strategies inclusive of those with LGBTQ identities, Combs established a background of LGBTQ advocacy that truly “made a mark,” Witeck said.

Witeck emphasized that, in his new position, Combs brings both business experience and a renewed focus on historically underrepresented in LGBTQ advocacy — including people with disabilities, trans people and people of color.

Looking to the rest of the year, CAMP Rehoboth hopes to host a larger-scale event during Labor Day weekend. In addition, the organization will revisit its strategic plan — first developed in 2019 but delayed due to the pandemic — and ensure it still meets the needs of the local community, Combs said. He added that he intends to reexamine the plan and other programming to ensure inclusivity for trans community members.

“CAMP Rehoboth continues to be a vital resource in the community,” he said. “The focus for the next two years is to make sure we’re doing and delivering services that meet the needs of everyone in our community.”

Wesley Combs, gay news, Washington Blade
Wesley Combs (Washington Blade photo by Daniel Truitt)
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Melissa Etheridge shares Q&A in advance of April 26 Tysons tour stop

Rock pioneer finds inspiration in the past — from revisiting old demos to reconnecting with celeb pals like Ellen



Melissa Etheridge brings her ‘One Way Out Tour’ to the D.C. region next week with a show at the new Capital One Hall in Tysons. (Photo by Elizabeth Miranda; courtesy Primary Wave)

Melissa Etheridge
‘One Way Out Tour’
Tuesday, April 26
Capital One Hall
7750 Capital One Tower Rd.
Tysons, VA
7:30 p.m.
Tickets: $55

We caught up with rock legend Melissa Etheridge on April 8 by phone from Snoqualmie, Wash. — it’s about 26 miles east of Seattle —where she was playing the Snoqualmie Casino on her “One Way Out Tour,” which plays our region on Tuesday, April 26. 

It’s named after her latest album, released last fall, which found Etheridge, who’s been out since ’93, revisiting demos from early in her career.

Her comments have been slightly edited for length.

WASHINGTON BLADE: “One Way Out” sounds like such a cool project. Was it all re-recorded stuff of old songs or were some of those vintage takes on the record as well?

MELISSA ETHERIDGE: The last two songs, the live songs, were from where? From 2002? OK, but the other songs were newly recorded. 

BLADE: And how many of them did you remember?

ETHERIDGE: You know, when I found them again, they all came back very clearly. And I was like, “Oh, this is — why did I throw that away? That’s weird.” And I really enjoyed, you know, hearing them, they were just old demos. I’d never done full-blown recordings. So I thought, “This is great, I want to do these songs.”

BLADE: We have a relatively new venue you’re going to be playing, Capital One Hall. I’ve only been there once. You excited?

ETHERIDGE: Yeah, it’s always fun. I love the D.C.-area crowd. It’s just really, really nice.

BLADE: And how do you decide where you’ll be? Or do you have any say in it? 

ETHERIDGE: Well, it’s not necessarily me. I do have a say in it, in what I want the whole tour to look like. But it is really up to William Morris, my agent, to find the right venue that understands what we need and the kind of atmosphere we’re looking for that and the amount of people and, you know, that sort of thing.

BLADE: Tell me about Etheridge TV. I just wonder, when we were in that acute phase of the pandemic, wasn’t it even remotely tempting to you to just take a break?

ETHERIDGE: No, because since I was 12 years old, I sang all the time for people, like five days a week and it’s just been what I do. And so when it was like, I was looking at a massive, cavernous amount of time that I was going to be home, I still needed a way to pay the bills, so we put our heads together — I’ve got one of the greatest television minds with me, you know, my wife (TV producer Linda Wallem), so I had the space and I had the equipment, and I was like, “Let’s do it.” And it was really fun to learn new things. It was fun to learn about computers and sound and streaming and lights and cameras and all these things that I didn’t know. … I feel a little smarter.

BLADE: When did you start back on the road?

ETHERIDGE: We went out last fall. We went out September, October, right around there. And you know, it was a little different, Now things are things are loosening up … but some places still require masks. But people are starting to get back out and it feels good. It’s not the overwhelming thing that it was a few months ago.

BLADE: And what was it like being on ‘Ellen’ again for her final season?

ETHERIDGE: Oh, I love her. She’s such an old friend. You know, I say that about myself, too. (chuckles) But, you know, she’s just a relationship in my life that I have treasured. We’ve watched each other grow and the changes we’ve made and the successes and what we’ve gone through and I love that she had me on and just it was just a really — she’s a dear friend. And she showed an old photo there, and we both said, “Oh, that was before we were so busy.”

BLADE: Do you talk to her often?

ETHERIDGE: I would say we see each other socially once or twice a year. It just seemed like once we started having children, all my friends from my 20s and 30s when we were not as busy — it just gets harder to stay in touch and life got crazy. 

BLADE: So when you were hanging out back in the day with Ellen and Rosie and everybody, how was it that Brad Pitt was in that group too? 

ETHERIDGE: Well, my girlfriend (Julie Cypher) had been married to Lou Diamond Phillips and we were all very good friends with Dermot Mulroney and Catherine Keener and Catherine Keener did a movie with Brad, like a movie nobody saw, like Johnny Dangerously or something (1991’s “Johnny Suede”), some really weird movie. So I met Brad before he was terribly famous. He was a part of that group. There was a whole group of all of us that just hung out, and we were all totally different. We were just like young, hungry Hollywood and we’d talk about, “Oh, I had this audition,” or “I went and did this,” and we were just all trying to make it in that town. So we’d get together and have fun. 

BLADE: I was so terribly sorry to hear about Beckett (Etheridge’s son, who died in 2020 at age 21 after struggling with opioid addiction). How are you and the rest of the family, especially (Beckett’s twin) Bailey, dealing with it now?

ETHERIDGE: There are many, many families like us that deal with a loss like that. It just blows a family sideways. But we have a deep love and connection, all of us. We all knew he had a problem and it’s a problem that starts way before he actually passes, so it was not a surprise. So now we’re just living with the missing aspect. You try not to think about what could have been and you try to think about him in a happier place and that he’s out of pain, so that helps us.

BLADE: Had he and Bailey been as close in recent years?

ETHERIDGE: They were very close, but in the last couple of years as he made worse and worse choices, we couldn’t support that, so they were less close, but of course in her heart, it was her brother, he was very dear to her. 

BLADE: Did you watch the Grammys?  Was there anybody you were particularly rooting for?

ETHERIDGE: I watched bits and pieces of it. I had a show that night, so I didn’t get to see the main thing, but I have seen pieces and I just love the crazy diversity and you know, the TikTok people winning stuff, it’s like, “Wow, this is so not the Grammys I remember from the ’80s,” but that was what, 30 years ago? So it’s all good.

BLADE: You were such a perennial favorite back in the day in the best rock female category. Were you pissed when they eliminated it? 

ETHERIDGE: It’s sad because I felt like the criteria they were using to judge what is female rock, they just really dropped the ball. I still think there are some amazing musicians that could be considered, you know, rock, but it feels like we’re having a hard time even defining what rock and roll is now anyway. There’s a whole bunch of strong women out there playing, rocking, you know, playing guitar, being excellent musicians and songwriters. If you can’t call it best rock female, OK, call it something else. 

BLADE: I remember so vividly when you were on the Grammys in 2005, in the midst of chemo, when you sang “Piece of My Heart.” I remember you saying you were wondering how people would react to seeing you bald. Having been through that, any thoughts on the Will/Jada Oscars situation since her baldness, too, was due to a medical condition? 

ETHERIDGE: You know, it’s funny, I did feel a little remembrance of (thinking), “I just hope people don’t make fun of me.” That was kind of the first thing because to go out there bald, that was so different for me as an artist whose hair had kind of defined her. I was thinking, “How am I gonna rock without my hair?” I thought people might make fun of me, but I got over that. I just thought, “Well, if somebody makes fun of me, that just makes them look bad.” So I just walked through it. And you know, it’s hard to draw the line between what’s funny and what’s painful and how to look at something. I feel for all parties involved. 

BLADE: When you go on these cruises, do fans give you some space or do they swarm around the minute you walk out? Is it even enjoyable for you? 

ETHERIDGE: Yeah, it is. You know, we did our last one, now we’re doing Etheridge Island, we now have a destination in Mexico, outside of Cancun, it’s just this island that we’re going to that is really fantastic. But I do I make myself available, I don’t run away. When I have to be somewhere, I have a great company we work with called Sixthman that knows how to get me from point A to point B without being bogged down. But I do my make myself available. Everyone gets a picture with me. It’s my work, but I love it. I try to make myself available but also have some time just for myself too.

Melissa Etheridge says slowing down wasn’t an option for her when the pandemic hit. She’s glad to be back on the road now, she says. (Photo by Elizabeth Miranda; courtesy Primary Wave)

BLADE: You Tweeted a few nights ago about having a tight curfew of just 90 minutes at a casino but then it worked out and you got to do a full set. Why are the curfews so tight at casinos?  

ETHERIDGE: Why do you think? They want people at the tables. Like for tonight, we we settled on 100 minutes. They’re giving me 10 extra minutes. I don’t like it, but in some areas, the only really good venue is a casino, so if you want to reach your folks there, you kind of have to meet them half way. 

BLADE: Yeah, but it seems like in concert halls, the curfews can sometimes be really tight too. Even Madonna got her lights shut off a couple years ago. Of course, she’s notoriously late, but why are they so strict with these things nowadays? 

ETHERIDGE: There are all different situations — concert halls often have union crews that will absolutely shut you down if you go one second over. There are also sound curfews, noise curfews, mostly with outdoor venues, but sometimes indoor as well. They have an agreement with the neighborhood. So you have people in the neighborhood standing by with their phones ready to pounce the minute it goes over one minute, they’re gonna call the police. As a performer, you just realize, “OK, it’s not just about me.” When I don’t have a curfew, I usually land at about two hours and some change. That seems comfortable to everyone. Any longer and I think I’m wearing my audience out. When I’m at a place with a shorter show, I just do my best. 

BLADE: I know you’re a big Chiefs fan. Did you watch that game back in January all the way to the end? 

ETHERIDGE: Well, at the end of it, I was on the floor. My wife was like, “Honey, honey, there’s still 13 seconds,” and I was moaning and sort of getting my feet on the floor and, you know, laying down and throwing a fit. And she’s like, “No, there’s still 13 seconds.” I dragged myself back to the television. And I couldn’t believe it. I was like, “Wait a minute. Did we just win?” You know, just really crazy, really crazy stuff. … When you’re a fan like that, it’s a ride you can’t fully explain.

BLADE: Are you in a cordial or good place with your exes? Does it get easier when the kids are starting to grow up?

ETHERIDGE: Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah. And you realize that it’s best for the kids if you can really get along and that any sort of conflict that can’t get resolved, that gets emotional, does no good for anyone. And absolutely, I have, I’ve gotten better at that as the years have gone by.

BLADE: Do you have the slightest inkling yet what the next studio album might be like?

ETHERIDGE: Well, I’ve got some interesting projects that I’m not ready to talk about just yet. But they have to do with my life story. There’s a lot of digging up of my past and really telling the story. So I imagine the next series of music you’ll get from me is going to be very focused on my journey. 

Melissa Etheridge, gay news, Washington Blade
Melissa Etheridge (Photo by Elizabeth Miranda; courtesy Primary Wave)
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New Cranes sommelier brings spirit to wine and sake program

Stewart-Woodruff curates eclectic list for Michelin-starred restaurant



‘I bring my whole self to work,’ says Eric Stewart-Woodruff. (Photo by Rey Lopez)

Outfitted in a blue damask dinner jacket with satin lapels and an energetic smile, Eric Stewart-Woodruff carves an impressive figure when chatting about his favorite vintages. Stewart-Woodruff, who’s gay, is the new sommelier at Michelin-starred Cranes in Penn Quarter.

Stewart-Woodruff curates an eclectic wine – and sake – program focusing on pairings with celebrated Chef Pepe Moncayo’s innovative, global flavors. Cranes, which explores intersections of Spanish and Japanese cuisine, opened just before the pandemic, and received a coveted Michelin star in 2021.

Stewart-Woodruff did not start off in the wine industry. In fact, he does not have any formal training in wine. Instead, after a career as a professional photographer, he pivoted to the restaurant industry, where he developed his love of wine. While working for a distributor, he connected with D.C.’s own District Winery. This opportunity allowed him to express his truest self, as a lead tour guide, wine ambassador and sommelier. He credits his identity and personality as his reason for thriving.

“I bring my whole self to work,” he says, “offering a level of humanity and approachability.” 

After the pandemic temporarily shuttered District Winery, Stewart-Woodruff found himself interviewing at Cranes, enamored with Moncayo’s “creative vision,” he says – and was sold. He began in late summer of 2021.

Through his work in hospitality, Stewart-Woodruff notes that the industry can be hetero-male dominated. He has been able to break through by not holding back on his identity.

“I tend to play with expectations of what a sommelier may look or act like,” he says. “I move away from what one may stereotypically look like, but still present like one.”

For him, that means talking about wine and wine education “as if it were gossip,” he says. “I like to view wine like we are at brunch. Wine has personality, it’s performative, and it has stereotypes.” He is seeking to break molds of specific likes and dislikes, exploring the depth that wine has to offer, in the context of the Spanish-Japanese Cranes menu. In fact, he says, Moncayo is supportive of his innovative, certification-less angle. “I become more relatable,” he says.

He also presents original events. He paired with local guest sommelier Andrew Stover (also a gay man) on Tuesday, March 29 for a springtime showcase of specialty rosé wines paired with Moncayo’s dishes. The duo poured tastes of specialty, small-batch wines from Brazil, Italy, Spain, Uruguay, and Maryland.

Leaning into the innovative spirit, the wine-by-glass list is not split by color. Instead, it is divided into evocative categories. For example, both a chardonnay and a pinot noir fall into the “Elegant, round, and mellow” category.

As a Spanish-Japanese restaurant, Cranes not only possesses an extensive wine cellar, but has consistently expanded its sake program. Sakes by the glass are split into the same exact categories. The very same “Elegant, round, and mellow” list includes Ginjo Nama Genshu and junmai daiginjo.

Stewart-Woodruff explains that wine and sake should be attended to similarly. “Sake is something you can think about like a beer in terms of production but treat like a wine,” he says. Sake is a fermented polished-rice beverage, dating back more than two millennia in Japan.

“Sake has aromatics, texture, body, and finish.” He takes pride in discussing customers’ palate preferences, and turning them onto a specific sake, for their qualities of earthiness, acidity, or others.

“Many people don’t experience sake outside of college or bars. Now, I can be a sommelier for sake, and for the marriage of Eastern and Western cuisine and beverage.” He expresses excitement at being innovative in his sake beverage pairings, occupying a niche space. When discussing both wine and sake, he aims to bring an artistic flair and tour-guide enthusiasm to the table.

Woodruff credits his identity and background for his success. He aims to bring a level of humanity and approachability to what has been a formal, stuffy area. He has high ambitions to portray sake as sophisticated as wine in the customer’s mind, “but it pairs well with Moncayo’s conceptually ambitious menu,” he says.

“Wine and sake are as eclectic as humanity. I want people to accept experiencing wine like the world has accepted me.”

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