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Sophie B. Hawkins goes deep in advance of D.C.-area concert

‘90s hitmaker known for ‘Damn, I Wish I Was Your Lover’ is on fall mini-tour

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Sophie Hawkins, gay news, Washington Blade

Sophie B. Hawkins will sing hits and new songs at her Saturday evening concert in Vienna, Va. (Photo by Shervin Lainez; courtesy No Big Deal PR)

Ellis Paul and Sophie B. Hawkins

 

Saturday, Oct. 28

 

6:30 p.m. (doors, 5:30)

 

Jammin Java

 

227 Maple Ave. E

 

Vienna, Va.

 

$25

 

ticketfly.com

 

sophiebhawkins.com

Singer/songwriter Sophie B. Hawkins is at a place in her life where she’s being highly deliberate about what she does.

She’s sitting on a finished album but wants to figure out a way to release it strategically for maximum impact. A recurring theme in our lengthy phone chat last week is that there are lots of great ideas, but several are just not high on her priority list right now.

Newly single after nearly two decades in a same-sex relationship, the 52-year-old singer known for ‘90s radio staples “Damn, I Wish I Was Your Lover” and “As I Lay Me Down” is back in New York focusing on her art and raising her two young children, Dashiell, 8, and Esther, 2.

She makes a rare D.C.-area appearance this weekend at Jammin’ Java in Vienna, Va., on her fall mini-tour. Her comments have been edited for length.

WASHINGTON BLADE: How does it feel to be back in New York again after so many years in Los Angeles?

SOPHIE B. HAWKINS: Well I was born and raised in Manhattan so when I get home to New York or anywhere near, I feel a certain accessibility to my soul. I feel like this is where I came into the world, where I’m coming back to and where I’m allowed to be me. I can be my age here, I can be a single woman, so exotic and excited to be alive, just in the day, and it’s not weird. I don’t have to drive a fancy car, I don’t have to wear makeup, I can just live and enjoy everyone’s energy and creativity. That’s the difference between L.A. and New York. In California, it’s harder to connect with people and harder to connect with people’s creativity. In New York, it’s very much coming up from the ground.

BLADE: What can we expect at your show this weekend and why are you doing a mini-tour now?

HAWKINS: This mini-tour came about for a very specific reason. I wanted to go out and do solo shows without one single musician, just me because I’d never done that before until weekend before last. I did it in Massachusetts and Maine and I really felt like this was the time for me to just go on stage and really see if I’m a good-enough musician and good-enough artist and good-enough storyteller to get out there and be the person that I am (in my home studio) working and writing songs. … I loved the last two shows. They were my favorites in a very long time because I just got up there with my instruments, my banjo, my drums, my guitar and my piano, and I sang the songs and it was so relaxed and emotional and, of course, intimate, but it was something more. Sort of a heightened experience. … I wouldn’t say it’s me being me because I’m always me, but it’s really one on one. It’s scary but that’s where I really like it the best.

BLADE: How was it received?

HAWKINS: Both audiences, and not that this should ever happen again, but they both gave me standing ovations and they all came back and it was a different conversation after the show. … It really could have gone terribly — that’s why I didn’t do it in New York. I could have walked off the stage and said, “I’m never doing that again,” and called my guitar player. But I’m actually excited to do it more.

BLADE: You’re working on a musical, you have a new album in the can, you did the Janis Joplin play a few years ago and said you even wrote some songs as Janis. What all will you be singing? Stuff from your albums or some of that stuff as well?

HAWKINS: Well, OK, first of all, I’m always going to do my hits. They’re beautiful and I just want people to know they won’t get deprived of that. The second thing is I’m definitely doing some new songs. People seem to really love the new songs and I’m doing one I just wrote a couple weeks ago that’s a brand new original Christmas song so it’s going to be exciting to do one that I just wrote. As for the album, I’m going to be totally candid because I always am, I don’t quite know how to get it out. I don’t want it to just be the same old process of putting all this effort into something and then making no money from it. I’m trying to find a new way and really taking my time. I really love it, I put a ton of energy into it and the songs are, in my opinion, phenomenal so I don’t want to just throw it out and have it go nowhere. The musical is still a work in progress. … I may put the Christmas song out just to have a little something but … I can’t just throw things out there anymore.

BLADE: You did some shows in New York back in June that you said you were going to record to try to capture something elusive you said doesn’t always show up on your studio work. Did you?

HAWKINS: Yes, well, I don’t know if I captured that elusive whatever but I did record all three shows and they were filmed. I don’t know if the filming was good because I haven’t seen it yet. … I’m not sure if I’m going to edit them and put anything out because that takes so much work. I wish I had another me to do that kind of work. And sometimes you’re just too close to it. I thought it sounded terrible when I listened to it in June but then I heard it again in September by accident and I was like, “No, that sounds pretty good, I should get to editing that.” … But again, it goes back to not wanting to just put stuff out just to do it. I’m looking for a right connection. I’m not dying for people to say, “Oh she’s great, listen to this,” and then move on to the next thing. There’s no reason for that. Maybe once I figure out when the album is coming out, the live stuff could be like the thank you for being part of my life and here is this gift.

BLADE: What has it been like rebuilding after going through the break-up of a 17-year relationship?

HAWKINS: Oh, it was awful. Just so incredibly sad, I can’t even tell you. … It’s still so difficult to understand how that could have happened. … I felt like I was saved when I got back to New York … by the skin of my teeth. There’s this amazing other part of yourself that says, “I’ve got to move before the tsunami hits, I gotta get out of my bed and start running” and that’s what happened. The tsunami was coming down on me and my son and I actually got out of bed and said, “We’re getting up now, move, move, move, get the dogs,” and we got to New York and boom, we would have been dead if we’d stayed a moment longer. And I mean completely dead emotionally, psychologically, financially, everything. It’s scary to think about. That’s one aspect of it. But thank God I landed and … could begin again. … There is still a reckoning I’m dealing with in my art and in conversations with close friends, you know, walking around going, “I can’t believe this is part of my story now.” … I never thought it would happen — a betrayal on that level.

BLADE: One song of yours that’s always haunted me is “I Need Nothing Else.” I know songwriters hate to explain what songs are about but can you illuminate us at all on that one?

HAWKINS: I love that song too because of the combination of the visceral and the spiritual and accepting it all as one and knowing that all things go together with no boundaries. All these things need each other and pull each other and tug each other and there’s that feeling of passion that I really love and then the phrase, “I need nothing else,” is what you do — you go through your life and you eliminate, you start to realize what you need and what you don’t need and you come back to this very essential quality. … You bring the drama on when you don’t know what you need and you do so many things to mask and then you find it and it’s unmasked — that’s that song, it’s unmasked, here it is.

BLADE: It’s taboo to say you wanna have sex with Jesus but pop music is kind of this nice place where you can entertain both the spiritual and the carnal, which is forbidden in gospel music. Is that a fair interpretation or am I off base?

HAWKINS: No, you’re so on base and I love that you said have sex with Jesus. Yes, it’s so true and in a way, that’s sort of what we’re doing. … And yes, that is the great thing about pop music and great poetry, it connects all these things. … There’s actually a movie out now that’s about all this called “The Novitiate.” Have you heard of it?

BLADE: No.

HAWKINS: It’s not out yet but I saw a screening and it’s really a brilliant movie but it’s not with men, it’s with nuns. Oh my God.

BLADE: How long did it take to make “Tongues and Tales” (1992) and “Whaler” (1994)? How long did you spend recording vocals and how long were the whole projects?

HAWKINS: OK, well, “Whaler” took shorter than “Tongues and Tales” because I worked with Stephen Lipson and he was — well, for both albums by the way, we used my demos a lot, which was interesting, so we’d have to include that time. I’d recorded those songs at home first. Like in “Did We Not Choose Each Other” when you hear the frying pans and all the crazy percussion and the keyboards, all that stuff was done at home. “As I Lay Me Down,” the percussion, the keyboards, all that was taken from my original demo and we just overlaid and built upon it.

BLADE: You felt you’d captured something on those that couldn’t be bettered?

HAWKINS: Yeah. There were periods where different producers would try to get away from it but even the head of the record company, Don Ienner at the time, the head of Sony, he said, “No, you’ve got to use the vocal on her demo, that’s why I signed her.” So there were always those moments where we would go back to that. … So “Whaler” didn’t take a long time ‘cause Stephen works fast. “Tongues and Tales” took a long time because I’d never made a record before and Rick Chertoff is known for taking a really long time. He wanted demo after demo after demo after demo. He could spend years on just a thought. It takes him hours to get a freaking sentence out. But in some ways, that’s also why he’s brilliant. He’s like an old-fashioned director. He’ll take you to dinner and you have to include all that in the process. So on “Tongues and Tales,” they didn’t spend anytime on me. It was all about the radio, what will happen to the album, and Rick Chertoff takes everything into consideration but then when it came time for vocals, believe it or not, they gave me like a day. I was really upset about that inside, but I did not wanna complain because they didn’t make me write with anybody, they completely stayed true to my vision so I thought, “Well, OK, I have a day, I’m just gonna use a day.” So the vocals were very fast. … But that worked out OK because I’m one of those people you can’t overdo things too much with. On “Whaler,” though, he did take much more time with the vocals.

BLADE: What happens to all the alternate takes and photo and video outtakes when a major label project like that wraps? Do you get it all or is it sitting in box in a warehouse somewhere?

HAWKINS: I think Sony probably trashed it all because, you know, I fought with them by the third album. I have all the demos, which is shocking. … But they didn’t care about what they didn’t use so I would think by this time they would have trashed everything. I did get a bunch of pictures. … Great outtakes from sessions by David LaChapelle, Bruce Weber and Mark Hanauer. It would be fun to do something with those but at this point in my career, I don’t want to spend the time looking through photos.

BLADE: I sense from what you’re saying there was some frustration with the release of “The Crossing,” your last album in 2012. Was the rollout underwhelming? How do you feel about it now that you have a little distance from it?

HAWKINS: Well that’s why I don’t want to put out another record the same way. I think there are some songs on it that are amazing. I just love “The Land, the Sea and the Sky.” It’s so raw, I don’t know, I just love the feel of it. And I love “A Child.” There are some songs I love. But certain songs I think are terrible on “The Crossing” and those are the ones I actually worked the most on. Like “Betchya Got a Cure,” I think could have been a great song but I think it’s just terribly done. … My manager-slash-partner had lost interest in me as a person and as an artist or whatever and I couldn’t really — I mean, I did it totally alone. No producer, no nothing. I even engineered the goddamn record. It was a beautiful studio, but still. I put it out with zero, and I mean zero, support, so in a way, it’s amazing it sounds as good as it does and it’s as lively as it is. There’s no way really I could have done better in that situation.

BLADE: What was your cover of “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” from? I found it later on a compilation and wasn’t sure.

HAWKINS: That was for a charity album. It might have been breast cancer because they wanted songs by women and I chose that because Joan Baez sang it and I loved it. I recorded it in my apartment where I was at the time on Christopher Street and I just did it at the piano with all those crazy vocals and the djembe drum and that was basically it. But people seem to like it. Sony was pretty mad at me. They said it wasn’t professional enough. I was like, “Well, then, you know, give me some money and I’ll do it more professionally.”

BLADE: Melissa Etheridge’s VH-1 “Duets” special now seems like this amazing time capsule of great ‘90s women rockers. What was it like taping it?

HAWKINS: Well, the first memory is when she called. … I dove to the floor to pick up the land line at a house in L.A. where I was staying and I couldn’t believe I was talking to Melissa Etheridge because this was at the time when she was having her huge, breakout like big, big moment, and I hit my head on the closet door when I went for the phone so I was pretending to be completely with it and cool and obviously I wasn’t. … I remember rehearsing with her and just thinking she was so amazing, her guitar playing and her presence. I loved her and felt like I would have loved her even if she wasn’t Melissa Etheridge, but I never would have because she’s from such a different part of the world. So then we got to the show and I really thought I’d botched it and I was kind of embarrassed. But I loved being with her and Paula Cole was super nice too.

BLADE: I get what you’re saying about prioritizing certain projects over others but it’s been 25 years this year since “Tongues and Tales” and “Damn, I Wish I Was Your Lover.” Are you doing anything to commemorate that?

HAWKINS: No, I didn’t really realize it was exactly 25 years. See that’s where it would be nice to have a team to help me remember those things.

BLADE: It’s so cool that you’re able to still devote yourself to art. New York and L.A. are both so insanely expensive and you’re raising two kids. Do you ever feel practical or financial concerns encroaching on your art? How do you soldier on?

HAWKINS: You do have to soldier on as an artist no matter what and as a mother because you cannot let those people down. It doesn’t matter if you have any money or not. The thing about being an artist in this day and age is that you cannot expect any kind of support if you’re in the music business. I’m lucky to have the support and recognition that I do. I see young people I’ve met and let open for me who have these amazing songs, they’re young and beautiful and talented and they’re in a way worse position than me. I’m doing really well, I actually am. … I could make a choice. I could make a lot of money, I mean relative to what I’m going to get back, and throw it in my career right now, but I really do feel the timing isn’t right and it would be a complete waste. I feel it’s a time to be really selective. … I learned with “The Crossing,” it’s not good enough to just stay afloat. It’s actually better almost to disappear and for everyone to think you’re gone forever and you were so beautiful and great then and if you have a rebirth or even if you don’t, then at least your work stands on its own. That’s a big concept. I hadn’t even really thought about it, I was just kind of talking out of my ass but yeah. I’m maintaining an amazing lifestyle in this amazing city and my children and art are doing amazingly well and I will tell you the honest truth — I’ve never been so happy in my life.

BLADE: How has being a mom shifted your artistic lens or has it?

HAWKINS: It’s made me more appreciative and patient with myself. … It’s moved me away from trying to be a perfectionist. … It’s also been fun to see how some things that I thought were just about me, they’re sort of genetic. Like the singing and stuff. … Not so much the creation of a song, but my son is like this amazing little walking poet and he says things that blow me away, but I think maybe he gets it from my mother. There’s some quality about it that’s really fun to see.

Sophie B. Hawkins, gay news, Washington Blade

Sophie B. Hawkins at a 2004 Pittsburgh concert. (Washington Blade file photo by Joey DiGuglielmo)

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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

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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
ticketmaster.com
capitalonehall.com
melissaetheridge.com

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

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‘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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Legalization trend continues as Nat’l Cannabis Festival kicks off

D.C.’s 420 Week runs April 16-24

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National Cannabis Festival (Photo by Doug Van Sant; courtesy NCF)

The sixth annual National Cannabis Festival kicks off in D.C. on April 16 as the nation continues to see advances in legalizing cannabis, particularly for medical uses. 

Just this week, Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin signed HB 933 and SB 671, to provide numerous operational improvements to the state’s medical cannabis program, including eliminating the requirement that patients register with the Board of Pharmacy after receiving their written certification from a registered practitioner. 

“These legislative improvements will bring great relief to the thousands of Virginians waiting to access the medical cannabis program,” said JM Pedini, NORML’s Development Director and the Executive Director of Virginia NORML. “We hear from dozens of Virginians each week who are struggling with the registration process and frustrated by the 60-day wait to receive their approval from the Board of Pharmacy,” Pedini added.

There are more than 47,000 program registrants, with an estimated 8,000 applicants still awaiting approval. 

The new laws will take effect July 1. Until that time, patients will still be required to register with the Board of Pharmacy in order to shop at one of the state’s ten operational dispensaries. After July 1, patients who would like to receive a physical card will still have the option to request one by registering with the Board of Pharmacy.

The changes in Virginia law reflect growing support nationwide for reforming marijuana laws. Most Americans favor the enactment of a broad array of legal reforms specific to marijuana policy, according to new nationwide polling data provided by YouGov.com.

Specifically, six-in-10 Americans say that “marijuana should be made legal in the United States.” Majorities of Democrats (72 percent) and independents (60 percent) back legalization, while most Republicans (46 percent) do not.

Last week, members of the United States House of Representatives voted 220 to 204 in favor of The MORE Act, which removes marijuana from the federal Controlled Substances Act thereby allowing states to legalize cannabis markets free from federal interference. Most Democrats (217) voted for the bill while all but three Republicans voted against it.

A majority of Americans also support amending federal law so that banks and other financial institutions can explicitly partner with state-licensed marijuana businesses. Support for the policy change is strongest among Democrats (66 percent) and weakest among Republicans (38 percent).

Under existing federal law, financial institutions are discouraged from partnering with state-licensed cannabis businesses. According to the most recent financial information provided by the US Treasury Department, only about ten percent of all banks and only about four percent of all credit unions provide services to licensed cannabis-related businesses.

House members have voted on six separate occasions to pass federal legislation (The SAFE Banking Act) to reform this policy, but Senators have never taken any action to advance it in the Upper Chamber. Most recently, House members voted in February to include SAFE Banking provisions in HR 4521: the America COMPETES Act. Senators failed to include similar language in their version of the bill. (Courtesy NORML)

420 Week arrives in D.C.

D.C. is gearing up for a blazing 420 Week, featuring several days of exciting panels, art and community-building events and parties culminating in the National Cannabis Festival on April 23, featuring Wiz Khalifa, Lettuce, Ghostface Killah, Backyard Band, DuPont Brass, Shamans of Sound, Cramer, and more. 

This year, the sixth annual National Cannabis Festival, which celebrates progress on cannabis legalization, is expanding to a full weekend of epic cannabis-related events, including the National Cannabis Policy Summit April 22 at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center and the National Cannabis Championship, presented by Gentleman Toker and slated for April 24 at Echostage with Slick Rick. The weekend is the capstone of 420 Week, hosted by the National Cannabis Festival organizers in partnership with the Eaton Hotel and DC Brau. The week kicks off on Saturday, April 16, with movie screenings, evening parties, a beer launch and more. Read on for the week’s highlights, courtesy of Festival organizers:
 

420 Week

Saturday, April 16 – Sunday, April 24 

Eaton Hotel + DC Brau

From the Hemp and Hops Panel and launch of NCF Legalize It! Lager at DC Brau (3178-B Bladensburg Rd. NE) on April 16 to the 4/20 Kickback Party featuring Khalifa Kush and panel with artists discussing cannabis’s role in their practice at the Eaton Hotel (1201 K St, NW), 420 Week promises something for everyone with an interest in cannabis culture. Take a tour with Luckie Chucky tours, participate in a “Plantwave Soundbath” and more. Nearly all events are free; RSVP required. Visit nationalcannabisfestival.com for details. 
 

National Cannabis Policy Summit

Friday, April 22, 10 a.m.-4 p.m.

Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center

1300 Pennsylvania Avenue NW

Join a who’s who of activists, industry pioneers, government leaders, journalists and more for an electric and illuminating day looking at the era’s most pressing cannabis policy challenges and opportunities. U.S. Senate candidate and Civil Rights activist Gary Chambers; Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform; Portland Cannabis Program Manager Dasheeda Dawson; Aamra Ahmad, senior policy counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union and many others will be on hand to discuss environmental impacts of cannabis cultivation, banking legislation, decriminalization and more. Afterward, stay for a reception sponsored by Weedmaps. All events are free; registration is strongly recommended. Visit nationalcannabisfestival.com/ncf-policy-summit for details. 
      

National Cannabis Festival

Saturday, April 23, 12 p.m. 

RFK Festival Grounds

2400 East Capitol St., NE, Lot 8

 The highlight of 420 Week events is the East Coast’s largest ticketed cannabis gathering, which returns to Washington’s RFK Campus with performances from Wiz Khalifa Lettuce, Ghostface Killah and many others. Also on tap: a wide range of exhibitors, five pavilions on topics from wellness to agriculture to education, and a brand-new culinary pavilion featuring top chefs from Maydan, Maketto, Moon Rabbit, as well as the Munchies Zone, with 75 of the region’s most popular food trucks including Peruvian Brothers, Jerk at Nite, Reba’s Funnel Cakes and more. (Note: No THC infused foods are permitted to be sold or sampled at NCF; festival-goers must be 21 and up.) Tickets range from $75-$375 for one or two-day admission to the festival and National Cannabis Championship. Visit nationalcannabisfestival.com/tickets
 

National Cannabis Championship Presented by Gentleman Toker

Sunday, April 24, 12 p.m.

2135 Queens Chapel Rd., NE

Slick Rick and DJ Footwerk are giving festival-goers a sendoff to remember on the final day of 420 Week and the festival weekend, at the National Cannabis Championship at Echostage, new this year. Presented by Gentleman Toker, this awards show and bash celebrates the incredible cannabis cultivation taking place in the Washington area and across the Mid-Atlantic. Expect exhibitors, comedy, munchies, drinks and a chance to chill with some of the biggest names and brands in cannabis cultivation. Tickets are $55. Visit nationalcannabisfestival.com/tickets.

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