Sunday, Oct. 29
Bethesda Blues and Jazz Supper Club
7119 Wisconsin Ave., Bethesda, Md.
Some people fight for years to break into the music industry but Billy Gilman became a star at the early age of 11. His debut single “One Voice” cracked the Billboard Hot 100 and led to a Grammy nomination and plenty of touring.
Gilman’s career started with a bang but began to fizzle when he suddenly seemed to disappear from the music scene. He reemerged with a coming-out video on YouTube that went viral in 2014.
Then in 2016 Gilman auditioned for “The Voice” by singing “When We Were Young” by Adele. He joined Team Adam Levine and swept the competition to become season 11 runner-up. Now Gilman is giving his music career a second go around but says this time it’s going to be more authentically him. Calling from his office desk in his home state of Rhode Island, the now-29-year-old singer spoke with the Washington Blade about his 10-year hiatus, coming out as a country star and if his friendship with Levine was just for the cameras.
WASHINGTON BLADE: What was it like achieving success so early? Did you realize what a big deal it was?
BILLY GILMAN: No. I knew that it was great. But all I was really concerned about was getting on a stage and just having fun. That was my main love. It was almost like a game. It didn’t feel like a job. It didn’t feel like a pressure like, “Oh, we’ve got to get to number one. We’ve got to sell this many units this week.” The pressure is now. Now that I know what’s going on.
BLADE: What were you doing in the 10-year break between your self-titled album in 2006 and your “The Voice” audition in 2016?
GILMAN: My voice really, I don’t know if it was from all the stress it was under traveling for so many years as a kid or whatever, but when my voice changed it was a very bad time. It took a long time for it to come back where I knew I could hold a show on my own and not have to worry, “Oh, is it just going to go and leave me?” It would stay for a song and then it would just vanish, no sound coming out. We would go to the doctor but there really wasn’t any damage, it was just the vocal chords figuring out what they wanted to do. It took two-and-a-half years for me to fully get back out on a stage and be able to hold a show. But I lived in Nashville through all that time co-writing. I raised $2.5 million for the Muscular Dystrophy Association.
So, I was very busy I just really wasn’t doing my thing. I had to find other ways to work and be out in the public eye and not letting that flame die, hoping that my voice would come back. And it did and that began the process of relearning it. You can’t hit those extravagant high notes that you used to hit. You have newer, lower notes.
When you’re told what to act like, what to sound like, how to dress that’s just your mentality. It wasn’t until I started to song write that I realized who I was, and what I loved and what I didn’t like. I knew that Nashville just wasn’t going to buy into it. I was trying to fit the formula when I knew I wasn’t going to fit the formula anymore. But I stayed and cowrote songs for publishing companies, did recordings and all that for five or six years. I knew I wanted to change gears and let my voice do what it was put on earth to do knowing that it can again, which is big ballads. I would do my little country stuff on stage at 12 years old and then I would literally sign autographs, do my duties, get on the bus and just belt out Celine Dion and Michael Bolton. That was just where my voice really fit. But the gimmick was working at 12 years old, a kid singing country music.
So when “The Voice” called, and they had been calling for a few years and I had said, “No, I want to do it on my own.” But usually, if an opportunity comes up and goes away and you ignore it, well that’s your own mistake. But this one kept coming. They just kept persisting. So I said, “You know what if it keeps coming up so strongly in my reality, it’s for a reason.” So I finally gave in and auditioned and the journey really revved up.
BLADE: Did you feel like your prior experience gave you an advantage on “The Voice”?
GILMAN: No. The only thing that helped me was I knew how to hold notes and get around things if I was sick. That helped. But you’re standing toe to toe not knowing what the hell is going on just as much as the person that came from selling cars or behind a desk. There really was no advantage and they didn’t treat me any different. To the onlooker, it looks like it maybe played a role but it really doesn’t. They’re all about quality in all forms. Everyone is the same. That was really great because I was a little timid to talk to anyone in the first couple of weeks in the process. I didn’t know if the other contestants would be upset if they found out or if anyone knew.
So, I didn’t want to cause waves because you never know how people are gonna react. But we really started to get friendly and became friends and family that hopefully will forever be friends and family. The winner of my season had a prior record deal and we didn’t know that. Everyone has a history more often than not. There’s more entertainers that were co-writers on big hits, background singers for someone really famous. Ninety percent of them knew what they were doing or had a name of their own in whatever way prior to the show.
BLADE: Your coach was Adam Levine. Do you still keep in touch with him?
GILMAN: I do. We talk. The ones I talk to are him and Miley (Cyrus) mostly. He’s great. He was very black and white. I like truth and I don’t like to be doted or coddled. It was neat to see someone really get invested in the situation and not just when the cameras are on. He’s awesome.
BLADE: Country music isn’t known for out artists in the same way a genre like pop is. Were you afraid of losing fans coming out as a country singer?
GILMAN: If I’m going to lose fans like that then I don’t care. I’ll go sing on a cruise ship. I will always be a singer. If I was losing fans because I was sending a message that really was not a good one or I went into rap or something that has more of a negative tone I could see that as a hurt. But me being happy and spreading peace and helping some other person possibly, if I lose fans over that then it was meant to happen. At first I told my family and then I slowly started to tell my team. But then I figured it’s no one else’s business. No one else deserves to know. I’m just a singer. You put my record on and you watch my video on YouTube and then you go about your life. You don’t need to know any more about me. Country music especially isn’t the case like that. It’s very family oriented and they want to know their artists. So they advised me to tell them because it was a struggle for me to be successful again.
And when I finally came out to my team they said, “You have no idea the stigma that’s around your name. It’s a horrible thing but that’s the reality of this town.” And I went, “That’s really disgusting. I have a hit song right here. And you’re not going to play it just because of my personal lifestyle?” That’s just the way it works. It’s actually mind boggling. But it is what it is. A high-profile magazine wanted a cover story and I said no because it looks like I’m trying to sell it or find success in something so intense. My team wasn’t too thrilled. But it’s not a publicity stunt. It’s just telling people the situation.
So I opted to do it on YouTube. Because if it were to go viral and do amazing that’s on its own, I didn’t push it. The amount of press that I got from it was great. But the amount of letters, emails that I got from kids in middle America saying, “I was kicked out my home, what do I do? But now I don’t feel alone and I feel like I have a voice to help me through this.” The positive outweighed the negative by almost a 100 percent. People are gonna say what they’re gonna say but they’re gonna do that anyway.
But musically, I was like holy shit where am I going? But I am a singer. I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t. So I knew in my gut that there was no other way for me. I had to trust that it would be OK. Sometimes that’s all you have to go by.
BLADE: Being both gay and a country singer, do you feel an obligation to speak out on events like the Pulse nightclub shooting and the Las Vegas shooting?
GILMAN: The way I feel is every voice is important at certain times. I think that there’s a place and time for my ranting. I could be like one of these artists that get on Twitter every five minutes. But what is that really helping? If you live your truth and you live to help the cause in your everyday life that stands alone as well. I do plenty of events and speak on behalf of GLAAD and the LGBTQ community. It’s just about living your life and not backing down. That’s a win, that’s a stance. Not cowering and being proud of who you are no matter what you are.
BLADE: What projects are you working on? Any new music?
GILMAN: I’m working on some really fun stuff. When I stepped out on “The Voice” stage I told my team I really have to do me this time. That’s such a new kid term, “Do you.” When you say it, it sounds really gross but it’s true. I really had to be who I knew I was and who I created alone. I would go, “Damn it, I wish people would hear this.” But I just wasn’t ready yet to show that part of me. So when “The Voice” came I said, “I gotta do me I think I’m gonna do an Adele song as my audition song” and everyone said, “What?” And I said, “Yeah, that’s where I see myself.” I said this is the biggest platform to see if it will work because if people don’t like it they won’t vote, they won’t download.
Thankfully, America bought into it. It enabled a lot of confidence in that new lane. We just wrapped mixing some songs that will be released. We’re meeting with record labels so I don’t know how long it will take. I could always release it myself if that doesn’t work. But right now they’re fresh off the studio floor. I don’t know when it will come out but it is done. Both regular music and Christmas music. It’s great to have this music that I’ve never had before. It can contend with everyone else and I’ve never had that before.
BLADE: What can people expect from your show?
GILMAN: This one is a little different. It’s a very up close and personal night of songs. My old stuff that people remember, some new stuff. I learned from another very successful artist, “You can do a million original songs but just expect people looking for the popcorn, the beer or the bathroom.” If they don’t know the song you gotta throw in some stuff that they know. So I threw in this little segment, because it’s so popular on TV and YouTube, called Carpool Karaoke. It’s really been working and it’s fun. It’s a variety show of songs that I really love but on the intimate side which is always a fun thing every once in awhile.
Tori Amos spins magic at Sunday night D.C.-area concert
First show in the area since ’17 finds Gen X icon vocally subdued but musically energized
As with many veteran rock stars, it’s sometimes hard to get a handle on how hot or cold Tori Amos’s 30-year-old solo career is at the moment. It sometimes seems like she’s moving past the take-her-for-granted-because-she’s-never-away-for-long phase, and there certainly was that sense in the air Sunday night for her D.C.-area stop of her current “Ocean to Ocean Tour,” her first show here since 2017, which, with COVID, feels like a lifetime ago.
But there are also signs that it’s never been chillier for Amos in the overall pop culture landscape. It’s been a decade since she charted a single on any chart and there were no videos or singles from her “Ocean to Ocean” album last fall. It landed just outside the top 100 on the U.S. Billboard 200 album sales chart altogether, a new low that would have been unthinkable even a few years ago when her “regular” (i.e. non-specialty/concept) albums were almost guaranteed a top 10 debut.
The slide has been swift, too: 2014’s “Unrepentant Geraldines” hit No. 7, the next album (2017’s polarizing “Native Invader”) only made it to 39, then came “Ocean’s” thud at no. 104. There’s a lot you could point to to explain it — streaming, her aging Gen X fan base, the endless undulations of the music industry itself — but in some ways it has started to feel like she’s getting less and less return on her artistic dollar than one would expect.
Yeah, that always happens with veteran female pop stars once they hit their 50s and beyond, but Amos and her small but mighty fan base, who for decades exhibited a devotion of Grateful Dead-like proportions, outran the trend for so long, to see it finally catching up is a bit bewildering.
But then you go hear her live at a decent-size venue like The Theater at MGM National Harbor (which seats 3,000 and was about 97 percent full), and it feels nearly like old times. Sure, some of the excitement was just that we’re all gagging at being at concerts at all and having mask restrictions and vaccine requirements paused, but there was an electricity that, while mellower than it was at Amos concerts in the ’90s, still felt magical. I’ve never in my life seen so long a line for the merch table.
The concert itself was, for the most part, sublime. It was the first time since 2009 she’s toured with a band and while her solo shows are great too, there was pent-up yearning to hear her unleash full-on with a solid rhythm section (Jon Evans on bass, Ash Soan on drums) again. Beat-heavy songs like “Raspberry Swirl” and “Cornflake Girl” sounded tepid with canned beats the last few times out, so to hear everything truly live (save a few BGVs and effects) last night was heavenly.
The show had special poignancy too, as Amos grew up in the region. She has written and commented heavily on the immense toll her mother’s 2019 death took on her personally and artistically, so that the date happened to be Mother’s Day gave the proceedings added gravitas. “Mother Revolution” and “Jackie’s Strength” spoke, of course, to the holiday, though (and this is quibbling) I would have vastly preferred “Mother” from “Little Earthquakes,” a deep cut we haven’t heard live in eons.
Highlights included the slinky, rhythm-loopy opener “Juarez”; “Ocean to Ocean,” one of three cuts performed from the new record, which shimmered with Philip Glass-like piano arpeggios; the vampy, slinky interplay between the three musicians on “Mother Revolution”; and unexpected fan favorite “Spring Haze.” Amos, overall, is varying up the set list quite a bit less than is her norm, so it was one of the few surprises of the evening.
The lengths of several of the songs were drawn out considerably. At times — “A Sorta Fairytale,” the aforementioned “Revolution” — that worked well and gave the band time to languidly jam. At other points, it felt a bit self-indulgent and even slightly boring — as on “Sweet Sangria” and “Liquid Diamonds.”
“Russia,” a bonus cut from the last album, sounded just how it did when Amos performed it here in 2017, but took on added resonance because of current events. Closing line “Is Stalin on your shoulder” was chilling.
Overall, the show — lighting, pacing, everything — largely worked. The sound mix, which fans have said has been muddy at some venues recently on the tour, was pristine. Pacing only lagged a few times in some of the mid-tempo cuts from later albums, but just when you felt some were zoning — the flow of those entering and exiting is a good barometer — Amos whipped things back together with a fan favorite like “Past the Mission” or “Spring Haze.”
It all came to a satisfying, audience-friendly climax with “Cornflake Girl,” then the two encore cuts, “Precious Things” and “Tear in Your Hand,” both from the first album.
Vocally, the range was there and sounded lovely, but the oomph was considerably held back. Vocal preservation for the many dates ahead? Probably. It’s understandable. Amos, at 58, may lack the stamina she had 20 years ago, but it did feel underwhelming in passages that in years past would have been full on, balls out like the “Bliss” bridge or the “nine-inch nails” passage from “Precious Things.”
Not one acknowledgment or mention by Amos of the female folk duo openers Companion. I’d have invited them out for a few numbers to sing BGVs. I mean, heck, they’re in the house, why not? And other than the welcome, a brief soliloquy on Mother’s Day was the only Amos comment of the entire night.
Still Amos never came off as aloof. She seemed genuinely excited to be playing live again and the queer-heavy crowd responded in kind.
Dance festival to feature electronic music acts
DJ Diplo, Martin Garrix, Alan Walker and Meduza entertain
Insomniac and Club Glow will host the inaugural edition of the Project GLOW music festival on Saturday, April 30 and Sunday, May 1 at the RFK Festival Grounds.
This festival will feature internationally acclaimed top electronic music acts such as DJ Diplo, Martin Garrix, Alan Walker and Meduza among many others. There will also be three curated stages of music, food and beverage offerings.
Project GLOW will platform its homegrown nonprofits GOODProjects and DC Vote. To Write Love On Her Arms, a nonprofit movement dedicated to presenting hope and finding help for people struggling with depression, addiction, self-injury, and suicide, will also offer their resources to those in need during the festival.
For more information, visit the festival’s website.
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
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.
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.
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