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‘Drag Race’ season 11 champ Yvie on her tour, sisters, adventures, love life and more

Oddly and arch rival Silky now close as ‘sister

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Yvie Oddly, gay news, Washington Blade
Yvie Oddly says life has been insane — but in a good way — since winning ‘Drag Race’ this year. (Photo by Marco Orando)

‘RuPaul’s Drag Race: Werq the World Tour’

Sunday, Oct. 27

8 p.m.

The Anthem

901 Wharf St., S.W.

$52-62

ticketmaster.com

Yvie Oddly with RuPaul at the season finale where she was named America’s Next Drag Superstar. (Screen capture via VH1 broadcast)

Boasting three season winners (Aquaria, Violet Chachki and Yvie Oddly), the 2019 “RuPaul’s Drag Race: Werq the World Tour” features one of the stronger lineups the franchise has ever launched.

Hosted by Michelle Visage, a “Drag Race” legend in her own right at the judge’s table, the show features “mission leader” Asia O’Hara on a journey to save the universe with the help of Detox, Monet Exchange, Naomi Smalls, Plastique, Kameron Michaels and Vanessa “Vanjie” Mateo. The tour comes to Washington Sunday night.

Yvie (aka Jovan Bridges), the 26-year-old 2019/season 11 “Drag Race” champ, unleashed her throaty trademark cackle liberally during a phone interview last week from Williamsville, N.Y. Her comments have been slightly edited for length.

WASHINGTON BLADE: How’s the tour going so far?

YVIE ODDLY: It’s really fun. It’s definitely been a challenge just trying to adapt my drag to a whole other thing on a crazy, massive scale, but I feel like I finally got the swing of things and it’s just a stellar show. It’s so much fun to be a part of. I love the girls, I love the people we work with and they feed me well (laughs).

BLADE: Any queens from other seasons you didn’t know before you’ve bonded with?

YVIE: Well, basically the whole cast. Up to this point, I’d only had the pleasure of working with Vanjie and Plastique so it’s been really cool to get one-on-one tme and hang out with a lot of the girls. I’d say the people I’ve probably gotten to know the best so far would be, like Naomi is really cool. I never would have imagined being friends with a pair of legs (laughs). I’ve also gotten along really well with Detox so far. I’m enjoying this experience.

BLADE: You’re also touring with two past season winners. Is there any unspoken deference to you three from the other girls?

YVIE: I mean I’d like to think that I could probably get away with more shit if I wanted to (laughs). Uh, but no. It really does just feel like all of the girls, as much as the competition is the thing that elevated our careers to this point and in a way brought us all together, that’s all behind us know and we’re just working queens all in the same field, all trying to make a living.

BLADE: What’s the drama meter like on tour vs. on the show? I’m sure you’re gonna say you’re all getting along great but c’mon — it’s drag, there has to be some drama right?

YVIE: It literally has been like zero. Sorry to be the wet blanket. There’s something about being in a competition environment and not having anybody you can talk to at home, not having a phone and being put in isolation that really will just rattle up the most human emotions out of everybody. When you’re in that environment, it’s super volatile at points, but on tour, we’re all just working queens. There literally hasn’t been almost anything.

BLADE: There was some controversy earlier this year when Monet X Change was fired from the “Haters Roast: the Shady Tour” after she bailed one of the dates to accept an offer from Madonna. How has this tour promoter (Voss) been like to work with for you and what would you do if Madonna called you to be ditch the tour to be in one of her videos?

YVIE: I love working with Voss. They’ve been producing things for a very long time and have the capability to put on some of the craziest, biggest shows and spectacles and they just treat me nice, they treat me well, that’s why I’m here. The Madonna video, that depends, is she asking me?

BLADE: Sorry, this is just hypothetical.

YVIE: Well that’s why I love working with Voss. I would never have to leave a tour to work on a Madonna video. They want my career to be as beautiful and blossoming as possible so they’d figure out a way to make it work.

BLADE: Did anything jump out at you watching your season on TV vs. how it felt in the moment?

YVIE: No. I typically have a pretty good idea of what’s going on around me at all moments (laughs). So literally the only thing that was surprising was hearing the other girl’s confessionals. That’s the only thing I wasn’t in the room for.

BLADE: You were quite abrasive at times. You said you were trying to be helpful but some were offended. Do you regret any of it?

YVIE: I don’t care whether or not I came across as abrasive. It’s something that many people value and many people don’t and that’s all on their plates. I just wanted to live authentically especially when I saw how inauthentic others were being and if it’s abrasive to tell the truth in a world that’s more comfortable telling lies outright then so be it, let me be that abrasive bitch.

BLADE: What was it like performing at Pride in Denver (your home town) fresh off your win in June?

YVIE: That was actually unimaginable. It felt like coming home from war. I know that’s a really intense comparison, but I had worked so hard to get on “Drag Race” to get my career to that point and I never thought, there’s one part of me that never really thought about what it would feel like to win or to lose or what any of it would feel like regardless. So after it all hit, so coming back home after making my city proud and being only the second person from Denver on the show I felt like what I imagine sports teams feel like when they win their championships (laughs).

BLADE: Are you still based in Denver?

YVIE: Yes I am.

BLADE: Do you plan to stay or are you considering moving to one of the coasts?

YVIE: I’m not moving to one of the coasts … at least as it stands right now, I really like the idea of being home when I’m home so if I’m only ever home for short amounts of time, then Denver is where I want to be.

BLADE: Overall what’s life been like since you won?

YVIE: It’s been like I’ve died and been reborn a thousands times. It really has. Not only am I trying so many different things that never thought I would try but I wake up literally in a different city every day, meet a whole bunch of new people every day and just have some of the most insane experiences, so I feel like since getting on “Drag Race” and definitely since airing and 100 percent since winning, I feel like every day is a crazy-ass rebirth (laughs).

BLADE: I’m trying to think how to ask this diplomatically: you have so much insane flexibility in your performances. Does that come in handy in your, um, romantic life or is it just for stage?

YVIE: (laughs) Unfortunately not. You know that whole adage about ladies in the street vs. in the sheets? I’m a freak on the streets and a blouse in the sheets.

BLADE: Your lip sync against Brooke Lynn Hytes in episode eight was so mind-bogglingly epic. What was it like in the moment? Did you realize she was really turning it out as well? And how did you feel when you found out you were both saved?

YVIE: I definitely was hyper focused on delivering the best performance I could, so while I didn’t necessarily see Brooke Lynn during any of our lip sync except for maybe one split second here or there, there’s something to be said about the energy of going and fighting for your chance to stay and fighting for your chance to continue being seen that just flips a switch on in you and Brooke Lynn up until that point was already the fiercest competitor around and the one person I really didn’t want to have to lip sync against, so when both of us were called for the bottom, I could just feel the energy going full throttle. I could feel Brooke Lynn fighting to stay too and I knew I had to put up a damn good fight if I wanted to be there beside her. That being said, I feel like the fans sometimes get into this mindset, like, “Oh it’s obviously going to be a double save” or, “These things are predictable,” to them but when we were there on that stage, I never even considered like the possibility of a double save. I just considered was I good enough to beat her, was I good enough to secure my place in this competition, and if not, am I ready to pack my bags? So getting called at the same time felt like some strange act of God, like some weird miracle, like, “Oh yeah, by the way, this doesn’t ever happen but merry Christmas.”

BLADE: How are you and Silky now? That was such a “Drag Race” rivalry for the ages.

YVIE: I mean Silky is probably one of the girls I’m closer to from the show just ‘cause we did go through so much shit with each other in the experience itself and then having to watch the fans relive that in a way, so even though I only ever get to see her occasionally, she’s my sister.

BLADE: You drew a lot of ire for your selfie policy. Sorry if I missed some of it, but was it more about you being exhausted after a show or did you not think it was fair to be taking a bunch of selfies after a show to the people who had paid for the meet and greet?

YVIE: My thinking on it is that I didn’t want people to be selfish for me. It was always about the fact that regardless of whether it’s for money or for my body or for whatever reason, if somebody says no, you just have to be respectful of that and I was getting so many people who started to get to a really creepy, unsettling level when I would tell them no. They would follow me back to my hotel room, they would like be berating me because they felt they deserved something for having watched me on TV (laughs). It’s just not how I feel. So when I made the initial tweets, it was out of frustration of people not listening to that. It was mostly because I’m tired, I’m fucking exhausted after a show, and people would rather believe it’s about money or it’s about me being some spoiled diva who wants all the fame fortune and none of the work that goes into it when really I never wanted fame and fortune, I wanted to be an artist and I feel like that’s who fans appreciate and respect. I’ve had plenty of people who love the hugs I’ve ben giving out (laughs) in place of bullshit selfies, which will just fade away into a timeline of, “Look at me and vaidate my life.”

BLADE: Bianca del Rio …. (cuts off; Bianca criticized Yvie’s policy)

YVIE: That grumpy old bitch. Whatever. That’s why I was shocked. I wasn’t shocked by fans being upset by what I said but I was shocked when she and a few other queens kind of jumped on the bandwagon because they chose to believe the most (inaudible) part about it and being a part of “Drag Race,” there’s always a deeper level that not everybody is going to read into or will even want to read into sympathetically and being like, “This life is hard.” She turns down photos with fans as well, instead of being, “Life is hard, sometime it’s OK to say no,” she was like this spoiled bitch who doesn’t want to take any photos but wants fame and fortune and she wants your money. So good on her, she can give as much terrible life advice as she wants.

BLADE: You said on the show because of your (genetic connective tissue disorder) condition you won’t be able to do drag forever. Any idea how long you might have for this? And what would you be doing if not drag?

YVIE: If I wasn’t doing drag, I’d still be creating. I was an artist before I found the medium of drag and I’ll be an artist afterwards. I have to create to survive, that’s just how I feel, the only way that I feel like I’m living my life authentically so I have had to think about that and remind myself that even if I can’t do things the way I’m doing them now, there is always a future, however I don’t have a timeline. … It’s just some days my body is there for me and some days it’s not and I know that if I keep doing drag the way I do it right now, there’s going to be a lot more of those not days.

BLADE: How long did it take to film season 11? 

YVIE: It’s like a regular filming schedule, Monday-Friday, all hours of the day. I honestly don’t remember how long I was there for the whole time. I know it takes a few days to film an episode.

BLADE: Did you feel pressed for time during the competition?

YVIE: No. Only during the time challenges when they make it quite apparent how little you have of anything.

BLADE: Have you been watching “Drag Race U.K.”?

YVIE: Yes I have.

BLADE: Any thoughts or favorites?

YVIE: Um, it’s too early for me to call favorites, especially since what their queens offer is such a different dynamic from what we’ve seen in the U.S. seasons. However I’m just in love with some of the camp and wit that goes into their drag. I love a stupid bitch.

BLADE: It was announced you were gonna have your own World of Wonder show. When can we look for that?

YVIE: It’s actually called “Yvie’s Odd School” and it’s already out on the World of Wonder plus app. I think we’re like four episodes deep. Go check it out.

BLADE: You’ve released several singles. Would you like to establish a long-running music career?

YVIE: I mean it’s something I’d never considered prior to “Drag Race” but I’ve really enjoyed exploring it so it’s definitely one of the routes I’d like to take artistically.

BLADE: Had you auditioned before you got on “Drag Race”?

YVIE: It was my third time. The old third time’s the charm thing.

BLADE: Who was your favorite celebrity guest judge?

YVIE: Either Elvira — because she’s like everything, or Troye Sivan, because he saw my penis.

BLADE: Was that on the show? I don’t remember that.

YVIE: I think he said it on “Untucked.”

BLADE: Hmmmm, how did that happen? You weren’t shy about parading it around.

YVIE: I mean, it wasn’t a parade necessarily. I only had a certain amount of time to get my whole body pink and I didn’t have time when you’re under those constraints, you just don’t have time for decency or shyness (laughs). I guess he was just watching through one of those mirrors or something.

One of Yvie’s memorable season 11 looks. (Screen capture via VH1 broadcast)

BLADE: Are you just naturally super thin or do you work out and watch your diet?

YVIE: I mean I live a super active lifestyle and always have. Way more active than honestly I probably should be. But I eat like crap (laughs) and my only exercise is drag

BLADE: Are you seeing anybody? What’s it like trying to date when you’re on the road so much?

YVIE: I actually have been dating the same guy since literally the week before our show started airing. I feel like I’ve been lucky because I’ve gotten to enter a relationship in the unique context of he didn’t know me before, so he doesn’t have any claims to my previous identity or what I was like before “Drag Race” and he didn’t come to know me through the medium or through the time when I was on TV, so he like never had any like fan girl moment or anything, he was there with me fright from the beginning, so it’s been magical to kind of get to know somebody authentically as myself and just ride this whole experience with him. To answer your second part, yes, it’s super hard.

BLADE: Does he live in Denver?

YVIE: That’s what makes it even harder. He moved to Boston to go to law school like right when I left for tour. I will be seeing him shortly.

BLADE: Is his name out there publicly?

YVIE: I mean, I’m not ashamed of him, but I don’t want to put him on blast like that.

BLADE: Thanks and good luck with the tour and your other endeavors, this was fun.

YVIE: Thank you darling. 

Yvie Oddly (Photo by Marco Orlando)
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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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