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Pop culture countdown: Iconic and ignominious

A ‘Schock’-ing year for queer pop culture, from holiday rom-coms to COVID disruptions

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Hollywood was not immune to the COVID-19 pandemic, which caused studios to postpone major releases and to rethink how it does business. Here are the Blade’s top 10 stories in arts and entertainment for 2020.

10: Father knows best

Anderson Cooper and son Wyatt. (Photo via Instagram)

Out CNN anchor Anderson Cooper announced on the air April 30 that his son Wyatt Morgan was born on April 27.

“I am beyond happy,” he told People Magazine.

Cooper, 53, host of CNN’s “Anderson Cooper 360,” named the baby, born via a surrogate, after his father, Wyatt, who died when Cooper was 10 days old. Cooper’s mother was the late Gloria Vanderbilt, who died last year at 95.

Cooper, who finally came out in 2012 after years of speculation, plans to co-raise the baby with his ex, Benjamin Maisani, according to various sources. They broke up in 2018.

9: Pride goes global

Adam Lambert performs at Global Pride in June. (screen capture via live broadcast)

Stymied by COVID-19 restrictions on their usual events, Pride organizers around the world united for Global Pride, an online event on June 27 organized by InterPride and the European Pride Organizers Association.

Performers included Olivia Newton-John, Deborah Cox, Kristine W, Thelma Houston, Steve Grand, the Chicks and more. Manvendra Singh Gohil, a gay Indian prince, was among the speakers.

The theme was “exist, persist, resist” and about 57 million watched the 24-hour virtual event. Todrick Hall hosted. Adam Lambert performed “Mad World.”

8: Hardly Schock-ing

Aaron Schock, Steven Petrow, gay news, Washington Blade
Former Rep. Aaron Schock has come out as gay. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

After years of speculation, former U.S. Rep. Aaron Schock (R-Ill.), came out as gay and was not exactly welcomed into the LGBTQ world.

Schock, 39, was elected to Congress at age 27 in 2008 and was once seen as a rising star in the GOP. He resigned in 2015 amid criticism for lavish spending including a redecorating effort of his Capitol Hill office. He was indicted by a federal grand jury in 2016 on 24 counts including wire fraud and theft of government funds but federal prosecutors reached an agreement in 2019 and charges were dropped. Schock vowed to pay back taxes and reimburse his campaign.

Schock, a gym rat almost as famous for his thirsty shirtless pics as his political career, came out in a March 5 blog on his website aschock.net that began simply “I am gay.” He maintains his innocence, said he regrets not coming out sooner but said he assumed his constituents knowing would “not go over well.”

“I also, in retrospect, realize that I was just looking for more excuses to buy time and avoid being the person I’ve always been,” he wrote.

He did not apologize for his anti-gay voting record which included votes against same-sex marriage and the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” He had a zero rating from HRC. He did say he’d support LGBT rights “in every way I could” if he were still in Congress.

Reaction was largely negative. Gays as varied as “Queer Eye’s” Jonathan Van Ness to Michelangelo Signorile called him out for hypocrisy.

7: Ho-hum Oscars

Elton John (left) with longtime collaborator Bernie Taupin at the Academy Awards. (Screen capture via ABC broadcast; courtesy AMPAS)

The 92nd Academy Awards were one of the last major events to unfold as usual before COVID restrictions kicked into high gear. Held Feb. 9 in Hollywood, it wasn’t a particularly strong year for LGBT themes. “Parasite” took the top prize and “Joker,” Joaquin Phoenix’s tour de force, had the most nominations. “1917,” “Ford v. Ferrari” and “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” also won multiple awards.

Of the 20 acting nominees, none were LGBT although two played LGBT characters. “Pain and Glory,” from out director Pedro Almodovar, snagged two nominations.

“If 2019’s record year of inclusion for LGBTQ and LGBTQ-themed nominees was a small step forward … then nominations for Oscar 2020 are a giant lap back,” wrote Blade critic John Paul King.

It was slightly gayer at the ceremony itself. Janelle Monae and Billy Porter performed in the opening. Elton John won Best Original Song with longtime collaborator Bernie Taupin for “(I‘m Gonna) Love Me Again,” from his biopic “Rocketman.”

6: Rom-com representation

Kristen Stewart (left) and Mackenzie Davis in ‘Happiest Season.’ (Photo courtesy Hulu); Blake Lee (left) and Ben Lewis in ‘The Christmas Setup.’ (Photo by Albert Camicioli, courtesy Lifetime)

We may have been largely a bust at the Oscars, but in other branches of filmdom, there were major surprises. The New York Times rounded up six holiday-themed gay rom-coms with out with LGBT characters.

Kristen Stewart and Mackenzie Davis starred in the Clea DuVall-helmed (DuVall is gay) lesbian coming-out comedy “Happiest Season,” which premiered on Hulu on Thanksgiving Day.

Brandon and Jake race to adopt a baby by Christmas in “The Christmas House” on the Hallmark channel. Real-life husbands Ben Lewis and Blake Lee star in “The Christmas Setup” on Lifetime, “Dashing in December” is a drama from Paramount about two men who fall in love on a ranch while Netflix has “A New York Christmas Wedding” with a bi woman in the lead and “I Hate New Year’s,” an on-demand lesbian romance set in Nashville.

Complete with same-sex kisses (!), the Times calls the deluge “a sea change for Christmas cinema, a conventionally heterosexual universe with more stories about puppies than gay people.”

5: Elliot’s new day

Elliot Page (Photo via Page’s Facebook page)

Elliot Page, a Canadian actor and producer known for roles in TV shows “Pit Pony,” “Trailer Park Boys,” “ReGenesis” as well as the 2005 film “Hard Candy,” came out as transgender last month.

He’d come out as a gay woman in February 2014. Page was nominated for an Oscar in 2008 for his role in “Juno” and is also the star of Netflix’s “The Umbrella Academy.”

“Hi friends, I want to share with you that I am trans, my pronouns are he/they and my name is Elliot. I feel lucky to be writing this. To be here. To have arrived at this place in my life. I feel overwhelming gratitude for the incredible people who have supported me along this journey,” he wrote.

4: Queer streaming galore

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Jim Parsons and Matt Bomer in ‘Boys in the Band.’ (Photo courtesy of Netflix)

Movie theaters were closed but that only pushed the streaming rage further into the forefront of the entertainment ecosystem. And if there was any gay angle to it, there’s a good chance Ryan Murphy was involved.

The full cast of the 2018 Broadway debut of Mart Crowley (who died in March at age 84) classic “The Boys in the Band” reunited for a film version that debuted on Netflix in late September. The Blade called it a strong adaptation that “preserved in full” the “strength and dignity” of the source material. Murphy produced.

The seven-episode miniseries “Hollywood” debuted in March on Netflix with Patti LuPone helming this saga about a group of aspiring actors in filmmakers in post-WWII Tinseltown. Several gay characters and themes abounded including nods to Scotty Bowers and Rock Hudson among others. It drew mixed reviews but 12 Emmy nominations. Janet Mock directed two episodes. Murphy directed just one but was creator, executive producer, and writer.

And in December came “The Prom,” a Murphy-directed musical comedy based on the 2018 Broadway musical with Meryl Streep, James Corden and Nicole Kidman about Broadway actors who head to Indiana to fight a ruling that a high school prom is being cancelled because one female student wanted to take a girl as her date. Chaos ensues.

The Blade called it a “frothy mix that exists on the thin line between camp and hokum.”

And one you may have missed (again, with Murphy involvement) is “A Secret Love,” a documentary about Terry Donahue and her partner Pat Henschel who finally go public and get married after keeping their relationship a secret from their families for six decades.

3: Epic catfight  

Joe Exotic showed the world he’s no shrinking violet. (Photo courtesy Netflix)

And then, of course, we had “Tiger King,” one of the increasingly rare shows that became a true cultural phenom.

The outrageous, seven-episode Netflix docuseries tells of zookeeper Joe Exotic (who sports a peroxide mullet) and his feud with Carole Baskin who accuses him of abusing and exploiting wild animals. Watched by 34.3 million people over its first 10 days of release, it’s been called “one of” Netflix’s most successful releases ever.

Adding to the color is Exotic’s unofficial same-sex throuplehood with Travis Maldonado and John Finlay and his relationship with future husband Dillon Passage.

He’s currently serving a 22-year prison sentence for, among other things, planning to have Baskin killed.

2: Cancel Ellen!

Ellen DeGeneres (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

“The Ellen DeGeneres Show” was the subject of an internal third-party investigation by Warner Media after reports that the long-running hit daytime talk show was a toxic workplace behind the scenes.

In the spring, Variety reported on alleged mistreatment of long-time crew members and in July BuzzFeed published a report alleging racism and intimidation.

After delaying her 18th-season opener, DeGeneres, 62, addressed the situation in her opening monologue on Sept. 21. “I learned that things happened here that never should have happened,” she said. “I take that very seriously and I want to say I am sorry to the people who were affected.”

She acknowledged being in a “position of privilege and power.” People magazine, citing an unnamed source, said her perfectionist tendencies “ can be difficult. … She is looking at herself to make changes.”

She vowed to “start a new chapter” with the show’s 270 employees, People reports.

Following the internal investigation, in August DeGeneres apologized to her employees via video conference and confirmed that three top producers were leaving the show. The crew applauded.

DeGeneres said in December she would be back after the holidays after testing positive for COVID-19.

1: COVID disrupts

There wasn’t a single facet of the entertainment industry spared the disruptions related to COVID-19 pandemic restrictions from drag queens to touring musicians to theater producers and performers to the entire movie and TV industry, which soon ran out of “in the can” content to air or stream.

Although the competition part of “RuPaul’s Drag Race” season 12 was already taped and airing, the reunion and finale were taped — and cleverly edited — via Zoom.

Queer artists as diverse as Billy Gilman, Melissa Etheridge and the Indigo Girls offered living room concerts. Some were free, others moved to a subscription model.

With movie theaters closed for much of the year, release dates were bumped. Box office revenue reached lows not seen in 20 years and Cineworld, the world’s second-largest chain, closed in October. Many films that had planned theatrical releases were streamed instead and the bodies that govern the Golden Globes and the Oscars have made eligibility allowances. Perhaps the most prominent film to be postponed was “Wonder Woman 1984,” which will stream Dec. 25 on HBO Max, the same day it hits theaters in a move that has outraged some in the industry.

Some production units formed set bubbles in which cast and crew, subject to daily temperature checks and frequent COVID tests, quarantine from the outside world during shooting.

Resuming was a necessity and not just so people have stuff to watch coming through the pipeline. Colleen Bell, executive director of the California Film Commission, told NBC News the industry supports 700,000 jobs in California alone that accounts for $16 billion in wages.

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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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