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Couple’s love of soccer leads to Washington Spirit investment

Scurry, Zizos on their unique personal and business partnership

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Chryssa Zizos, gay news, Washington Blade

Chryssa Zizos and Briana Scurry are new investors in the Washington Spirit. (Photo courtesy the couple)

Briana Scurry’s goalkeeper abilities are legendary in women’s professional soccer. She is a two-time Olympic Gold Medalist, FIFA Women’s World Cup Champion and was a member of the United States Women’s National Soccer Team for 15 years. She was the only core team member who was African American and the only African-American player who was out.

Scurry suffered a career-ending concussion in an April 2010 hit playing for the Washington Freedom. The next three years of her life would be spent trying to receive recovery care through a worker’s compensation case. During those years, Scurry experienced depression, physical pain, and struggles maintaining steady employment. She finally received surgery at the end of 2013 to remove pea-size balls of damaged tissue from the back of her head.

Enter Chryssa Zizos, the founder of Live Wire Strategic Communications. An award-winning local PR firm that specializes in media relations, training programs, video production, and social media.

Together, they began the rebranding journey of Bri Scurry. What started as a business partnership would evolve into a life partnership. Scurry returned to her pro team, now the Washington Spirit, as an assistant coach and technical adviser for the Spirit Academy youth programs. Zizos would lead the Live Wire relationship with the Washington Spirit. The pair married in 2018.

Last month, D.C.’s National Women’s Soccer League team, the Washington Spirit, announced a new group of investors that includes Scurry, Zizos, Chelsea Clinton, Jenna Bush Hager and Dominique Dawes along with a diverse group of other individuals.

The Washington Blade sat down with Scurry and Zizos to catch up on the new venture.

Chryssa Zizos and Briana Scurry with their children. (Photo courtesy the couple)

Washington Blade: I would like to start by hearing what is occupying Bri’s time these days.

Briana Scurry: I am in the process of writing a book right now, but my main job from day to day is keynote speaking. I am speaking on concussion awareness and diversity leadership, essentially keynotes for corporations, organizations, universities, and other groups. I was in a movie last fall in Atlanta called “High Expectations,” which will be coming out either at the end of this year or early next year. There is also a documentary coming up and now we are investors for the Washington Spirit. There is a lot going on and it is not all soccer.

Blade: And how did the two of you meet?

Chryssa Zizos: A mutual friend of ours introduced us. Naomi and her wife Fran own TomboyX, which is an intimate apparel company for the LGBTQ community. I was the first investor in TomboyX outside of friends and family. One night at dinner they were telling me about Bri’s career and concussion and said, “is there any way that you could help her raise her profile in regards to the concussion?” Bri and I connected, and Live Wire took Bri on as a client. We worked together for many months and then over time, we became a little bit interested in each other. We were percolating (laughter).

Blade: All right, Bri, did you know that you were percolating?

Scurry: I did. I mean, I was in a really bad place though. My concussion saga is well-documented and at the time I was really struggling, psychologically and emotionally. The insurance company was blocking me at every turn to try to get the care I needed, and we figured that it would be a good idea to try to put some heat on them. That is when Naomi and Fran talked to Chryssa. I was very vulnerable, and I was very open about how bad things were. And I’ve been open ever since, I talk about it quite a bit. Chryssa was just such an amazing listener and she just was really making things happen for me and then things started to grow from there. I was in therapy for my concussion for over a year and was just in a state of trying to get healthy.

Zizos: We went to the FIFA Women’s World Cup in Vancouver in 2015 and Bri did the Today show and we met Joe Biden when he was vice president. We just had the best time together and after we came home is when I introduced Bri to the kids. We have been together ever since.

Blade: Making your own magic at the World Cup. Very nice.

Scurry: Exactly.

Zizos: It was really important for me to take things slow and steady because I have two kids. I wanted to make sure that before I even mentioned Bri’s name, that it was something I felt really strongly about.

Blade: The actual courtship was three years before you were married?

Scurry: Yes, June 2018.

Blade: And Bri, you were working with the Spirit during those years?

Scurry: Yes. I was reintroduced to the Spirit when I moved back to the area. I was starting my journey, getting back from my concussion. We talked to Bill Lynch who was the owner of the Spirit at the time. And I clearly wasn’t quite ready to do all of that yet, but I was on my way and so we just wanted to touch base with him and then in 2018 is when I became the assistant coach.

Blade: Did you leave the D.C. area after the concussion and then come back?

Scurry: That’s a great question. So the concussion occurred in the WPS league and that’s when the Washington Freedom was the team. When they moved to Florida I went down to become the general manager of the MagicJack team, which was the new ownership. Then I lived in New Jersey for several years until I moved back here to be closer to my medical care.

Blade: There is a lot of crossover between the two of you, even beyond the initial connection. After you became a couple, how did that evolve?

Zizos: It’s been very interesting. I manage Bri’s career, Live Wire does all of her PR and we’re married. I am obviously very emotionally involved in it, so she has her own publicist at Live Wire, Patrick Renegar. As we go out and seek opportunities for her, Patrick is always involved in it and then I do all of the negotiating. It’s been really nice.

Scurry: Live Wire and Chryssa have done amazing things for me. I am so far along with my relevance in the space, my concussion rollout and becoming an advocate, along with my work in the LGBTQ community, in leadership and with the Women’s National Soccer Team. I was featured in the Hall of Fame in the African American museum.

Blade: Yes! The Game Changers exhibit at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture. I watched the video rollout of you walking past Muhammad Ali, Arthur Ashe, Venus and Serena Williams. That must have been overwhelming.

Scurry: It’s very humbling. If you’ve been to the Smithsonian, it is so intense there, and to be seen as someone who helped my community, my people, my race, to elevate through my work. Chryssa handled all of that negotiation. She has been so instrumental. I’m so much further along in a place in my life now that I never thought I’d be, even better than before when I played, to be honest with you. I am so much happier. I have such greater depth and I have purpose deeper than I had before. And a lot of it is because of what she’s been able to do. It’s really helpful that we are able to separate our relationship as each other’s wives with the business side, because it is difficult a lot of times for people to do both. She mapped out how we would do it methodically, going through all the evolutions and recreation of me. Now I’m doing movies. All this stuff I never thought I would do.

Zizos: And it’s helped Live Wire too. I mean, having Bri as a client, all of our clients love that we’re married. I started Live Wire 23 years ago and I was afraid to tell anybody I was even gay when I first started the company. And now when I’m introducing myself, I always say, “And I’m married to…” It’s an ice breaker and it’s fun. Now that we’re investors in the Washington Spirit we’ll be bringing clients to all the games. It’s really helped both of our careers in a very positive way. I also feel like from our perspective, we spend a lot of time talking about our work together and I love it. Bri was on MSNBC this morning doing an interview and then we played it back and I was media training her afterwards.

Blade: Does that mean you’re the task master?

Zizos: Yeah.

Scurry: It’s interesting I don’t know if this is because I would be able to just mentally compartmentalize things in my whole life, but I don’t take what she says in the defensive posture. It’s not my wife telling me at that moment. It’s my manager telling me, and that’s her specialty. It’s media and messaging. And she’s like, “Bri you did a great job, but what if you had done this?” And I’m like, “Oh, well, that’s brilliant.” Of course, the next time I’ll incorporate it, which is part of my ability to be coachable, and also for her that I’m coachable, that I’m willing to receive her input. She is the expert.

Blade: Let’s hear something outside of work and media and rebranding. What else have you connected on as people, as wives?

Zizos: Well, we love to travel. We got married in Saint Lucia and Jade mountain is one of our favorite places to visit. We own a beautiful home in Alexandria and we just built a pool. Almost every night when I get home from work, Bri is here and she has a bottle of wine open, and she has Pandora playing. Bri’s the sous, she does the craft for all the food. Then I get home and we start cooking. I try to get home by six every night and then by eight o’clock we’re having a gourmet meal together. We love to have friends over. Many of our friends are in the business, so either clients or former clients or associates.

Scurry: Or former players or teammates.

Blade: Let’s talk about your new roles as Washington Spirit investors. You both already had a relationship with the team, and here we are again with something that weaves the two of you together. It’s been great to watch celebrities and different types of people get involved in sports franchises, but it always feels like they’re just there in name. This feels different for some reason.

Zizos: It is.

Blade: What do you expect your role to be beyond the fact that people now know you are investors?

Zizos: Bri has individual roles that she can tell you about. I have individual roles and then we have roles together.

Scurry: For me, this is an amazing opportunity because it helps me come full circle. I went from someone who played in a league to someone who coached in the league and now I’m in an investor group for the same team. The fact that I’m able to do it with my wife makes it that much more amazing for me. And it’s something that I’m really looking forward to. My experience as being a pro and somebody who could maybe mentor, which I’m doing with Spirit player Trinity Rodman. When they get back from Florida, working with her and the players and helping them become better pros, but also with the community. I want the DMV community to get to know the team and become part of the fabric of what the Washington Spirit is and to help us connect the two. I think that’s my two main roles. I think with the investor group, all of us have expertise in a certain area. And the cool thing, like you said, is that it’s not just about the money, it’s about the contribution of the skill set to the team as well.

Zizos: And then from my perspective, Live Wire is working with the Spirit. We did the investor group roll out with their internal team. It was a very coordinated, strategic effort. We’re working on a couple of different projects and we just produced a video. We might be producing, hopefully a second one. And then together, Bri and I are the hostesses of the investor suite on game day. On game day, Bri and I will be welcoming all the investors and sponsors in the suite at Audi Field.

Blade: On every game day?

Zizos: Every game day. We’ll be welcoming the other investors, playing matchmaker and introducing them to each other as well as the sponsors. And then Bri will have MC responsibilities on game day.

Blade: What is the MC role?

Scurry: When a game ends, the MC talks to the fans and says, thank you for coming and please come next time. That kind of thing, just chatting with the fans that way.

Blade: You mentioned hosting other investors. Do they have an obligation to attend games?

Zizos: No. But I’ve had many conversations with the investors, and I know a lot of them are planning on being there. In fact, Assia Grazioli Venier, who we just had breakfast with on Thursday morning, she’s flying here from LA for every home game. One of the beautiful things that Steve Baldwin did with this was, he picked people that didn’t want to just invest money but wanted to play a role. Every investor is bringing opportunity to the table for the club, which I think is really special. So it’s not just a PR play here. I mean, everyone who’s an investor is really, truly not only financially, but emotionally and physically invested in the team.

Blade: Do you feel like there are still things to be healed from the bad press related to Bill Lynch?

Zizos: I think it’s time to move on and time to move forward. And there’s so many good things that the team is doing. And Bill is a really good guy. We’ve known Bill for years. I adore him. I trust him. I like him. Did I say I respect him? Because I really respect him. And I consider him a personal friend of ours.

Scurry: Yeah, I like Bill too, and I really love what Steve Baldwin has done. He came on in 2019 and revolutionized the team and brought it up a level of professionalism that it needed. And now this investor group was just born out of COVID essentially. He’s really done some great things to elevate the team to new levels.

Blade: The Washington Spirit is leaving the Maryland SoccerPlex in Boyds for Audi Field and Segra Field. Thoughts?

Scurry: I think it’s time to bring the team home to all the DMV. Audi Field is going to be way more central for everyone and it makes it a lot fairer. I think that the soccer community out in Boyds, all the teams that play there are more than welcome to continue to support the team in any way they can. And I think it’s important.

Zizos: Washington, D.C. is a power city. We have some serious power players on our team and now we have power investors on the team. It’s a very powerful movement. Washington, D.C. is welcoming the team and Audi Field is going to be a fantastic place. I think that it demonstrates the excitement that this city has for this team.

Scurry: Also, the thing I loved about Boyds was the intimacy, but we couldn’t hold over 5,000 fans. It wasn’t possible. And if you’re going to really elevate the team to a new level and have it not only be a big sports team in D.C., but also, internationally potentially, you really need a bigger stadium.

Blade: Did the investor group happen fast, or have you been sitting on this information for a while?

Scurry: So we started talking to Bill and Steve before 2019. We were already connected with the team at that point, but then the investor group idea, I think really started to come into fruition during the pandemic. I think the seeds of it were starting before, because Steve had built that momentum from 2019 and he was going to try to broaden the diversity and also the interest in involvement in the team with more people. And then the pandemic just kind of slammed it. But then that allowed him to be able to really transform the idea and move it forward. I feel like it accelerated it.

Zizos: I mean, they came to our house, both Bill and Steve together and individually many times to speak. Three times?

Scurry: Yeah.

Zizos: Three times to speak with us and we were the first to commit and write the check. I think that created some positive momentum and excitement and I think they were really excited to have Bri.

Blade: Where do you see yourselves in five years with this project?

Scurry: Oh, wow. That’s a great question. I really feel like the team can become an internationally known property at a level that’s been not seen before.

Zizos: I think five years is probably aggressive, but 10 years I think is on the horizon. It’s going to be phenomenal. And I think we’re going to make a lot of money on this investment.

Blade: Good, that’s the best answer yet.

Zizos: I just love what we’re doing together. We’re doing some really cool things professionally together, and we have an amazing family too. My kids, her step-kids, call Bri their bonus mom. One is 18 and she’s going to Duke next year. The other is 14 and he’ll be a freshman in high school next year.

Scurry: They are awesome.

Blade: This has been a great conversation. You are both amazing role models for so many different communities.

Scurry: Thank you.

Zizos: Thanks.

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

Wesley Combs marks six months in new role

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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