Etheridge makes her way to Foellinger
Grammy winner slated to stop by Foellinger on One Way Out Tour
Melissa Etheridge has a distinct voice, and she’s making good use of it.
The two-time Grammy winner has sold more than 25 million albums, with the latest being last year’s One Way Out, which is sure to be featured during her stop at Foellinger Theatre on Aug. 2.
Along with album sales, the raspy-voiced singer-songwriter has won an Oscar and become a key figure in the LGBTQ+ community, while also becoming an activist for the environment and mental health. Although she is a devoted advocate for causes close to her, which has included setting up her own foundation to explore opioid addiction therapies, she says her shows are all about the music.
“I’m an artist that doesn’t preach from the stage at all,” she recently told Whatzup during a phone interview while she was in Switzerland during a European tour. “I always say my words don’t teach anyway, it’s my actions. I really try to live a life that can maybe help people understand things that they don’t understand. Most of all, I think music brings us together: That’s what they buy the ticket for, and that’s what I’m there for.”
Hitting the road
After wrapping up that European tour, Etheridge got a little break before playing at FloydFest in Floyd, Virginia, kicking off a span of 19 shows in 26 days.
“I’ve been pretty much a road warrior my entire life, but we’re definitely making up a lot of shows (missed during the pandemic),” the 61-year-old said. “There were a lot of shows that were scheduled that we’re making up for. But after not playing for a year-and-a-half, almost two years, I’m really glad to be out.”
During that span of shows, the Kansas native will get reacquainted with the Midwest, particularly Indiana and Ohio, where she has five shows scheduled, including Fishers and Elkhart, as well as Fort Wayne.
“Those are my people, my Midwestern people,” she laughed. “We love rock n’ roll, and we love playing there.”
Catching her big break
While she might be a Midwestern girl, it took a move to Los Angeles to get her career going, although she paid her dues. Like many singer-songwriters, playing the bar scene doesn’t allow much time for original songs, as crowds prefer covers. Instead of getting down about the situation, Etheridge took advantage.
“I learned so much from playing other people’s songs,” she said. “I learned how to write a song, what makes a good song, what people love, and I was able to make my craft better because of it.”
The bar scene ultimately paid off. While playing at a women’s bar in Pasadena, a local soccer team would stop by, and on one of those visits in 1986, a coach’s husband, Island Records founder Chris Blackwell, joined them, changing Etheridge’s life.
“He saw me, and he was the manager for the first 30 years of my career,” she said.
It’s those kind of moments that leads Etheridge to advise young musicians to treat every gig importantly.
“You never know who is out there,” she said. “That’s what I would do every single time, I would be like, ‘Today, that person is in the audience that knows somebody that knows somebody.’ That’s all it is. If you get people liking your music, they’re gonna tell other people. That’s how it works.”
Garnering awards, acclaim
Blackwell signed Etheridge to a three-album deal, beginning with 1988’s self-titled record, which was a critical success and contained the Grammy-nominated “Bring Me Some Water.” Brave and Crazy followed in 1989 with two more Grammy-nominated songs, “Brave and Crazy” and “The Angels.”
Following three Grammy nominations, Etheridge broke through and took home the trophy with “Ain’t It Heavy” from 1992’s Never Enough.
With a Grammy already in hand, her career really took off with 1993’s Yes I Am, which featured the Grammy-winning single “Come To My Window” and the Grammy-nominated “I’m the Only One.”
“I used to have a joke with my old manager, that we would pop that bottle of Champagne when we got ‘there,’ and we never got ‘there,’ because ‘there’ just keeps changing,” she said of reaching new levels of success. “At this point in my life, I have realized that, you know what, it’s not about the ‘there’ places, it’s not about the numbers, or the awards or anything, it’s the journey to it. That’s the fun. It’s like, ‘Well, I’m still on this journey. I’m making music, I’m singing, so all right, I’m successful.’ ”
And journey has plenty of curves, as she confesses she has no idea what songs she writes will resonate with listeners.
“I wish I knew the formula for a hit song,” she said. “I almost didn’t put ‘Come To My Window’ on the album. None of us know what a hit song is, at all.”
Etheridge has been releasing new material throughout the years, but on her latest effort, One Way Out, she actually went back in time, recording songs she had done in the late ’80s and early ’90s.
“I was thinking of doing a box set, but it didn’t come about,” she said. “In the meantime, I had come across all these older songs that I had sort of forgotten about, and was like, ‘Hey, these are good.’ So, I went in the studio and recorded them, and when I was approached last year by (my record label) BMG, they were like, ‘We’re looking for content.’ So, I said, ‘Hey, I have something,’ and they loved it. We put it out, and boy the fans loved it. I enjoyed doing it. It’s like discovering gold and being able to present it again.”
Along with the music, Etheridge may also be known as one of the earliest performers to come out as a lesbian, doing so during an inauguration party for Bill Clinton in 1993. What followed was her most successful album and a legion of devoted fans from the LGBTQ+ community.
“It’s a community very close to my heart,” she said. “We’ve certainly been through a lot together. It’s a community that cuts across all other communities. These days, it’s good to have communities. I’m really, really grateful: Especially in Indiana and Ohio, we want to show that love is love.”
When approached to help market the concert, Fort Wayne Pride was happy to help.
“Of course, we jumped at the chance to get involved, knowing how much she means to people in our community,” FW Pride Executive Director Nikki Fultz said. “We are excited to be a partner in bringing a queer icon to our city!”