WASHINGTON — There’s just something about a roots rock vocal taking on a Christmas carol.
That’s what’s on tap this month as 15-time Grammy nominee Melissa Etheridge performs live at the historic Birchmere in Alexandria, Virginia, for three straight nights from Nov. 26 to 28.
“We’re rocking out,” Etheridge told WTOP. “I had a Christmas album out about 10 years ago, ‘Merry Christmas Baby,’ ‘Blue Christmas.’ … My favorite used to be ‘O Holy Night.’ … I rewrote the lyrics and made it this crazy, blistering guitar solo. It’s my favorite part. … You’ll also hear the hits, because you can’t have a Melissa Etheridge show without a little ‘I’m the Only One.'”
Etheridge has always loved the holidays because it brings out the best in humanity.
“I was raised in the Midwest where Christmas started right after Thanksgiving,” Etheridge said. “It was one of the times my family was really happy, so I really enjoyed Christmas. It’s a time we allow ourselves to start believing ‘peace on earth’ and ‘good will toward everybody.’ … I like that. The nights get darker and longer, and it’s a time for all of us to come together.”
Born in Leavenworth, Kansas, Etheridge learned guitar at an early age and studied at Berklee College of Music in Boston before moving to Los Angeles to play various underground clubs.
Her debut album “Melissa Etheridge” (1988) went platinum with the Grammy-nominated song “Bring Me Some Water,” while her second platinum album “Brave and Crazy” (1989) earned Grammy nods for “Brave and Crazy” and “The Angels.” She finally won her first Grammy for Female Rock Vocal Performance for “Ain’t it Heavy” off her third album “Never Enough” (1992).
“Before the big ‘Come to My Window’ song, it was just a straightforward rock song that is just about getting into your 30s and looking at life going, ‘Wow, sometimes I feel like whatever I’m doing is never enough.’ Survival is fine, but finding satisfaction is rough. It’s a good song.”
Her fourth album, “Yes I Am” (1993), was her most successful, going six-times platinum with such massive hits as the Grammy-nominated “I’m the Only One,” which topped the Adult Contemporary chart, hit No. 8 on the Billboard Hot 100 and No. 9 on the Adult Top 40.
“I made a commitment to get deeper into my rock ‘n roll roots,” Etheridge said. “I felt like I really needed to let people know I was a rock artist and I just went straight to the blues. … There’s nothing like that, the whole audience singing along, living it, it’s one of my favorites.”
The same album also brought arguably her most famous tune, “Come to My Window,” which won her second Grammy for Female Rock Vocal Performance. The song reached No. 4 on the Adult Contemporary chart, No. 25 on the Billboard Hot 100 and No. 27 on the Adult Top 40.
“I was touring Europe in the early ’90s and we didn’t have cellphones back then,” Etheridge said. “Any time you called from Europe it just cost enormous amounts of money. … Just trying to reach someone and communicate saying, ‘Maybe we can’t come through the front door, but come to my window. Try to figure it out.’ I almost didn’t put that song on the album, I thought it was kind of simple and I didn’t think people would relate to it, but boy was I wrong.”
Now a household name, her fifth album, “My Little Secret” (1995), went two-times platinum with another radio hit, “I Want to Come Over,” reaching No. 17 on the Adult Contemporary chart, No. 22 on the U.S. Mainstream Rock chart and No. 22 on the Billboard Hot 100.
“I might not have written that song had I known I was going to have children,” Etheridge said. “My daughter listens to that song and says, ‘Mom, you’re such a stalker!’ I’m like, ‘Yeah, I’m so not proud of it, but boy can a lot of people relate to that song.’ It’s a little scary.”
Her sixth album, “Breakdown” (1999), went gold with the Grammy-nominated hit “Angels Would Fall,” reaching No. 51 on the Billboard Hot 100 and No. 9 on the Adult Top 40.
“That’s about somebody who was in a relationship with a friend of mine, who I had a crush on,” Etheridge said. “That’s a recipe for disaster. The person never knew I wrote it about them, and the friend doesn’t know I wrote it about them, so it’s just my little private song.”
Her most recent Grammy nomination came in 2007 for her Oscar-winning activist song “I Need to Wake Up” from the climate change documentary “An Inconvenient Truth.” More recently, she played “Born to Run” at the 2016 Kennedy Center Honors for Bruce Springsteen.
“Ahh! Can you imagine singing ‘Born to Run,’ not only for the president, but for Springsteen?” Etheridge said. “He loved it. He’s such a sweetheart. He’s just an amazing human being.”
These days, she continues to make new music, while touring for special concerts like this.
“It’s a fun rock ‘n roll show where you’re gonna leave feeling better than you came,” she said.
Find more details on the Birchmere website. Hear our full chat with Melissa Etheridge below:
WTOP's Jason Fraley chats with Melissa Etheridge (Full Interview)