Melissa Etheridge gets it. She understands she needs to play the hits on tour. Las Vegas crowds, especially, respond to what is familiar.
“I feel blessed to have those hit songs, and I enjoy playing them every night,” says Etheridge, headlining the House of Blues at Mandalay Bay on Aug. 20. “It’s always a pleasure to see everyone with their fists in the air singing ‘I’m the Only One,’ and that’s fun.”
Etheridge then adjusts, according to the elements.
“Then I look at the place. What did I play the last time I was here?” Etheridge says. “I look at the venue, is it a sit-down venue? Are they going to stand up? Is there alcohol? Is this going to be a rowdy crowd? Is it a listening crowd?”
Etheridge could find all of those elements at the House of Blues.
Johnny Kats: Years ago you appeared on “Late Night With David Letterman,” one of his early anniversary shows. Paul Shaffer introduced you as “The ever-rocking Melissa Etheridge.” Since then, I’ve always thought of you that way and referred to you that way. The question is, is that OK with you?
Melissa Etheridge: Yes. (Laughs.) That’s good. I love that; that’s what I want. And even more so these days when rock ’n’ roll seems to be something of a novelty. That’s where I come from. That’s the energy I play with. That’s the kind of music I want to play.
What is your view on the state of the music industry right now?
Through the 2000s and 2010s I realized that there was a great shift, a great change happening in the music business. The record companies and radio stations who used to be the gatekeepers, and where you went to hear new music and old music, were slowly changing and losing their power to the internet. The younger generations are going to the internet to get their music. I have children, and they don’t know any radio station.
I hear that a lot, and it’s sort of unreal for us who grew up listening to music on radio stations, or even on MTV, then buying what we liked.
It’s just different, and what I realized is if I can stay in touch with my fans, and reach out to them directly, then I’m still there. I’m actually grateful that in 1994 I was one of the first artists to actually have a website and fan club on the internet. So, into the late ’90s I had a really strong internet presence and have maintained that and been able to stay connected with my fans through that. In the past 10-20 years I have been focused on the fans and sending them info, you know, my destination concerts. We’re doing one this year called Etheridge Island that’s coming up.
Recording a hit single isn’t even part of this equation, is it?
I don’t have to depend on a top-10 hit or something like that. That’s not what we rely on anymore. We just rely on making good music for people and providing a product that they like and want to come see live every time I come through town.
You were diagnosed with breast cancer in 2004. How are you feeling, generally, these days?
My physical health is very good. My mental health is very good. I love being on the road. Playing music keeps me sane and healthy. I’m feeling great.
Anything in the pipeline you want to put out there?
In October, I’m going to be on Broadway. Well off-Broadway. I’m doing my Broadway show off-Broadway first. We’re doing three weekends in October, or maybe a couple of weekends, I forget how many. But stay tuned to MelissaEtheridge.com. This is going to be a very different show.
Bruce Springsteen kind of broke through for rock stars to star in a one-person show on Broadway. Is yours anything like his?
It will be a one-woman show, and we all love Bruce, and he did that beautifully. What I’m doing is very theatrical. It will be my life story. And we’re looking to really “wow” people on how we do it.
John Katsilometes’ column runs daily in the A section. His “PodKats!” podcast can be found at reviewjournal.com/podcasts. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @johnnykats on Twitter, @JohnnyKats1 on Instagram.