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Melissa Etheridge: not in Kansas anymore

Tom Durkin
Special to Prospector

Know & Go

WHO: The Center for the Arts presents

WHAT: This Is M.E. solo concert by Melissa Etheridge with Ed Masuga opening

WHERE: Grass Valley Veterans Building, 255 South Auburn St, Grass Valley

WHEN: 8 p.m. Friday

TICKETS: General admission $68 for Center of the Arts members; $78 for general public. available at the Center’s Box Office in person, by phone at 530-274-8384 ext. 14, online at http://www.thecenterforthearts.org or at BriarPatch Co-op.

INFO: http://www.thecenterforthearts.org

“It’s a great place to be from,” Melissa Etheridge laughed when asked about growing up in Kansas. She spoke with The Union in a telephone interview Aug. 29.

She was quick to add, “I have beautiful memories of my hometown. I think it’s a wonderful place. They even gave me a day.”

As depicted in “Behind the Music,” a VH-1 documentary, the town of Leavenworth honored the Grammy-winning rock star with a parade in 1994 for her generous donations to her high school and community.

Nevertheless, when she graduated from high school, she – as they say in Kansas – got the hell out of Dodge. She went to the prestigious Berklee School of Music in Boston but she dropped out after three semesters. She returned to Kansas long enough to earn money to buy a car, and moved to LA.

It took some hard years to get “discovered,” but when she was, the rest is rock’n’roll history: two Grammys, 15 nominations, an Oscar, a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, 13 original albums – and now, in concert at the Grass Valley Veterans Building Friday night.

“This Is M.E.” solo tour

“I’m so excited to show off my guitar playing,” Etheridge revealed. “I have learned so much in the last 10 years musically.”

She added, “I’ve really taken over the guitar. I want to be the lead guitar player – and now I am!”

Etheridge is bringing “about 10” of her “40 or 50 guitars” for this show, but her signature guitar has always been a beautiful 12-string instrument.

Actually, “I’ve had the same model forever, but I go through them every couple of years, because I beat them up so bad,” she admitted. “I just wear them out.”

Regardless of how many she’s beat up over the years, that guitar, literally, is her signature guitar: the Melissa Etheridge Signature 1598-MEII 12-String by Ovation.

“They (Ovation) made one with my specifications, and I’m just very grateful for it.”

Melissa and the looper

Friday’s concert “is a huge show for being a solo artist,” Etheridge noted. Aside from all the “guitars she’ll have on stage, she’s also bringing a sophisticated “looper.”

A looper is a device that allows Etheridge to create her own rhythm section in front of the audience. “It’s all created on stage, so I can have some layers [of backup music] to play to,” she explained.

Nevertheless, she called the show “intimate,” because it’s just her and her audience.

Although the tour is named after her 13th original album, “This is M.E.,” which is due out later this month, her fans won’t miss out on her classics. “I’ve been doing a new song a night … and stuff from the other 12 albums I’ve made.”

Opening for Etheridge will be self-taught guitarist/singer/songwriter Ed Masuga, who was suggested by Sara Zahn, a program associate at the Center for the Arts.

Opening for Etheridge is a one-off opportunity for Masuga.

“I okayed him for the opening act, but I’ve never met him,” Etheridge said. “I’m looking forward to meeting him.”

They have your back

This will be the first time Melissa Etheridge has performed in Grass Valley – and this is the first time concertgoers at the Vets Hall will have individual backrests and cushioned seats in the bleachers, said Julie Baker, executive director for the Center for the Arts.

“The plaques aren’t on yet, but the seatbacks are being installed right now,” she said last week. Each seatback was sponsored by a donor and will bear the name of a past or current veteran of the donor’s choice.

The Center may have your back, but they’re running out of seats in general admission. Premium tickets sold out a long time ago, Baker said.

The show was close to selling out, Baker said last week, but she urged last-minute concertgoers to give it a shot and show up at the door. Early.

Old enough, young enough

In a recent interview in The Salt Lake Tribune, Etheridge said, “I am old enough to be wise and young enough to be dangerous.”

Asked what that meant, she laughed again, and then got serious, giving just a hint of her social and political activism: “You know, I’m 53, and I have endured cancer, I’ve been through presidents, Republicans and Democrats. I’ve been through recessions. I’ve been through the crazy good times.”

Then she answered question: “I’m young enough still where I’m in prime health. I’m healthier than I’ve ever been – and I’m not afraid. There’re a whole lot of things I’m not afraid of, and I think that makes me dangerous.”

Tom Durkin is a freelance writer and photographer originally from Kansas. He can be contacted at tdurkin@vfr.net.

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