It should come as no surprise that rock ’n’ roll icon Melissa Etheridge would want to be so hands-on for her latest album, “4th Street Feeling.”
After fighting cancer and fighting for gay rights, all the while playing music, she is definitely a take-charge kind of woman.
Etheridge brings her love of music and life to Wolf Trap on Tuesday, along with tunes from her new album.
“I went in with these songs,” Etheridge said. “I was feeling more confident as a guitar player, playing all of the guitars for the first time, stepping up and playing reed and believing in myself — playing the harmonica more and kind of becoming more of a presence on the album than I had before.
“The songs range from — I mean, they’re all rock ‘n’ roll and I thought they had an edge of looking back, of reminiscence and that’s why I called it ‘4th Street Feeling,’ because 4th Street was the street in my hometown that we used to cruise up and down on.”
Etheridge has numerous awards, double-platinum albums and plenty of success. Still, the singer/songwriter said she thought fame would seem different.
“Well, it didn’t look like this when I thought about it back then,” Etheridge said. “I certainly had the dream of, ‘I’m going to be rich and famous! I’m going to be a rock star! And I’m never going to have any problems!’ You have this funny dream of what it looks like and now, being here and having done it for 25 years and seeing the other side and all around it, it’s better. It is more rich and delightful — rich as in enriching — delightful and delicious than I ever thought it could be.”
Along those lines, Etheridge has spent years performing in front of sold-out crowds. That’s the fun part, she said. The bad part is all the traveling.
“... Probably one of the greatest feelings in the world is actually being on stage,” Etheridge said. “It’s the reward for everything. ... Traveling … that’s the work part, actually getting from here to there. Man, once you’re on stage, that moment, there’s nothing like getting huge applause before you even step on stage. It’s just like ‘Good friends, here we are, let’s do this again.’ I love it. I’m honored to do it.”
Don’t think for a second that the road is getting to be too much for Etheridge. Even though it’s tough, she said she doesn’t think she’d ever be able to stop doing what she loves.
“I’ve told everyone, I’ve said, ‘If you ever hear me saying I’m going to retire, just come up and slap me because it’s not true,’” Etheridge said. “It’s so not true. I love doing it and I hope I never … I might slow down where I might only go out every few months. I imagine when I’m about 70, I’ll be like, ‘Oh, I don’t know if I want to go out.’ But then I look at, what’s his name, Mick Jagger and everybody and I’m saying, ‘Come on! As long as they can do it, I can do it!’”
When she’s not singing, performing, writing new songs or on the road, Etheridge spends her time doing a syndicated radio show, some acting on Broadway (she was in the Green Day musical “American Idiot”) and, most importantly to her, charity work.
Etheridge has been a champion for advocating for gay rights and the fight against cancer.
“These causes come from me,” Etheridge said. “They are my causes because they affect me directly. … Back in the early ’90s, I was big into AIDS supporting and that was something that didn’t affect me directly, yet it was in my community. And gay rights is because I’m gay and I’m fighting for my rights. Cancer survivor, so breast cancer was big …
“It’s because these things touch me and make a huge difference in my life I can speak truthfully about them and I feel that I can stand up and say, ‘Hey, I believe this. I feel this, deeply.’”
Being a staunch supporter of gay rights, Etheridge said she was happy to hear about Maryland passing a marriage equality law. Overall, she hopes more people become aware of the lives laws like these impact.
“I think that’s the biggest challenge to us, not only as a nation but as a world,” Etheridge said. “We must begin to accept our diversity and it’s a big change that’s coming inside of us. The gay movement is sort of forcing that and leading that in demanding that our Constitution, our government, that this great nation — the Constitution that this great nation was built on … a government by the people, for the people for the pursuit of happiness … it didn’t say ‘Except for those homos,’ you know?
“It means everybody, whatever color, whatever loving preference they have, whatever religion. It’s not easy, but it is the only answer and they knew that over 200 years ago. That’s why they created it. They couldn’t foresee the issues, but they knew that that was the divine right of man, of humans, was to be who they are.”
Nine years have passed since Etheridge was declared cancer-free. Since then, she’s gone on to make changes in her life for the better.
“I am healthier than I’ve ever been,” Etheridge said. “I’ve changed my life, I’ve changed my diet. That’s very, very important ... what we eat and what we put in our bodies. And stress. Those two things are the things that will make me sick. So I give much time and attention to making sure that I’m well fed, you know, whole foods and with as little stress as I can.”
In the end, though, it comes back to music and Etheridge’s pursuit of giving fans and audiences a memorable and pleasurable experience.
“I hope [my music is] a place where they can listen to it and have an emotional experience,” Etheridge said. “Make it be one of those songs that means something in the fabric of their life and in their memories and when they hear it, it takes them back to something special that they remember or someone special. Music is like that for us … and I’m honored to be part of people’s musical fabric.”