My 200th Melissa Etheridge Show!
Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner? (by Melissa fan Rhondda Ashby)
*THUD* WHAT?! Minutes before the Murphys CA show started, Melissa’s partner, Linda Wallem, asked me something that took my breath away. Blood rushed into my ears. Did I just faint? Was I dreaming?
(Melissa, Rhondda & Linda share a meal backstage)
The story of my journey to my 200th Melissa Etheridge show begins with my first show in September 1994 at the San Jose Event Center.
I would have seen her the year before at Neil Young’s annual Bridge School Benefit Concert in Mountain View, CA in November 1993, but I was working in Washington DC at the same time. My brother told me that Melissa stole the show so I was bummed that I had missed her. I had been a fan since the first album but hadn’t gotten around to seeing her in concert yet so when her SJ Event Center show was announced, I knew I wouldn’t miss her again.
To this day almost exactly 19 years later, I can still remember the rush of exhilaration I felt hearing Melissa sing live for the first time and the reaction of the audience. About 2/3 of the way through the show, several audience members on the floor started running towards the stage. I had never seen a stage rush before to the best of my memory so that took me by surprise. The roar of the audience was at a decidedly higher pitch than what I usually heard at a concert. We had such a good time at the concert that we even hung out by the stage door after the concert and waved at Melissa’s bus as it pulled out of the parking lot. I had never done that before either!
Needless to say, I was hooked from the start. That show led to me joining an Etheridge internet mailing list in April 1995 where I’ve met many of my current friends over the years, and going to my second Melissa show at the end of the Yes I Am tour in May 1995. Then I saw Melissa perform 3 Janis Joplin songs with Big Brother & the Holding Company at a surprise gig in San Francisco in June 1996. A few months later in October 1996, I spotted a couple of posts on the Etheridge internet mailing list requesting fellow fans to share driving chores around the West Coast and attend 8 shows (plus the Tonight Show) at the end of her Your Little Secret tour in December 1996. Before I knew it, I joined M.E.I.N. (the Melissa Etheridge Information Network), and Tim, a guy known as the German Super Fan, Jiblet, a female law school student, and me, a litigation paralegal, planned to share driving and expenses without ever having met in person before. Now there’s blind trust…or insanity, the temporary kind.
Tim, Jib and I drove approximately 4,000 miles in less than two weeks seeing eight West Coast shows from Spokane to Los Angeles. We experienced 29° F weather and snow in Spokane and t-shirt weather in the desert outside Phoenix. We affectionately dubbed it the “You Can Sleep While I Drive” tour; a song from the wrong album but the sentiment was dead on. I suffered through my first bout of post-Melissa Concert Depression at the end of our epic journey. I had never driven so much in such a short amount of time before nor had I ever seen so many shows of one artist all at once.
Over the years, I attended more and more shows. I met more people on line, in line and at the shows. I started to travel internationally eventually seeing Melissa in London, Duesseldorf, Berlin, Brussels, Utrecht, Oslo and in many cities in Canada. And in Amsterdam, always in Amsterdam. You haven’t seen Melissa until you’ve witnessed her perform in Amsterdam. Her shows there are at such a different level that it’s really not fair to the rest of the world.
It took me just over 13 years to reach 100 shows. Somehow the second 100 took just under six years to reach. Where did the time go?
Anyway, fast forward to this year’s tour. I had reached 186 shows through the end of 2012. Normally, going to 14 shows in one year would be no problem but I had a couple of strikes against me this time: Melissa didn’t start her 2013 tour until June, and due to having to work, I could only find 12 shows that I could attend (without getting fired from my job, that is). My usual m.o. is to attend as many “Western US” shows as I can especially those that fall on or near weekends. There were two shows that would have automatically been on my schedule but they conflicted with work obligations: Santa Fe NM and Chandler AZ. I was now stuck at 198 shows.
In Milwaukee in July, we talked to both Melissa and Linda at the stage door before the show. Linda said she’d swing by our seats to say hi to us before the show. About 10 minutes before show time, Linda stopped by to chat and take photos with those who wanted them. I mentioned to her that I was two shows short of reaching 200 shows this year. I had hoped that Melissa would fill in some additional dates in the weekends between the Murphys CA show and the Pacific Northwest shows in Vancouver and Tulalip WA but I had also heard her touring schedule was complete. Damn, I guess I’d have to wait until next year.
Less than two weeks after the Milwaukee show, my work schedule settled opening up an opportunity to squeeze two more shows into my tour schedule. Right away, I bought Santa Fe NM and Chandler AZ tickets. On August 1st, I tweeted the news about reaching my new 200th show milestone and tagged Melissa on my tweet.
On August 2nd, I went to the Murphys CA show with my friend Camille. Linda swung by our seats a few minutes before show time. She said that she heard my 200th show was coming up and then said, “I’m here to deliver a message.” “Oh, really?” I replied raising my eyebrows knowing full well that she meant it was coming from Melissa. Then, the world stopped spinning for a minute…
“How would you like to have dinner with Melissa and me before the show?” * THUD * That sound you just heard was me fainting dead away. WHAT?!
“Oh, my God! I would love to!” I managed to squeak out before giving Linda another hug. And another hug. Oh, and probably another hug…it’s all a blur. My mind was spinning.
I then asked if I could bring a friend with me throwing a thumb in Camille’s direction. I had asked Camille earlier before Linda arrived if she’d consider going to the show since I’d like to have one of my best friends there to celebrate my 200th. I told Linda that I had been trying to convince Camille to go with me. Linda replied, “Well, if it’s her, no problem. We love Camille!” Linda said that we could come to sound check, too, before dinner.
(Rhondda & Camille backstage in front of the "Star Room")
We didn’t have much time to absorb the news because the Murphys show quickly started. Melissa had tweeted earlier that she was going to play a longer set at this show, and it absolutely rocked. As the second encore, she even pulled out a sloppy yet very fun cover of AC/DC’s “You Shook Me All Night Long” that I hadn’t seen her do since my second show at Shoreline Amphitheatre back in May 1995. The Murphys show ended up being one of the longest shows of the tour, if not the longest, at 2:42.
I did text the news to a couple of friends and told some friends the news in person a couple of days later, but I decided not to post anything specific on social media. I also decided not to talk about it too much for my own sanity so I could manage to be a functioning adult in my real life without dissolving into a sloppy mess babbling incoherently, “OMG, I’M GOING TO HAVE DINNER WITH MELISSA AND LINDA BEFORE THE CHANDLER SHOW!”
Day of the Chandler Show
I flew in the morning of the Chandler show and met Camille and we headed off to the casino. While we were waiting for our room to be ready, Melissa tweeted me and Camille: .…@RhoAsh @Camille_Tovar I gotta say...I am impressed. I hope 200 is awesome. -- Melissa Etheridge @speak_true
Then just as we were checking into the hotel just after 3 pm, Melissa tweeted several of us this tidbit: …@RhoAsh @Anitajo24 @jiblet @TimDunker I remember it well! Rhondda you have lasted longer than most of my relationships!!! -- Melissa Etheridge @speak_true
Oh, my God, how hilarious!
(Rhondda & Linda @ soundcheck)
Camille and I headed up to our room to get ready quickly and get back to the venue. We were escorted into the venue and given our passes. I had seen Melissa perform at Ovations Live in 2011 and 2012 so I was familiar with its layout.
I noticed Linda walking in over to our right so we stopped to greet her and give her hugs. Melissa and I said hi to each other excitedly as I walked down to the stage. As I sat down in the front row in between Linda and Camille, she asked, “Would you like to hear ‘The Heart of a Woman’ or ‘Company’?” “‘Company’!” I responded immediately. After we sat down, Linda said that she and Melissa were calling our dinner “the d-dinner” in my honor (due to the odd Welsh spelling of my name). I laughed and told her I loved the name of our d-dinner.
I’ve been to a few sound checks before but this was probably the longest session I’ve attended. Melissa and the band practiced parts of “Company,” concentrating mostly on the intro and outro sections, several times because it was new to Mike (guitarist). She doesn’t sing with her full voice at the sound check saving that for the concert later that night but the band is at full power. They don’t always do the full song but often they do parts of songs several times. It’s great to see Melissa interact with the band and get a sense of their process.
Melissa and the band also practiced “The Different,” “Precious Pain” and “An Unexpected Rain.” She asked me if I’d like to hear “Precious Pain” or “No Souvenirs,” and it took me about a millisecond to yell out “Precious Pain.” “I thought so,” Melissa replied. She also did “An Unexpected Rain.” I think she did a full version of this one, too, but I can’t remember. A lot of this is an absolute blur…
I’m not sure how long the sound check was (approximately 45 minutes or so), but we were informed that dinner was ready. Linda, Camille and I walked into the hallway to the room that was set up for the 4 of us; it was absolutely spectacular. The room was actually a small ballroom with plenty of room for us. We could have had the whole crew in there.
There was a beautiful round table for our dinner and another table with faux candles and music softly playing near the door. Melissa and Linda entered the room soon, and we greeted them with hugs. I wondered, “Where should we sit?” Melissa replied, “Wherever!”
I sat down at the nearest chair to the door, Melissa sat to my right and Camille sat across from me. Linda ran off to switch her sandals out for socks and shoes because she was cold. I told Melissa how special this dinner was and thanked her for having us.
You know, I’ve talked to Melissa quite a bit over the years, but aside from my 100th show meet and greet in Hollywood, FL and Camille’s 100th show meet and greet in Friant, CA, our conversations have mostly been in 5-10 minute snippets. It’s tough to have an in-depth conversation with anyone in 5-10 minute snippets much less a busy rock star. Now here I am sitting next to one of my favorite musicians getting ready to break bread for the first time with her, Linda and Camille before my 200th show, and it felt like this was the most normal thing in the world. Really.
What do you talk about with Melissa Etheridge if given the chance? I guess it would be easier to ask what we didn’t talk about. Actually, I did jot down 4 things to ask her, and we managed to remember to ask 3 of them. Just like normal conversations, our discussion led to other tangents and other threads.
Melissa asked me if I still listened to her albums as a fan after seeing her live. I do listen to her albums but I also notice that when I see her live a lot and then go back to listening to her albums, that they don’t always sound right because Melissa changes things up live. Melissa mentioned that she’s best live but that she’s fine in the studio. I told her that I always tell non-fans that they need to see her live…and they need to see her in Amsterdam! Not that I have a one-track mind about Melissa performing in Amsterdam or anything.
I had attended the health talk that Melissa did in Rancho Mirage back in April, and Linda wondered if that was the only non-performing thing I had seen Melissa do. I’ve seen Melissa do a few non-performing appearances before. I mentioned how Camille and I had attended the Logo Forum in August 2007 (Democratic Presidential candidates). We reminisced about the post-“thrown under the bus” stare that Hillary had given Melissa at the Forum and how Obama was the only candidate to seek Melissa out before the event.
I also talked about growing up with music. I’m pretty sure that the Partridge Family album was my first album because I had it bad for David Cassidy. Linda mentioned loving Jesus Christ Superstar, and I piped up with Godspell. “Oh, I loved Godspell!” Melissa said. I said I liked Godspell better than Jesus Christ Superstar because it was more hippie-like and not constant singing. JCS was more like an operetta. I remember it kind of scared me as a kid (but I did love Yvonne Elliman). Linda talked about how they were good friends with Victor Garber, who played Jesus in Godspell; he had played a patient on Nurse Jackie. But we learned that Melissa and Victor had worked together on a short-lived show in the mid-80s called I Had Three Wives. Apparently, Melissa’s songs were clues to solving a mystery. This was before she had her record deal with Island.
I brought up that I noticed Melissa hadn’t been breaking as many strings on her Ovation as before, and I wondered if that was due to her changing out her guitars more or was it due to having different guitar techs or not playing them as hard. She had broken a string at one of the shows I’d seen this year and it reminded me that I hadn’t seen her do it in awhile. I’ve been at shows in the past where Melissa has broken 4 strings. Melissa said that it’s due to her monitor levels. Her current sound guy is setting her monitors at a certain level so she doesn’t play her guitars as hard.
Melissa described a meeting she had at her tour booking agency, CAA recently with the power gay men and women in the entertainment industry and a few Russian LGBT activists about what they can do about the recent anti-gay law that was enacted in Russia. It sounds like they’re possibly planning a big concert in Russia with Madonna, Lady Gaga, Melissa and whoever else.
Linda asked us what our top three favorite venues to see Melissa at…Camille’s favorite venue is any where she’s in the front row. Good answer! Mine are the Paradiso in Amsterdam, of course, the Fillmore in San Francisco…and then I blanked out.
You know how you respond to a question but then think of a better response later? I do like Ovations Live in Chandler, which I did mention, but as my favorite? No. What I SHOULD have said goes back to an inside joke I had with some friends on the Etheridge internet list back in 1996/1997. After winning front row seats through KFOG for her 1996 Cow Palace show, the station then unexpectedly sent me her entire CD catalog, all autographed. This was a surprise as I didn’t know I had won this, too. I felt so lucky getting this extra prize that I joked with my friends that the next thing I’d get was a private concert from Melissa in my living room.
So, that’s my favorite venue: my living room. Yeah.
At one point we were talking about something and Linda piped up and said, “Hey, Happy 200th show!” A chocolate lava cake with 2 candles on it was brought in and everyone started singing “Happy 200th show” to the tune of HBD; Melissa went into a little bit of HBD, too - only about two months early for me. Wait until November, then she can sing that to me again for the big 5-0.
After a little over an hour, Melissa had to go get ready for the show. We took a bunch of photos and thanked Melissa and Linda for the experience. As we walked out, Melissa asked me what my favorite song was. I told her it was “Like The Way I Do.” Just like it has never failed Melissa, it has never failed me either. I told her that I had always loved it but that when I saw her for the first time, I didn’t know she did a 15 minute version of it. I also told her that I really liked how she had changed it up over the past year or so and pointed out her intricate solo work during the jam portion of the song.
(Linda, Rhondda, Melissa, Camille backstage in Chandler AZ)
While we were hanging out near our seats (Camille‘s seat was across the aisle in the second row from my front row seat), Linda stopped by to say hi. She said, “Melissa would like to play you a few songs from the box set after the show.” I snarked, “Oh, just twist my arm” as we both expressed excitement at getting to listen to Melissa’s music with her. Wow, how cool was that?
Melissa opened with “Your Little Secret” at this show rather than “Shout Now,” but she entered the stage in a similar fashion as she had done with “Shout Now”: head bent over, hair covering her face as she slowly approached the stage in my direction. She came right towards me and then flipped her hair back as she greeted the audience while playing YLS. Nice!
One of my favorite songs this tour has been “Chrome Plated Heart.” Luckily, she played it at every show I saw this summer. I’ve really been impressed with Melissa’s lead guitar work on this song; it’s really turned into a shredding showcase for her. She always gets a big response after playing it.
After CPH and just before going into “All American Girl,” Melissa greeted the crowd and started talking about this year’s tour. Melissa asked the audience who had seen her multiple times inquiring about those who’d seen her more than 5 times, 10 times, 20 times, 100 times as I raised my hands each time and ended with 200 times pointing at me. She introduced me and said that tonight was my 200th show. “She’s like my best friend,” Melissa said as I grinned back at her. I blew Melissa kisses and responded to her comments with “thank you’s!”
After the show, we were escorted backstage. We hung out in the production office until Melissa was ready. I noticed a sign on the door leading to Melissa’s green room that said “Star Room.” Neato.
We waited in the production office for about 10 minutes or so, and Linda popped her head in and told us to come in. We walked into Melissa’s dressing room, and Linda pointed to the two arm chairs over to the left and said, “We set up two thrones for you. You’re now in the Inner Sanctum.” Ooooooh, nice.
Melissa sat down across from us in another arm chair and told us that her crew set up her iPod with an external speaker so she could play some songs for us that might be on her upcoming box set. She played portions of these songs not the complete recordings. We were probably in her dressing room for about 30 minutes or so. Melissa often lip synched along to her songs as she was playing them for us, which was a hoot. She watched us for our reactions to her songs. I know it was incredible watching her play them for us. What an awesome opportunity!
Before she left Melissa autographed my “Like the Way I Do” UK 45 single sleeve and Camille gave her a photo of the two of them from the Gracie Awards back in May. Melissa autographed mine with, “Rhondda, Nobody loves me like the way you do!! Melissa Etheridge.” She autographed Camille’s photo with “Love you so, Melissa Etheridge”. How sweet! She’s awesome.
We hugged Melissa and Linda goodbye and wished them safe travels. I told them I’d see them in a few weeks at the Living Free event.
We decided to go back upstairs to reminisce about our experience. We sat out on our balcony in the warm night air and just shared how absolutely awesome that whole day was. The next morning, it still felt like a dream. Like did that really happen? I still had my photos and my pass and my memories so it all really did happen.
Thank you, Melissa, for your generosity and sharing your time at sound check, dinner and backstage with Camille with us. I don’t know if I’ll reach 300 or 400 shows but I know I’ll relish every one I’m lucky enough to attend.
After 7 countries, 27 states and countless cities all over the world, all I know is that even after 200 shows and about 40 special performances, that it’s still “Never Enough.” -- Rhondda Ashby