The anticipation to showtime start revealed hints of anxiousness. It was apparent individual concert tickets, outside of the festival package, were purchased to solely see the last Saturday act on the lawn of Aptos Village Park this fabulously typical California-coastal summer evening. The park-feel became something different than what it was all day. The Gold Circle was full-up with many new fresh faces, more-than-ready to send and receive. A majority chose to stand at the foot of the stage. There was no buffer between lawn-to-stage and star, two-time GRAMMY Award-winning and Academy Award-winning artist Melissa Etheridge, the other sister of soul.
With a solid wait to commencement time, Etheridge came at us, not quite supercilious, but before our own minds could think to coin her as an unpunctual ‘diva’. Turns out, the wait allowed us time to take in our changed surroundings and properly feel the energy that is M.E. She impudently sang “Hold On I’m Coming”.
Oh Melissa, thank you for taking the stage. You totally got it from here.
She’s sassy in a soulful way, as she purrs ‘Santa Cruz’, asking if we are ready for some soul? With an unmistakable sound that feels stronger than anything I’ve ever heard from her in the past, she shrieks the soul she’s explored, hers. And hands out a one-way ticket to board the Memphis train. EVERYONE jumps on.
Her band is comprised of lively horns, enigmatic drums, a baby face on the piano, sexy-man bass guitar, three engaging & soulful female backup singers who actively interact with the crowd willing to transmit their smile if you feel so inclined to receive. The band totally rounds her out, carrying their own soul, as a band should.
Longevity is one word to describe her music career, successful would be another. She’s earned 15 GRAMMY Award-nominations, winning 2, and an Oscar for best song “I Need to Wake Up” from Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth.
Reminiscent of my own sister, Melissa is one woman who stays true to herself and what she believes. She doesn’t give a flying *F* about what other people think of her. And I totally respect that. The world needs these bold people. In her position and of her stature, she has influence. She seems to understand her responsibility with this. From displaying the REALness of the fight with a ‘bout’ of cancer showcasing her bald head at the 2005 GRAMMY’s, to promoting her cannabis-infused wine (partnering with Santa Cruz’s Greenway Compassionate Relief), Melissa marches to the sound of her own beat. In doing this, she makes a difference. Her fan base proves this. It’s easy to feel hope in the presence of her fans.
Melissa knows a thing or two about the industry. She satiates her musical desires by diving into the vaults of Stax Records, recording her latest album, obviating the need to dive into the archives. Music started somewhere. Exploration of this deep ALIVE history AND experimentation with it provides solid FOUNDATION. This exploration and experimentation seems a different journey for each of the artists I witnessed this day - this is why I am in love with the current progression of “the Blues.”
She remains relevant and pays tribute to Gregg Allman during her set, the news of his passing received earlier in the day;
‘Santa Cruz, the blues rock community lost a giant today. I met Gregg Allman a few times. I met him back in 1988 when I was just a young pup. He was so nice to me. After I told him I was not available … he didn’t know, but I was still flattered. The man could sing. The man was inspired by the great soul music that came out of the south. Him and his brother made such great music; I was born and raised on that music, The ‘Allman Brothers’. I used to sit in my room, with my big Koss headphones and I’d put on ‘Eat a Peach’ and I’d listen to it all day long. Let’s send him on his way, (she waves to the sky) Thank you Gregg! Thank you for all the soul. Thank you for all the rock & roll.’
Then proceeding into “One Way Out”. Nice choice.
It is a super long rendition, one that was clearly ‘on the fly’. Her desire to connect is apparent; she tries to channel Gregg through the guitar. After an effort, she vocalizes, “I wish I had a slide”. She proceeds to tell one more tale of her and Gregg, reminiscing of the moment a photo was taken of her looking at his tattoo… Fans in front point to the slide being walked in from stage left. Someone in front of me says, “There’s your slide mama!”. She can play a mean slide. It was a tribute; to help him go out the door. She ends it with an intentful solo-repeat of “Lord it just a might be your man.” Gregg Allman is the man.
And Melissa Etheridge is the woman. She put on a show, and according to fan Mark Cunningham, “Her encore was over the top and the festival highlight.” Santa Cruz is forever changed by her influence.
Melissa Etheridge Concert Review by Elizabeth Lauer – Santa Cruz American Music Festival 2017 at Aptos Village Park in Aptos, California
Melissa Etheridge photo credit Elizabeth Lauer