A few minutes after the appointed time, the phone rings. "Hi, it's Melissa," the distinctive, raspy voice casually says.
Melissa Etheridge, that is -- songwriter and rock star for the past two decades, breast cancer survivor and mother to four children from 11 to 18-month-old twins. She apologizes for calling a little late from her home in Los Angeles. A consummate performer in front of a crowd, Etheridge is equally down to earth offstage. In short, she's a woman with her priorities very much in line.
In concert: 8 p.m. Friday
Place: Blaisdell Concert Hall
Tickets: $35 to $100
Call: (877) 750-4400 or visit ticketmaster.com
Thanks to a private corporate gig on Maui this week, Etheridge decided to start her tour -- which doesn't officially begin until June, when her children get out of school -- Friday night in Honolulu. "It's expensive for us to get everyone and everything over there," she said. "But since somebody else is paying for it, we thought we'd visit our Hawaii fans and friends and do a pre-tour show." The bonus? A short family vacation in the islands.
A four-day Hawaii travel package around her public concert sold out quickly, fueled by her loyal followers and the fact that Etheridge hasn't performed here in about five years. Despite her significant fan base, Etheridge said she hasn't "often been the critic's choice for anything. I think I've appealed to a certain emotional element in people. I sing in this sort of powerful, bluesy, rock 'n' roll style, not in the mainstream. ... I've always been on the outside, which is actually fine with me."
Still, she seems pleased that "The Awakening," her latest studio release -- and her first since she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2004 -- hit No. 20 on Rolling Stone's list of the top 50 albums of 2007, a definite acknowledgment from critics. "Hopefully I've learned and grown as a writer," said the 46-year-old. "And those who scrutinize the music, maybe they've come to enjoy it."
Fans are bound to hear a mix of old and new during her 2008 concert tour. "Now the set list has kind of become my life story, and I sort of arrange the songs as such," she said. It's sure to include numbers from the new album, which Etheridge refuses to categorize. "It's all the musical influences of my life, from pop to rock, blues, R&B, soul and gospel. It's also my own version of my personal story of coming to California and getting fame and fortune, and realizing that it's not what it's set up to be ... and sort of finding my own path after that."
BUT THERE'S more to the story than that. Though she was discovered in gay bars, she didn't come out to the public until 1993. "The way it freed me was amazing," said Etheridge, who points out that her album sales rose from under a million to more than 6 million when she announced she was a lesbian. "When you speak the truth ... the universe just opens up."
Perhaps the most powerful influence on her songwriting of late has been her battle with breast cancer. "There's nothing like coming face to face with your own mortality to give you a clear, focused perception," she said. "I'd never been a very religious woman, but I've come to be quite a spiritual human being. I feel very called to write about this, and to produce music that is inspiring me."
Cancer-free for three years, she conducts her life differently now. This includes bringing a personal chef on the road with her to make sure she's eating the freshest foods. "I feel more healthy than I've ever been," she said. "That's because I've found balance in everything, from the food I eat to the people around me, the work I do, everything. And that's what health is. I think cancer comes when you're out of balance."
She also sees a direct connection between this journey and her work for the environment via Al Gore and the Nobel Peace Prize concert last year. "When you go through something like cancer, you start to realize that health involves the food that you eat, the water that you drink. ... We are all connected to the earth. If we're not taking care of the earth, we're not taking care of ourselves. You can't do one without the other. It's part of the awakening of our whole human species."