Melissa Etheridge has been taking her unforgettable husky voice and guitar on the road since her self-titled debut stormed onto the rock charts in 1988. So, preparing for a lengthy spring 2020 tour for her 15th effort, The Medicine Show, isn’t a big deal. Four or five quality outfits? Check. Workout shoes? Of course. Rice cooker? Long story, keep reading.
We’re not exactly sure what the Grammy and Oscar winner has planned on packing for The Melissa Etheridge Cruise on October 20 to 26, but whatever it is, you can bet it won’t be stuffy. No, this voyage, with stops to places like Key West and Ocho Rios, Jamaica, on the itinerary, promises to be informal, funny and filled with good music.
But before hopping onto to the proud Kansas native’s website to reserve your own ocean-view cabin aboard the Norwegian Pearl, read below as Etheridge discusses cruise details, career highlights, packing tips and the Forbes Travel Guide-rated restaurant she can’t get enough of.
I’ve been on my share of cruises, but I haven’t been on a Melissa Etheridge cruise.
This is a special cruise; it really is. I resisted for a long time the cruise thing. I was like, “No, no. That’s not rock ’n’ roll.” I just didn’t want to. And then, finally, I was convinced that I could do it my way. I had said, “Look, if I could do it my way, if I could have all the things I want, then maybe I’ll go.”
We’ve done it three times now, and it’s just gotten better and better. Obviously, the crowd is largely made up of women, but men are completely welcome. And they’re of all types: there’re gay, straight, everything in between. It’s not separated at all. It is very much welcome to everyone. And that is one thing that I want to very much emphasize. Yes, of course, there will be a lot of lesbians, but that’s the way we roll. But if you’ve ever been around a lot of lesbians, [you know that] we’re a lot of fun. It’s like swimming with dolphins — it’s quite a lot of fun!
And the music is the focus. Last year we had kind of a ’90s [feel with] Joan Osborne, Paula Cole and Shawn Colvin. This year, we kind of have a little younger, hipper thing with [indie band] Tegan and Sara and [comedian] Tig Notaro. I just love inviting fans and groups that I see in my travels, and artists that I really think would be fun to watch live. That’s what it’s about — the live music.
I’ll do different songs than I normally do because you know when I come to your town that might be the only time that you’re going to see me. So yeah, I’m going to do all the hits at every show I do. But on a boat full of people who are going to see at least two shows, if not more, on the boat, I’m going to do songs that I haven’t done in years.
We do a lot of fun things on the boat and, you know, the things that matter to me, like health. I went through breast cancer 15 years ago, and I am 15 years cancer-free now. It’s important to me that people know that there are things you can do to help your chances of not being sick. So, we really kind of sprinkle that in all the things [on the cruise].
And the one thing I’m so proud of is that people have said that they just feel good on the boat, that it’s welcoming.
Between shows, are you off by yourself or are you interacting with the guests?
My time is really scheduled, but I consider the whole seven days that I’m on the boat work. If I’m not doing a show, I’m introducing other artists. There’s [also] a meet-and-greet, where I meet everyone and take a picture with them. That’s a lot. That’s several hours.
We do schedule time off that my wife and I can sit on the deck and just chill. But I am a part of the cruise. I don’t hide. After a while, people get used to seeing me. The production company that does this [cruise] is called Sixthman. They know how to do a show like this really well. It’s a lot of work but we really do hyperserve the fans. It’s a lot of fun.
You’ve put in the work for decades to get to the point where you can headline a cruise. What are some of the things that you’ve done in your career that put the biggest smiles on your face?
When I look at being able to do a cruise, I know it’s because I put, first and foremost, my priority of being known as a live-entertainment act, to be known as someone that [makes fans say], “Oh, I have to see this before…” or “Oh, I’ve heard so much about how good this show is that I want to go see it.”
I’ve been able to survive what the music industry has gone through. No matter which record companies come and go, I can still go to a town, put on a show, touch people and they want to come back and see me. People see me multiple times. And that’s priceless to me.
I’m so blessed, so, so blessed — from performing with Bruce Springsteen, my idol, to [participating in] Woodstock ’94 to performing for the past four presidents. I haven’t performed for…well, actually, before [Donald Trump] was president, I performed for him, but I didn’t know he was in the audience. So, you know, just the opportunity to walk my life and make my choices and be the true person I am and still have a career, I’m just blessed.
The Medicine Show tour is coming up. What is the toughest part about being on the road?
The travel can be wearing, but that’s the challenge. My wife and I have gotten really good at cutting it down to me wearing four things. We’ve really gotten our clothing set.
Health becomes super important so we have a routine. We have workouts that we do. It’s a very scheduled routine thing, which we end up enjoying and we do very well.
We do love seeing new places. On days off, we’ll go to restaurants. We are quite foodies and we love to check out the female chefs in different cities and check out their food. We enjoy that.
Speaking of food, it appears that the tour is making a lot of stops on the East Coast and the South. Which cities stand out with really good restaurants?
[This tour] is a lot of New York City, Boston and New Jersey, and then we go South. Gosh, I’m trying to think. We’re big Tom Colicchio fans. When we’re in [Manhattan], Gramercy Tavern is probably our favorite restaurant in the city… Oh, I’m blanking. Just like when people ask me who I’m listening to, I can’t ever remember anything!
Do you bring a lot of healthy things with you on the road to eat or do you seek out restaurants with healthy menu items on them?
On my workdays, the routine sees us working out in the morning and then we have amenities riders at the hotels that ask for lemons, oat milk and avocados. We carry a little rice cooker that we make oatmeal in. We go through a couple [rice cookers] a tour because it’s a rough road.
So, every morning we have oatmeal with oat milk and probably have a little raw honey. That’s routine. Then we go to the gig and we have our catering there. But on our days off, we will do the oatmeal in the morning, but we love to find food in every town.
When you’re touring or on vacation, what are some things you pack — well, besides a rice cooker?
I learned to be very light with my carry-on. So, my carry-on is going to have my iPad, my headphones, a hat and scarf. Our bags are going to have clothes in one and then there’s another one that has the rice cooker, my workout shoes and [this workout tool] called a Hydrovolt. It’s a massager. It’s like a thumper massager.
You use that on your legs and back, right?
Yeah, yeah, yeah! That’s a big saver. Especially when you fly and stuff, [the sitting] can really mess up your hips and stuff. It’s about stretching all the time. And we have a roller.
What else do we bring? Oh, we also have a thing called a NormaTec, which are compression boots. I’m actually in one right now because we just worked out. It’s really, really good. I saw Lady Gaga tweet a picture of her in the boots and arm sleeves. It’s just this wonderful compression thing that, if you’re a traveler, I would highly recommend it. It’s a wonderful invention.
When you have some downtime, what do you like doing?
I love taking walks. I love going into the towns. I love finding your local stores, either your local coffeehouses or your local art areas [of town]. You know, every town sort of has one, especially these deep Midwestern towns like Omaha, Nebraska.
Omaha has a beautiful arts scene happening there. They’re really coming alive from the inside. Cleveland, Ohio, is really amazing. [We like] places that you would think, “Oh, who wants to go there?” I really try to get into a town, get to know people and just check out the flavor.