FAIRBANKS — While growing up in Leavenworth, Kansas, Melissa Etheridge listened to Kansas City radio station WHB, absorbing the music of Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett and soul tracks from the 1950s and ’60s. She listened to Sam and Dave’s “Hold On, I’m Comin’’’ over and over.
Her 2016 album “Memphis Rock and Soul” pays homage to the music she loved growing up, much of which was recorded at Stax Records in Memphis. Etheridge says when she’s writing songs, she often will reach for the feel of those old records.
“When I get the space to write a song, I sit down and say I’m going to create something that’s got this feeling like when Otis Redding sings ‘I’ve Been Loving You Too Long (to Stop Now,)” that feeling, that place in your gut that just gets you, that’s where I want to write from,” she said. “That’s kind of the inspiration. Or I want to sing in that high, sexy way, then I will pick up a guitar and play a rhythm and music and then just write to it.”
Etheridge’s soulful, smoky voice and deeply personal songs have kept her in the spotlight since her self-titled debut in 1988. Her first single, “Bring Me Some Water,” garnered a Grammy nomination. In 1993, she won a Grammy for the song “Ain’t it Heavy.” Two years later, her album “Yes I Am” went multiplatinum and launched her to megastardom on the heels of songs “I’m the Only One” and “Come to My Window,” the latter of which garnered a second Grammy Award.
Over her three decade career, Etheridge has been nominated for a Grammy 15 times. She also received an Academy Award for “I Need to Wake Up,” written for Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth.” Over that span, she has sold millions of albums and is a noted activist for gay and lesbian issues, climate change and legalizing marijuana.
On Saturday, Etheridge will kick off the Fairbanks Concert Association’s 70th season with a concert at Hering Auditorium. Anne Biberman, FCA’s executive director, is urging ticket-holders to show up early to join the birthday celebration in the lobby and enjoy food from local food trucks. The box office will open at 6 p.m., doors open at 7 p.m. and Etheridge will go on stage at 7:30 p.m.
“It’s a season of 10s,” Biberman said. “We really upped our budget this year to bring a lineup of big performances to Fairbanks.” In addition to Etheridge, the FCA season features Postmodern Jukebox; La Santa Cecilia (Grammy winners for best Latin Rock Album); Sweet Honey In the Rock; Ladysmith Black Mambazo; Squirrel Nut Zippers, the Wailin’ Jennys; and Pink Martini.
“Storm Large is already sold out,” Biberman said. “We broke subscription records for our 70-year history by August.” She said FCA plans to reconfigure the lobby and make lines to the will call windows easier to navigate. Season tickets are available at fairbanksconcert.org and a special birthday celebration is on tap for the Postmodern Jukebox show on Oct. 21.
“We have surprises coming up for every event this season ... I’m not saying what they are ... but we want people leaving all our shows saying, ‘I never saw that at a performance in Fairbanks,’” Biberman said.
This is Etheridge’s first visit to Interior Alaska, where she is planning to check out the local marijuana shops. A breast cancer survivor and advocate for medical marijuana, Etheridge said she applauds Alaskans for legalizing pot. Etheridge is well-known for coming out in 1993 and has been a strong advocate for gay and lesbian issues ever since. She said activism wasn’t exactly part of her early career plan, but she’s happy with how things have worked out.
“When I started, that wasn’t in my mind at all,” she said. “I just wanted to be a rock star. I just wanted to be rich and famous. That was the plan. That was the goal. And of course, thank goodness that’s not what it was. We can’t even imagine what life has to offer us as it unfolds every day. I’m so grateful for the beautiful meaning that these conflicts of who I am, my truth, brings so that I can do what artists do best, which is to take the human conflict and inspire and write about it. That’s made my career deeper and more meaningful.
“It means so much to me when people walk up to me and say thank you for my just being an example.”
Contact staff writer Julie Stricker at 459-7532.
If You Go
What: M.E. Live: Melissa Etheridge
When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 16
Where: Hering Auditorium