Singer-songwriter Melissa Ferrick will perform Saturday night at Club Cafe on Pittsburgh’s South Side. She has a new album out – The Truth Is – her 17th release in a 20 year a career. I was introduced to Ferrick in the early 2000’s by a friend who scoffed at my fondness for Melissa Etheridge and told me I should listen to the “other Melissa” – I was very struck by Ferrick’s fusion of alt country with what we often consider queer women’s music.
Ferrick is exactly one month older than me. I don’t know many queer women that close in age to me so I was very intrigued by her. But I’ve never been to a live performance.
We had the opportunity to talk with her in some detail about her work. As I did some prep for the interview, I discovered that Ferrick did perform at the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival this year. Our blog was a signator to the petition calling for a boycott of the Festival. She is also one of the few performers who was willing to go on the record about that decision. So I decided to ask her about it for this interview. She responded, simply asking me not to edit her response. I don’t agree with what she says, but I appreciate that she’s willing to have the conversation. Part of the petition we signed was a call to keep having this conversation with organizers, vendors and artists until the policy is changed. So when it is relevant to an interview, I’ll bring it up. I’m willing to promote a show if the artists is willing to answer the question publicly. It is unfortunate the even the length of this paragraph dominates the conversation, but I think valuing the lives of Trish, Jamie, Islan, Mia, Betty, Kandy, and all trans women is as vital to queer survival as art.
Tell me about your first visit to Pittsburgh and what resonates with you about our city? I have a lot of great memories of shows in Pittsburgh, and a couple old sweet ones. Certainly in 1996 when i was on tour with Del Amitri we played a show on the main strip there next door to a show Jeff Buckley was playing. That’s a bitter-sweet memory because that was the last time i ever saw and spoke to Jeff Buckley, he died in a terrible accident the next year. As well, i played a show at Club Cafe while on tour with Chris Whitley in 2005, he as well, would pass away later that year. So, Pittsburgh holds a special place in my heart.
Are there any Pittsburgh performers (based here or born here) that influence you? The only artists I am aware of that are from Pitts are Betty Davis and Christina Aguilara … both of whom i think are amazing.
Who was the first LGBTQ person that you met and how did they impact you? Hmm interesting question. My neighbors when I was a kid were partners, they were pretty instrumental in my formative years. They took me on vacation to Disney World which was awesome, they were travel agents. I had a teacher who was a lesbian, but not out who really helped me feel less alone in high school. She was brave enough to out herself to me which helped me a great deal. I guess the first famous out person i ever met was Ellen DeGenerous back in LA in 1993 i think, i went to a party at her house with my girlfriend at the time. It was at this party that i also met Rosie O’Donnell, kd Lang and Melissa Etheridge,…needless to say, it was a good party:)
From your new album “I Don’t Want You to Change” resonates with me quite a bit as an adult living with mental illness. I often get into a space where I think my partner wants me to be a different “cured” person which is all me, not her (we’ve been together for nearly 12 years.) Where did that song come from in your personal experiences? Thanks for saying that, I Don’t Want You To Change came as a song very quickly while i was in a co-write session with my colleague Scarlett Keys from Berklee College of Music. It’s one of the songs i pray for, a song that comes to me quickly almost perfectly from beginning to end. These are the moments that remind me songs come from “outside me” it is a magical experience to receive a song, a poem, a thought it’s in the molding and shaping it where the work comes in, and Scarlett and I were able to accomplish this with this song.
You’ve toured with Joe Stevens (Coyote Grace) who is performing in Pittsburgh in a benefit show for our LGBTQ Community Center later in September. Who else among the young crop of queer singersongwriters do you admire or would you like to perform with in the future? To whom should we be paying attention? Ria Mae out of Halifax is currently my favorite, i really like her.
You performed at the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival this year and went on the record with this quote to The Advocate “I believe boycotting should be a last-resort tool for activism when dealing with like-minded folks with whom you generally share political solidarity and a grassroots worldview.” What do you say to your fans and supporters who are being hurt by the policies of MichFest, especially in the wake of violent murders of so many trans women through the nation this summer? (Our blog officially signed the call to boycott through Equality Michigan and includes two trans female contributors.) **Note: Melissa responded with a statement that she asked me to publish without edits. I agreed.
“I believe boycotting Artists who are out hurts all of us in getting to a place where we are all protected and accepted. We need to show up for each-other, otherwise our numbers decrease and we have less power to instill change. Sociologically this is what tends to happen, minorities end up splintering themselves off by only concentrating on the differences within the population, rather than the similarities. If we all could take a minute to look at the big picture and realize we need ALL of us – the more we come together the louder our voice is, we need to find more common ground and concentrate on what we DO agree with. We should be supporting each-other, not boycotting each-other. If we can accept each-other we can become a powerful unified voice and with this we can create change. If we continue to separate ourselves by boycotting each-other we will ultimately destroy ourselves, this is what the “right wing” wants, us to destroy ourselves. I have hope that the LGBTQ community will see that separation within our community will only lead to less advancement of us all. We need to show up and support each-other, not fight each-other, and this means that we are going to disagree, like all families do, but we don’t bail on each-other, we don’t purposely hurt each-other, we work things out, we show up and agree to disagree and move on. We don’t boycott anyone based purely on the fact that one of us might not like the way another one of us wants to run a bar or a festival.
I don’t agree with everything all of my LGBTQ friends believe in, this doesn’t cause me to not go to their house’s or their wedding’s, or their music venue’s, i concentrate on what we have in common, like being OUT for instance, and i show up. I give of my time and talent when asked.
I believe there is room within the LGBTQ community for each of us. The struggles and discrimination i come up against in my personal day to day life as a woman, and as a lesbian is not less important than any other discrimination each of us comes up against. I want my community to have my back, and the only way i know to get this is to earn it, by showing up for all of us – not just the ones i completely agree with, because honestly i don’t think i completely agree with anyone about everything. Think about it, is there one person in the world with whom you completely agree with? Everything they think, feel and believe? If this is the baseline for who i allowed myself to hang out with, or support, or buy stuff from to exist on this planet, then i’m afraid I would be one very lonely, frustrated, hungry person. I do not want to live in a world where i feel more separate, i do enough of that on my own in my own head, my community lifts me up, brings me joy and feeds my soul. Let’s get back to celebrating our differences and basking in each-other’s achievements.”
The cover of your album “the truth is” is very striking to me. I immediately thought “Great Pinterest post.” How do you use social media to engage your fans? The image of the love seat was on purpose, as well it was a conscious decision to not have a picture of me at all on the cover, thanks for noticing it. Yes, i used a social Media Publicity company called Toolshed to help engage fans and spread the word via different online platforms. I worked directly with an amazing young man Peter Zimmerman, who also introduced me to Joan who would build my official website. They both continue to advise me and help me with my online presence.
Past or present, favorite LGBTQ character in television, film or literature? Just Jack, of course, and Shane on “The L Word” loved that character.
What is one simple thing a reader can do to support the LGBTQ community? Buy their art.
Thank you for chatting with us, Melissa. Tickets for Ferrick’s show at Club Cafe can be purchased online for $18. This show is 21+.