She sang in bars for 10 years and "dreamed of nights like this."
Monday night her effort and dreams paid off in Salt Lake City for Melissa Etheridge - and her fans shared the prize.Etheridge began the show with the title song of her new album, "Yes I Am." And the mighty music just kept coming from the blond woman with the big voice.
Yet there was a strong intimacy between Etheridge and the audience.
After she told of her long road to fame, a small light that might be found over a pool table in a sleazy bar dropped and lighted Etheridge and her 12-string guitar.
Etheridge sang a few of her slower songs, including "Occasionally," sung while she hammered out the beat on the back of her guitar.
Etheridge seemed delighted - and surprised - with the Salt Lake audience, which cheered wildly at the mere mention of "Utah."
"You better work on your PR," she admonished.
While she chided a few rowdy concertgoers, a small child came on stage and gave flowers to Etheridge. A fitting scene for a show that combined such sensitivity and such gritty rock 'n' roll.
The dust definitely was shaken from the rafters of Abravanel Hall. And the fine acoustics were perhaps too fine. Sounds at times seemed to roll over and over and crash into themselves.
Etheridge's song, "Never Enough," won her a Grammy in 1993 for Best Female Rock Performance. "Yes I Am," seems destined to garner recognition of its own.
She performed several songs from the album, including the anthem to love and pain, "I Will Never Be The Same," the haunting "Silent Legacy," and the broiling "All American Girl," who will live and die in this man's world.
Etheridge has become a well-known lesbian. Many of her lyrics deal with her coming out. Her passionate singing voice is laced with the hurt and joy she shares so well.
She borrowed "Maggie May" from Rod Stewart and made it her own while being true to the master. Stewart would have been proud.
Etheridge was backed up by drummer David Bryer, bass player Mark Brown and John Shanks on guitar and keyboards.
The concert, presented by KUMT-FM radio, was slick and tight with a few twists. At one point, Bryer played on the guitars with his drumsticks. Later, everyone, including Etheridge, stood with Bryer over his drums and banged out a spell like witches gathered at the cauldron.
Etheridge has said that she wanted songs on "Yes I Am" to be really strong live - it would be difficult to imagine anything stronger than Monday's show.
Two guys with guitars who call themselves Billy Pilgrim opened the show. They got their name from Kurt Vonnegut's novel "Slaughterhouse Five." The alternative rock duo from Atlanta have a fine blend of voice and guitar. They have recently signed a contract with Atlantic Records and seemed confident that they will return to Salt Lake City.