The Coffeehouse at Mays Chapel
January 31, 1997
Story and photos by Rick Ziegler
Who Said "Getting There Is Half The Fun"?
This, our second trip to Mays Chapel to see Melanie,
was easier than the first. No 200-mile trip from Brooklyn in
90 degree, August-like heat; no heavy traffic from New Yorkers
escaping for the weekend. No worries of "Will we make it
on time?" And best of all, no worst-seats-in-the-house,
from arriving halfway through the opening act. What a difference
from the June show just seven months earlier. After a relatively
short, 65 mile drive from my hometown of Lancaster, Pennsylvania,
we arrived with an hour to spare. Our fears of another crippling
blizzard like last January melted away with the mild weather.
With the helpful map provided on the Mays Chapel website in hand,
we managed (this time) to not get lost in the many wooded areas
and housing developments in this city near the better-known metropolis
Mays Chapel United Methodist Church is nestled in
a beautiful, wooded area outside of the city. It would be easy
to miss from the road (which we almost did on the first trip),
especially when traveling after dark. After somehow finding the
site where Melanie performed last year in Hartly, Delaware, I
often wonder how she and Peter find their way to these events.
One or both of them definitely has a better sense of direction
Having arrived so early, we joined 50 or so other
early arrivals inside this contemporary church, and were treated
to the sounds of Melanie's rehearsal. Following the lead of many
other anxious patrons, I moved ahead of the line that had already
filled the hallway, just long enough to sneak a peek through the
closed chapel doors. Melanie's powerful voice filled the church,
as Jeordie and guitarist Frank Usher accompanied her. I knew
we would not be disappointed. After what seemed like an eternity,
the doors opened, and we found our seats near the now-empty stage.
Everything You'd Expect, And Comedy Too
Melanie arrived a few minutes later to thunderous
applause - much more than one would think possible from an audience
of about 300. She began by telling us that this was her first
show in a while, having taken time off to spend with her new grandchild.
She recalled her memories from her last visit to Timonium, and
how she enjoyed playing here. Returning gave her a sense of having
a 'steady job', as she called it. One thing I'll never forget
was her joking about the nearby Denny's restaurant's breakfast
platter called "Moons Over My Hammy" (a parody of the
song, "Moon Over Miami")! Just another example of
how wonderfully Melanie relates to her fans, as much at home on
stage as anywhere else.
After introducing Frank (who was making his first
appearance in the US) and Jeordie, Melanie began with "Did
You Ever Love Somebody". Her ageless voice and guitar playing,
accompanied by Frank on guitar and Jeordie on vocals, accomplished
what few musicians can - an energetic, emotion-packed live performance
that captures the audience, unaided by studio dubbing, remixing,
and other electronic magic. To me, this is the true test of a
Melanie added three new songs to her playlist tonight
- "Leftover Emotions", "Cerulean Blue", and
"A Song For Robert Johnson". We were treated to her
personification of Joan Baez (and a very good one at that!), and
were told it was her ambition at age 16 to be just like her. And
what would a Melanie concert be without the now-standard audience
participation version of "Brand New Key". Oh, ah,
Near the end of her first set, Melanie sang
for us a slightly twisted version of "Window Pane":
"Sunshine through a cool breeze,
Fifteen more minutes on my hands and knees.
To get my butt as brown as the rest of me,
I work all day to be beautiful.
She works so hard to be beautiful.
Time heals all wounds,
My last haircut was a year this June.
Some things don't grow the way you want them to.
I work so hard to be beautiful.
She works all day to be beautiful.
When I'm old and tinged with gray,
All my hard work will make it all go away.
Isn't she beautiful for her age?
She works so hard to be beautiful.
All night and day to be beautiful.
What she don't give to be beautiful.
She works so hard to be beautiful."
A great comedy writer, too! Ironically, 'to be beautiful'
is something Melanie will never have to work at. For her, that
just comes naturally.
Happy Birthday, Dear Melanie
After a short intermission,
Melanie returned to the strains of "Happy Birthday",
sung by the audience. Just three days until her 50th
birthday. She announced her plans to return next year around
this time. To date, this is the most candid I've seen Melanie.
From her tap dancing lessons at age four (her mother fancied
her the next Shirley Temple), when she first sang "Unchained
Melody" into a tape recorder, to her short stint as a "Gourmet
Girl" and Hat Check Girl at Zabar's Deli in New York (her
only 'regular job', as she put it), to the present, the evening
was interlaced with songs and stories that captivated the audience.
I doubt that anyone there - people ranging in age from teens
to seniors - realized that more than two hours had passed, in
what seemed like just a few minutes.
Another Great Show, Melanie
Now is the time that I've come to look forward to as much as the
show itself: the chance to chat for a minute with Melanie, congratulate
her on another great show, and ask her to sign an item or two.
With the line quickly forming, it's end somewhere out of sight,
we decide to mingle with
the ever-growing number of familiar faces, fellow fans who travel
to Melanie's shows whenever possible. Melanie asks for just one
thing - a cup of coffee. She signs, laughs, and poses for photos,
until well after midnight. I envy this lady's energy! By now,
just a few people remain. The event organizers are cleaning up,
Peter is tying up some loose ends, and the last stray audience
members are leaving. As we depart for the hour and a half drive
home, I think about finding that Denny's restaurant and stopping
for breakfast. Nah, too tired for that. Next time, maybe. And
next time, I think I'll leave the map at home. This place is
easy to find.
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