Melanie at Fall Fling Festival

Field's Farm, Hartly, Delaware - September 28, 1996
Story and photos by Rick Ziegler

That's Because It's 'Hartly' There

For three generations, my family has been what I like to call 'part-time residents' of Delaware. Known appropriately as 'The Diamond State', larger only than Rhode Island (but not by much), Delaware is truly a gem. From the large, industrial city of Wilmington in the north, to the historic state capitol of Dover in the center, to the beaches and quaint old towns in the south, there's something for everyone. How appropriate that Melanie was scheduled to appear here. The diamond would gain yet another carat.

Upon hearing about Fall Fling, I immediately called for more information. When told that Hartly was just a few miles outside of Dover, I said that I was surprised that I had never heard of it, knowing the Dover area so well (I thought). "That's because it's 'Hartly' there", the organizer replied, with a grin I could see through the telephone. This small town's population was about to grow by several hundred, as folk fans descended for a weekend of music, crafts, and food. As in previous years, the 5th annual Fall Fling Festival, sponsored by Delaware Friends Of Folk, had two objectives: to provide the community with a cultural event the whole family can enjoy, and to donate some of the proceeds to local charity. The main event was scheduled for Saturday, with new performances hourly from 11:00 AM to 11:00 PM. Melanie was the headliner, appearing at 10:00 PM. Having made a dry run earlier in the day as insurance, I arrived with time to spare. After negotiating uncounted twists and turns through unknown territory, I was glad I had made that practice run. The signs placed strategically by event organizers were a big help, not to mention having four wheel drive!

An Evening Of Crossed Fingers

Today's weather could only be described as 'changeable'. From partly sunny to cloudbursts at least a half dozen times throughout the day. Enough to dampen everyone's clothes a bit, but never the activities. The standholders, with their homemade foods, jewelry, and other collectibles stayed dry in their well-constructed booths. The crowds, most likely people who've been here before, were generally well prepared for foul weather. From umbrellas to trash bags, ponchos to firefighter-yellow rain gear, they were ready for anything. For a first-timer, I didn't do to bad, either. Even remembered a flashlight, for the long, dark hike from the car to the stage area. I could have easily gotten top dollar for the flashlight many times that night. "He's got a flashlight. Why didn't I think of that?" I often heard. Just so the batteries hold out…

As darkness fell, the weather seems to be more cooperative. A few stars poked through clouds. An announcement over the PA system directed our attention skyward. 'Keep your fingers crossed; the moon is trying to shine through the clouds. Maybe it will finally stop raining'. I sat content in my lawn chair, listening to Margo Hennebach for the first time, as she filled the 8:00 - 9:00 slot. I remember thinking about how lucky we were that the weather had improved. It felt downright balmy, milder than usual for this time of year, especially in such a remote location. I would not remain content for long. Shortly after Jim Patchett took the stage at 9:00, I felt a drop or two of water. Must be dripping off one of the many trees that surround us, I thought. Within a few minutes, the drips turned to drops, and the drops were arriving in waves. No tree could be this wet! I found myself running to the car, getting there just in time to avoid the worst of the storm.

OK, Maybe It Was Only Forty Minutes

As I spent what seemed like forever sitting in the car, I tried to keep up with the events on that distant stage. This became increasingly difficult as the windows steamed over. I don't think I've ever seen it rain so hard for so long without letting up. Now there was nothing to do but wait, and watch the clock. 9:20, 9:25, 9:30. 'It'll be OK; she's not due for another half hour; the rain will stop by then.' I thought. Always the optimist. 9:45, 9:50, 9:55. After what seemed like forty days and forty nights, the Great Flood appeared to be subsiding somewhat. Donning my raincoat and umbrella, I decide to return to my now-soaked lawn chair. As I left the car, I noticed it was surrounded by water, on it's own little version of Mt. Arafat. Just add animals. My sneakers already laden with water, I make my way back to the stage area, to join the 50 or so other brave souls still there. It's 10:00. Melanie will be here any minute now. It's bound to stop raining soon. I wish I had my boots.

The next hour passed slowly. Occasional announcements of Melanie's progress were made, giving the crowd a reason to keep standing or sitting in the rain a little bit longer. 'She is en route, and will be here any time now.' 'Melanie is here, and is tuning her guitar.' It's now 11:00, and the 30 or so die-hard fans that remain give Melanie a round of applause as she enters the stage. A few members of the audience walk to a spot directly in front of the stage. The rest of us followed suit. 'Why not?', I thought. I could get better pictures from that vantage point.

I Feel Like It's All My Fault

'I'm sorry about the rain. I feel like it's all my fault' were the first words out of Melanie's mouth. None of us, now standing in a rough semicircle just a few feet from the stage, were too concerned about the still steady rainfall, and muddy water creeping up toward our ankles. Our time with Melanie had arrived. Trying to balance my umbrella, camera, a dozen red roses from Delaware Friends Of Folk, and a personal gift, I found my place at stage right. Somewhat ironically, Melanie began by singing "Rainbow Race". A rainbow would be quite nice right now. She was accompanied tonight by Lee Weissman on guitar and vocals. It was at Lee's Connecticut home studio where half of "Unchained Melanie" was recorded. I remember thinking that Lee somehow looks familiar, maybe someone on a popular TV show. My suspicions were set aside about halfway through the hour when he jokingly said, "No Bob Sagat jokes, please. Just say no to Bob Sagat." Could have fooled me! Carlos Holmes, an assistant editor with the Delaware State News, joined Melanie and Lee on flute for "You Don't Know Me". So impressed with Carlos' talent, Peter invited him to perform with Melanie at the 30th anniversary of Woodstock.

'Has anyone seen Sting?' Melanie asks. Rumor has it he follows her around. She released "Every Breath Of The Way" on the album "Seventh Wave"; about a year later, The Police released "Every Breath You Take", on an album with "Seventh Wave" in the title! Taking a big chance of attracting his attention, she performed "Every Breath You Take". Apparently the rain would keep him away this evening. I notice that I am shivering now, chilled and soaked to the bone. I can't remember ever being this cold.

Melanie continued with a nice blend of old and new songs, and told us the story behind "Unchained Melody". Before The Righteous Brothers, a blind black singer named Al Hibbler recorded the song. This little girl, convinced she sounded just like him, sang the song into her uncle's tape recorder. I wonder what ever happened to that recording… From the captivated stares of the crowd, I guessed that I wasn't the only one hearing Melanie perform it for the first time. As we applauded when it was over, the only word I heard came from a man standing near me. 'Beautiful'. My sentiments, exactly.

Here Comes Santa Claus

Ending promptly after one hour with an extended version of "Ruby Tuesday", Melanie thanked us for coming. The announcer told us that Melanie would be signing autographs backstage. 'Backstage' turned out to be a very small porch, with hardly enough room to turn around. Melanie sat on a chair at the top of the stairs. Hmmm… sitting there, she looks like someone I've seen at the mall around the holidays. 'It's like Santa Claus. You get to sit on my lap, and tell me what you want for Christmas. But all you can have is an 'Unchained Melanie' CD!', she laughed. She signed a copy for me, accepted the bouquet of roses, plus my gift: a wood marquetry-framed copy of the photo I took of her at Gerdie's 11 years earlier. Just like the one she autographed for me at Mays Chapel in June. As I walked tiredly back to the car, the rain as relentless as ever, I realize that I'm not so cold anymore. Thanks, Melanie, for the warm memories.

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