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!
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.
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'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.
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.