Bradenton Herald - Friday October 9, 1998

Melanie Still a Citizen of Woodstock Nation


Herald Features writer

It is one of the indelible images of the


What: Melanie




Where: Sarasota Opera House,





61 N. Pineapple Ave.,







When: 8 p.m. today




Tickets: $15-18.50




Information: 366-8450




1960s hundreds of thousands of hippies, in a darkening drizzle, listening to the folk singer Melanie as she sang about "Beautiful People." The rainy night was Friday, Aug.

15, 1969. The place was Max Yasgur's farm, near a little town in upstate New York that was about to become world famous Woodstock.

And with her performance, a beatific Melanie, that quintessential flower child, made the great flower child statement of the '60s.


"Beautiful people
You look like friends of mine."

Melanie went on to commemorate that moment with "Lay Down (Candles in the Rain)," a hit song and album that summed up the sunny side of those three days of love, peace and music in 1969.

It's been 30 years, and Melanie, the folkie who brought "What Have They Done to My Song, Ma," "Ring the Living Bell" and "Brand New Key" into pop culture, still can't get over what happened on that soggy farm field in New York.

"Woodstock is one of the magic places on this planet like Stonehenge," she said from her home in Pinellas County. "I went to Stonehenge way back before there was an admission gate. You saw it just the way the Druids saw it. Years later, I went back and you bought a ticket and waited on line, and you couldn't go up and touch the stones. But it was still astounding. It was still Stonehenge.

"Woodstock is the same way. There aren't hundreds of thousands of people there. There are people trying to keep you out, or charging admission.

But you know that something special happened there. You can still sense it."
She was back, singing at the original site this past summer. "A Day in the Garden" was a concert sanctioned by the new owner of the property, a man who has talked about cashing in on the notoriety of the place.

"Nobody from the original Woodstock was going to be there except for me and Richie Havens," Melanie said. "It was going to be so corporate.

But it wasn't so bad. It was still in that place. And the guy who has the property next door has free festivals at the time, so you can wander over there and be with the REAL people.

Or you can be with the people who paid $60 and use the bathroom at a Porta-Potty." Melanie, 51, has been back to the scene of her, and her generation's, greatest triumph many times. And usually, the welcome was not so friendly.

"Last year, they dug a six-foot trench around the field. They had tow-trucks there to haul away parked cars. And they had armed guards. But I went and snuck in anyway. I sang to the people who were paid to keep people like me out. They didn't know what to do with me.

"I sang this song I wrote for the anniversary, 'Summer of Love.' There's a line in there that goes, 'Cynics laugh and make it less than the extraordinary (moment) when humanity awakened. But the music will remember.' I had the security guards crying."

Tonight, a little piece of Woodstock comes to the Sarasota Opera House. Melanie, joined by her son, Beau Jarred and daughters Leilah and Jeordie, will perform songs from a career that has spanned more than 30 years.

"I do some old songs, some new songs and some songs from in between," she said. "I don't neglect the old songs, but I do like to rethink them and do them in ways that are almost unrecognisable. I guess that's to be expected when you've been singing 'Brand New Key' for all these years."

That isn't what she set out to do. Melanie Safka, a New York native, grew up listening to singer Edith Piaf, studied acting and emerged as a folk belter in the late 1960s. She was discovered by Peter Schekeryk, the man who would become her producer and her husband. She was hyped by Columbia Records, the same company that recorded Bob Dylan, as "the female Dylan." But after Woodstock, she got away from Columbia, experienced her greatest success ("Brand New Key") and, as disco pushed female folk singers off the stage, faded into obscurity.

"I'm surprised that people don't remember me better, she said with a laugh. "I've been kind of out of sight. I do see a lot of myself in all these young women singers, the Lilith Fair women. But there aren't many belters among them. I guess Melissa Etheridge is the only one." Melanie won an Emmy for writing a song for the 1980s TV show Beauty and the Beast. She has been trying her hand at running a coffee-house-restaurant in Tarpon Springs, "but I had my eyes opened about how hard THAT is REAL fast," she said with a laugh.

She's still popular in Europe where she can command headliner status in folk festivals. And she's never stopped recording. She has some 30 records under her belt and is planning her next one, with her son producing.

"I just do what I do and I keep performing. It's still my sole means of support. I create my own music with out being beholden to some corporate idea of what I should be. I'm a writer and I've tried to maintain my integrity. But it's been expensive." Integrity to Melanie means doing her bit for various causes she's been associated with. Last month she went to Washington to sign an Amnesty International pledge commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Declaration of Human Rights and perform "Freedom Knows My Name." And integrity means keeping that spirit of Woodstock alive.

"It had that chaos feeling that people get when there's a power black-out," she said of the concert, which drew an estimated 500,000 kids from all across America. "They band together because nothing's been provided and they're all on their own.

"The 25th anniversary of the concert, when no one was supposed to show up, 25-50 thousand people came, at least as many as they had with their organised festival this year," Melanie said. "They can have these events there, put in a nice stage, and it won't be as magical.

Woodstock was chaotic. And you don't have to be a recovering LSD user to have Woodstock flashbacks. Melanie gets them every time she does a certain song.

"Whenever I sing 'Beautiful People,' I get to a line and it would hit me, 'Wow. I did this at Woodstock and it's STILL true.' I sing it and I go 'I WROTE that?' All of a sudden, it means something new to me.


"He may be sitting right next to you
He may be beautiful people, too
And if you take care of him
Maybe I'll take care of you."

Roger Moore, features writer, can be reached at 745-7057.

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