“In a place not too far from here, something happened. It was called Woodstock.”
– Melanie, on stage at Caffé Lena Aug. 2, 2018.
SARATOGA SPRINGS - On that August evening in 1969, Melanie Safka Schekeryk sat by herself inside of a country tent, fearful about what awaited her outside.
Her new album, simply titled “Melanie,” contained the song “Beautiful People,” which had given her a modicum of success. Still, an estimated half-million people sat in an open field outside her tent in anticipation of what the 22-year-old aspiring actress-turned-singer could bring.
“I listened to Richie Havens in his 50th minute of ‘Freedom (Motherless Child),’ and I heard Ravi Shankar. Then Wavy Gravy went on and announced that his collective was passing out candles and that everyone should light their candles, because it had started to rain,” Melanie explained to a sold-out house at Caffe Lena last week.
“I was in such terror that as I walked out onto the field, walked over that rope bridge – it was like a plank - I was (sure I was) walking to my certain doom. How can I possibly entertain 500,000 people with three chords, and my one song?”
Fair or not, she is often linked to her performance at the Woodstock music festival. Many have taken to tagging her as “the voice of her generation.”
“I was walking and walking and… I left my body,” she continued. “I watched myself take the stage. I hovered over my shoulder. I watched myself sit down and when I started singing ‘Beautiful People,’ I came back. I had this real-life experience. At that moment 500,000 people granted me beingness, granted me who I was. And I reciprocated. It wasn’t a musical moment, it was a spiritual moment. And it was real. I can’t tell you how life-altering that moment was,” she explained, before launching in to “Lay Down (Candles in the Rain)” – which anthemically captures her Woodstock moment – mated with an appropriately collaborative medley with a rendition of the John Lennon song, “Give Peace A Chance.”
At Caffé Lena, Melanie performed two sold out shows accompanied on vocals, guitar and occasional cello by her son, Beau Jared Schekeryk. Collectively, the evening featured 3-1/2 hours of music that covered a half-century of songwriting.
“I was just here - but somehow you all look different,” she quipped, acknowledging the café audience when taking the stage for the evening’s late show. The second set featured 14 songs which included “Animal Crackers” - dating to her 1968 debut, her love-‘em-and-leave-‘em ode “Any Guy” - released in 1969, and songs from the early ‘70s (“Babe Rainbow,” “Someday I’ll Be A Farmer”) to the 1990s (“Under Cool Cover of Night).”
Affected perhaps by the back-to-back sets, her voice wore rough early on, but when tackling “Ruby Tuesday,” any hoarseness majestically dissolved and the power of simple acoustic guitars and THOSE VOCALS were on full-on display.
“Ruby Tuesday” signaled one of three Rolling Stones songs performed during the night; a tasteful instrumental rendition of “Paint it Black,” and a version of “Wild Horses” – “we should do this because this is Saratoga Springs, it’s all about the horses,” she announced – were the others.
Melanie alternated between English, French, German, and Korean during the choruses of “Look What They’ve Done to My Song Ma,” inspired an audience sing-a-long on her Freudian ditty “Psychotherapy,” and delivered convincing performances of her songs “Beautiful People,” “Angel Watching Over You,” and her biggest chart-topping hit, “Brand New Key” – a song she admits she hated for a long time.
”When it became a hit, I went from playing nice, small cuddly places to big stadiums, where people wanted to hear 90 minutes of "Hump, Ha-HA, Hump, Ha-Ha,” she explained, pointing the song’s background chorus. “Here’s the clincher, all these years later, I’m OK with the whole song,” she admitted. “It’s a damn cute song.”