Singer Melanie Safka-Schekeryk, professionally known as just Melanie, hit her professional stride here in the United States after she sang at the Woodstock Music Festival in 1969, then released hits including "What Have They Done To My Song, Ma," "Brand New Key" and "Lay Down (Candles In The Rain)."
On Thursday, Oct. 1, she will perform at Bridge Street Live in Collinsville. A widow and mother of three, Safka-Schekeryk has special memories of Connecticut. She was the only headliner to perform at the "canceled" music concert at Powder Ridge in Middlefield in 1970. The 68-year-old was home in Nashville when she shared her stories and some facts as she Spilled the Beans with Java.
Q: Besides your award-winning songs, you are probably best known for that little gig at a place called Woodstock in 1969. You were practically a kid. How did you end up on that stage?
A: It was crazy. My husband was my record producer and he had an office in the same building as some of the people who were organizing Woodstock. They got into a casual conversation about me performing. It sounded nice, three days of peace, love and music and I thought, "Wouldn't that be a nice thing for me to do?" I thought it was going to be arts and crafts, maybe do some shopping, buy incense and beads and be with families who were on blankets and chairs. So I put it on my schedule a year ahead. I almost didn't go because I was working on a music score in England, but when the time rolled around my husband said, 'Go,' and I did. My mother picked me up at the airport.
Q: When did you know you had figured wrong when it came to what that Woodstock experience would be?
A: We're driving and as we get closer the traffic is at a standstill. We figured it was an accident or vacationers going to the Catskills. We stopped and made a few calls and then we realized what we were heading into. We finally get to the hotel and Janis Joplin is there and there is media everywhere. I had never met a famous person before, no one really knew my work in the United States. They tell us they have to helicopter us and I could feel the terror growing. We are in the air and I look down and didn't even realize it was a sea of people. All of sudden, I realize I am singing for 500,000, not 500, and all I can think about is, "How do I captivate a crowd of that size?" I wasn't a seasoned performer then.
Q: But you made it?
A: I did. And as so many know, the sight that night as the rain started of so many people holding candles and matches and lighters must have sunk in somehow. It was the inspiration for my song, "Lay Down (Candles in the Rain)" and that was my first big hit in the United States.
Q: You are widely known in these parts for your appearance at another famous outdoor concert just about a year later here in Connecticut at Powder Ridge. How do you remember that one?
A: I think I was on a Woodstock high going into that one. Of course, the city shut it down before it really was underway and everyone was told that anyone who went would be arrested. But there I was, me and my guitar, talking to news people who were there with the 30,000 who did show up to see show. I wanted to be there and sing. It was like I was Santa Claus.
Q: It seems the mounting discourse in the country is paralleling the '60s in some ways. What do you think?
A: We are on the verge of great change again, and it won't come from politics but from people. Politicians have to listen to people. People can make a difference, but they need to wake up. If they sense they have the power, they can make the change.
Q: I am guessing some of your biggest hits like "Brand New Key" and "What Have They Done to My Song, Ma" will be among those you sing when you appear at Bridge Street Live. What song of yours is your favorite?
A: It changes, but it is usually the one I wrote last. "I Tried To Die Young" is my favorite. The lyrics are brilliant. And I like "Brand New Key" because I was flattered that it was used in the movie "Boogie Nights." I had been assured there was no sex in that movie when it opened and took my 12-year-old son to see it along with a bunch of his friends. I ended up sliding under my seat I was so embarrassed.
Q: Who are some of your favorite singers?
A: I don't like much of the contemporary stuff these days but I am a fan of the early Pogues, Celtic music, Italian singer Paolo Conte. He writes some brilliant songs.
Q: Any new projects?
A: I am writing a book about my life. I think mine is different because it is the real story of my life with my late husband, who was so different than me. I didn't know we had a story until he passed away.
Q: What is something most people don't know about you?
A: There are a million things people don't know about me. I am close friends with Miley Cyrus. Our careers are very parallel, although when it came to image, I didn't go as far as her. And I wasn't naughty at Woodstock. I was probably the only person there who wasn't altered in some way. I spent the day in a tent by myself when my performance was done.
MELANIE: Sharing the bill with Melanie is folk group EVA. Tickets start at $35 for the 8 p.m. show. Tickets: 41bridgestreet.com and 860-693-9762.