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FM to Web: Melanie

Today this article belongs to a real friend and there is no need for many words from me... Thank you very much Steve for all the things you write here for a myth of Woodstock.
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Today this article belongs to a real friend and there is no need for many words from me... Thank you very much Steve for all the things you write here for a myth of Woodstock.

My Story about Singer/Songwriter Melanie
By Steve di Costanzo, host of Radio Base Camp on WPKN 89.5FM in Bridgeport, Connecticut, USA

Some remember her as that young woman with flowing dark hair holding a guitar on the Woodstock Festival stage.  Think Three Days of Peace and Love, and there is Melanie, at 22 years of age singing “Beautiful People”. Melanie looking out at a crowd of 500,000 people holding candles in a light drizzle that would provide inspiration to her song “Lay Down (Candles in the Rain).” A younger generation might not remember her at all.   The Melanie story is a fascinating one. The story of an artist, with a massive cult following to this day but who seemingly exited mainstream music culture for nearly 30 years before re-emerging of late back into popular culture with her song “Brand New Key “ being picked up by a major computer company in a new television ad.

I don’t claim to be a Melanie expert or a super fan, but I do have a Melanie story that I think many of you will find interesting. It’s both a little happy and a little sad.

This past fall in October 2010, I had the opportunity to become part of her circle of music and circle of friends over a period of several months.  I had read that she was launching a small tour with the help of her son Beau and husband and manager Peter Schkeryk to help support a new album.  She was heading from a songwriter’s conference in Colorado and a few gigs in New Jersey to a performance at the wonderfully restored Infinity Hall in Norfolk, Connecticut.  This is not far from where I host a music show as a programmer for listener-supported, non-profit WPKN radio in Bridgeport, Connecticut.  My show Radio Base Camp focuses on music from the early 60’s to the mid-70’s. I have the ability to access a wonderful music collection at the station of 100,000 vintage LP’s, 45’s and CD’s.  I had come across some fairly rare 45 rpm’s by Melanie and thought it would be fun to interview her.  After contacting her husband/manager Peter, we arranged for a phone interview for 21 October 2010.

Preparation for interviews is a challenge but much easier in this internet world.  I quickly learned that Melanie was a real trailblazer in her day:  she won the Montreaux Jazz Festival singer of the year in 1971; introduced Keith Moon and followed The Who at the Isle of Wight festival in England in 1970; was the first folk/rock artist to perform at London’s Royal Albert Hall; was the first folk/rock artist to perform in Carnegie Hall; performed on the Ed Sullivan Show in New York City; first folk/rock solo artist to perform at the new Metropolitan Opera House in New York City.   I even read that she was the first person to perform at the General Assembly at the United Nations.

But my real Melanie story starts with my interview and a resulting chain of events. On the day of my phone interview,  I awakened Peter at their hotel in New Jersey even though it was just around our noon appointment.  He told me Melanie had played for nearly three hours the night before and they had stayed late with fans and rolled back to the hotel near dawn.  “Call back in a few hours and I promise Melanie will give you a great interview’” said Peter.  So I waited at the WPKN studios and then rang them later in the afternoon.  Peter answered and we chatted for a while about Melanie, the tour and his excitement at getting back out on the road and the great response Melanie received at the most recent gigs.  “So much is going well right now.  We launched on October 10, 2010.  What a good date….and the crowds have been great. They really adore Melanie.  So many fun things like the TV commercial, the new album and a big summer concert that I can’t really talk about yet,” he added. 

Once Melanie got on the phone we talked for nearly an hour. She was delightful, witty, charming and enjoyed talking about how she met Peter in the 1960’s as a young girl responding to an audition for a play that required a singer/guitar player.  Melanie showed up at the New York office building with hundreds of small offices and realized she had forgotten the exact office number.  This was supposed to be a big break for her and it was slipping away as she struggled to locate the audition. She never did find the audition but ended up instead in the office of songwriters and music publishers.  One of the junior partners of that firm who took the time to talk with her was Peter.   They ended up recording some songs. We talked about Woodstock, and her big concerts.  We touched upon the intervening years where she pulled back from the business to raise a family while still performing from time to time. After the interview, I spoke off-air with Peter.  “You two really spoke for a long time. I’m happy you could cover so many topics. I hope you can come to the Infinity Hall Concert this Saturday night because I’d love for you to introduce her on stage.”

Which I did with great respect and pleasure. The small theatre that dates to the late 1800’s was full, in anticipation of this rare concert appearance, which would be one of only four dates on the East Coast of the United States. Her son Beau was opening and performed a virtuosic solo set on guitar.  Melanie and Peter were running a bit late.  There was some concern about their arrival time.  The break was a bit longer than expected.  But then there she was. Melanie and her guitar and my brief introduction.  For the next two hours she dialed in a riveting performance. 

I had never seen her live and was surprised at just how funny she was.  She interspersed her songs with witty observations and poignant introductions as she recalled milestones in her career. I thought, “This woman deserves a solo Broadway show as she dropped the names of icons like Dylan and Lennon and others she has played and collaborated with.”  After the show I spoke briefly with Melanie as she signed memorabilia from well wishers.  Peter was beaming as he watched the scene and switched into impresario mode ticking off all the upcoming plans that lay ahead. He was excited about getting out on the road again, the new TV commercial featuring Melanie’s song that had just started airing all over the U.S.; the upcoming trip to Europe and the final discussions on a large outdoor summer festival.

Just a few days later, back in the WPKN studios I got a text message from Melanie’s assistant that said “You may have heard the news already but Peter just passed away.”

You can listen Steve di Costanzo’s (Radio Base Camp) interview with the singer/songwriter Melanie complete with music including the rare 45rpm song “Seeds” at the following WPKN archive link:  http://archives.wpkn.org/bookmarks/listen/12717

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