Woodstock Performers: Melanie

Updated on April 29, 2019
Kaili Bisson profile image

Rockin’ before she could walk, a vinyl hound who can’t remember a thing because the words to all songs from 1960-2019 are stuck in her head.

Melanie onstage at Woodstock
Melanie onstage at Woodstock | Source

This series of articles—32 in all—covers each of the artists who performed at the original Woodstock festival August 15-18, 1969. Appearing on Day 1 prior to Melanie was the master of the sitar, Ravi Shankar. The next artist to perform after Melanie was Arlo Guthrie, of "Alice's Restaurant" fame.

The downpour wasn't showing any signs of letting up, and the act originally scheduled to perform after Ravi Shankar, The Incredible String Band, refused to play in the rain. And so it was that "Melanie," as she was professionally known, became the next performer on the Woodstock stage.

Who Is Melanie Safka?

Melanie Anne Safka was born on February 3, 1947. She grew up in Astoria, Queens, New York, and her major influence from a very early age was her mother Pauline, who was an accomplished jazz singer. The house was always filled with music, and among the young Safka's favorite artists were Bessie Smith and Billie Holliday. She loved to write "torch" songs, not really understanding the meaning of the words, and gave her first public performance at the age of four on a radio show called "Live Like a Millionaire."

While still in high school, she began performing at a Long Branch, NJ coffeehouse called the Inkwell. When she completed high school, her parents insisted that she further her education. And so it was that Melanie enrolled at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York to study acting. She earned spending money by performing in the folk clubs in Greenwich Village, including one called The Bitter End. It was during one of her Village performances that she caught the attention of John Hammond from Columbia Records, who signed Melanie to the label.

Melanie recorded two singles for Columbia soon after meeting John, including a song called "Beautiful People" that went on to be a minor hit in Holland. Columbia didn't actively promote her songs, so she soon left for the Buddah label. It was late in 1968 that Melanie first met Peter Schekeryk, who took charge of her career and would become her husband. She went into the studio and, with Peter's guidance, recorded her first album called "Born to Be." Many of the tunes on this album remained part of her repertoire through her career.

Artie Ripp of Buddah happened to be a friend of Artie Kornfeld, one of the organizers of Woodstock. Melanie asked Kornfeld directly if she could come to Woodstock, and he said "Yeah, yeah, come." Ripp took a chance and told Melanie to go ahead and make her way up to Woodstock. She wasn't even scheduled to perform.

Fate, in the form of rain, intervened.

"If I weren’t afraid you’d laugh at me

I would run and take all your hands

And I’d gather everyone together for a day

And when we gather’d

I’ll pass buttons out that say

Beautiful people"

Melanie "Beautiful People"

I'm in the helicopter and the terror is starting to mount. I'm in a helicopter to a concert...so, there we go, miles to the site and as we're descending, I didn't even know that those were people under me. 'What is that?' and the pilot says 'It's the people and that's the stage over there', and I see this massive thing and now I'm like 'This is no picnic in the park.'

— Melanie from the book "Woodstock: Three Days That Rocked the World"

Melanie's Woodstock

Melanie's mother actually drove her to the concert from New York City. As they approached Woodstock, traffic started to back up and they feared that there had been an awful accident. Of course, what they were caught in was the horrendous traffic created by artists and fans alike trying to get to the festival site. When they finally found the hotel that was the base for the artists, Melanie was instructed to get on one of the helicopters heading for the festival. Because only the artists and their agents were allowed to board the choppers, Melanie had to leave her mother behind.

The rain continued and The Incredible String Band wasn't going on in the rain. Melanie was in the right place, at the right time, when organizers needed another performer to fill in. And so it was that this young woman took the stage, on her own, with just her acoustic guitar for company.

She went on at 11:00 p.m. and played a 7-song set that lasted 25 minutes. She started the set with two songs from her LP, then moved to "Beautiful People," which received a smattering of applause from people who recognized it from the radio. She followed with two more songs from her LP, including Dylan's "Mr. Tambourine Man" and then two more that would appear on her next release. Her closing number was one that she had never performed in public before, "Birthday of the Sun." The audience loved this sweet, nervous girl with the beautiful voice.

Melanie Performing "Birthday of the Sun" at Woodstock

Life After Woodstock

Melanie was a rising star after her Woodstock appearance. In 1970, she released her second album on Buddah "Affectionately", which did better than her first album had, reaching the Top 20 on the album chart. She also released the single "Lay Down (Candles in the Rain)" based on her Woodstock experience. That song got as high as the number six spot on the charts. Buddah also released Melanie's live album in 1970. "Leftover Wine" was recorded at Carnegie Hall in New York and peaked at #33 on the US charts. She also enjoyed some success with her cover of “What Have They Done To My Song, Ma."

In 1971, Melanie left Buddah and started her own label with her husband, producer and arranger Peter Schekeryk. Her first single for their new album also became her best-selling and most enduring song. "Brand New Key" went to the top of the charts in the US. Other singles released in 1971 made Melanie one of the most in-demand young artists that year. She toured extensively and made appearances on Ed Sullivan and The Tonight Show.

Followup albums through the remainder of the '70s all had disappointing sales, and Melanie semi-retired from touring to raise her family. She continued to release albums periodically (she has a total of over 30 albums to her name) and her songs have been covered by many artists over the years, notably The New Seekers ("Beautiful People"), Mott the Hoople ("Lay Down") and Miley Cyrus ("What Have They Done to My Song, Ma"). In 1989, she won an Emmy award for lyrics she wrote for a song that appeared in an episode of the TV show "Beauty and the Beast."

Melanie "Brand New Key" aka The Roller Skate Song

Five Musical Facts

  1. Based on the name of the festival, Melanie thought Woodstock was going to be a small arts and crafts fair, with some music thrown in, and families sitting on blankets having picnics. Imagine her terror when that helicopter was descending.
  2. Melanie does not appear in the 1970 Woodstock film, but she does appear in 1990's Woodstock The Lost Performances. I highly recommend this VHS tape (yes, VHS) if you are a Woodstock fan, as it has footage you won't find elsewhere.
  3. Melanie had a coughing fit just before going onstage, and Joan Baez sent her over some tea to help sooth her throat—and her nerves.
  4. Melanie performed at one of the events to mark the 20th anniversary of Woodstock and was also a part of the Heroes of Woodstock Tour in 2009.
  5. According to some sources, folks from the Hog Farm commune were responsible for handing out the candles that were lit during Melanie's set at Woodstock, inspiring her to write her hit "Lay Down (Candles in the Rain)."

© 2019 Kaili Bisson


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment
    • FlourishAnyway profile image


      15 months ago from USA

      How wonderful that you're thinking about going.

    • Kaili Bisson profile imageAUTHOR

      Kaili Bisson 

      15 months ago from Canada

      Hi Flourish,

      Yes, I thought it was so cute that her mom drove her. And when she wasn't allowed to take her mom along on the chopper, imagine her fear! Lots of people say they can hear the fright in her voice in clips from her set, but I think she did a fantastic job on that stage, in the rain, just her and her guitar.

      And thank you, yes, Woodstock has been on my mind since I saw that plans were being made for the 50th. I may even go! Upstate NY isn't far from here.

    • FlourishAnyway profile image


      15 months ago from USA

      I love that she had her mom drive her and believed it was a small arts and crafts festival with some music thrown in and she wasn't even scheduled to perform. Props to her for continuing on in the traffic regardless.

      And well played by you that you get this series up and rolling in time for the 50th anniversary. Could it possibly be true it's been 50 years?

    • Kaili Bisson profile imageAUTHOR

      Kaili Bisson 

      16 months ago from Canada

      Hi John and thank you! Glad you are enjoying this series. I loved her voice, and "Brand New Key" was a favorite of mine when I was younger.

    • Jodah profile image

      John Hansen 

      16 months ago from Queensland Australia

      I an remember Melanie and thought she was quite talented. Thank you for sharing another interesting article about the performers at Woodstock. I enjoyed this Kaili.


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, spinditty.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://maven.io/company/pages/privacy

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
    ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)