Melanie recalls Woodstock: no pay but an unforgettable experience

NEW YORK (AP) — Melanie, known as the First Lady of Woodstock, remembers having a supernatural experience as she walked on the rainy stage in 1969 to perform at one of the most iconic events of all-time – though iconic isn’t how anyone would have described the day back then.

“I had an out-of-body experience and I wasn’t altered by drugs,” she recalled.

She was just 22 when she performed at the historic concert that also included Jimi Hendrix, the Grateful Dead and Joan Baez. Melanie had been waiting for hours and hours to perform, sitting on the side of the stage as she watched Richie Havens and others complete their sets.

“The terror kept building in me. The thought of me performing in front of all of those people on that huge stage — I was all by myself,” she said. “Then it started to rain and I truly believed that everyone was going to get up and go home. It’s raining, I’m free, I’ll go back to life as it was. Maybe I will be an archaeologist; maybe I will join the Peace Corps. That’s when they said, ‘You’re next.'”

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The Incredible String Band was supposed to go onstage, but “they had concerns about electrocution,” Melanie recalled.

“I didn’t know about electric yet,” she said. “I just went on and my life was never the same. A complete spiritual awakening.”

Melanie, whose hits include “Brand New Key” and “Lay Down (Candles in the Rain),” was one of the few female performers at Woodstock. She said that although Woodstock is now remembered as a groundbreaking concert, “the last thing that I thought was that it would become a historic event.”

“People would say things like, ‘Oh, Bob Dylan’s coming. Oh no, he’s not. Maybe this group was coming. Oh, this group is coming.’ I guess because people were pulling out, canceling because they knew that it was chaos.”

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“Very few people got paid, unless the agency was representing them,” the 72-year-old added. “A lot of us didn’t. I never made a penny from Woodstock.”

Melanie was set to perform at Woodstock co-founder Michael Lang’s axed 50th-anniversary concert this year (Lang said all of the artists were paid in full despite the event’s cancellation). But Melanie will still celebrate Woodstock’s birthday at another concert honoring the event’s legacy: the WE 2019 Experience in West Jefferson, North Carolina. The two-weekend affair, which kicked off last week and starts again Friday, features performers such as Jefferson Starship, Ten Years After, John Sebastian and Canned Heat.

An estimated 400,000 people showed up for Woodstock, which was held on upstate New York farmland Aug. 15-18, 1969.

“Fifty years later and I am the embodiment of the spirit of Woodstock. I saw what happened. People came together in a way that you see when a catastrophe happens; people band together. They sort of overcome amazing obstacles. That’s the spirit of what was going on. I experienced it and I can’t let go of it,” she said.

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“At one point I figured, you know, I am in the service industry here. I do fulfill a little bit, I get those people, they’re in front of me, and we all go to a higher place. That’s all there is to it.”