Woodstock singer to play Slickfork

<p>Woodstock singer Melanie Safka heads a cast of 18 in tonight's Romancing the West Legacy Tour tonight at the Slickfork Saloon.</p>

The girl may leave Woodstock, but Woodstock never leaves the girl.

When Melanie Safka steps onstage at the Slickfork Saloon tonight, the singer will bring Woodstock with her. Known professionally as Melanie, the singer heads a cadre of 18 performers of the “Romancing the West Legacy Tour,” who will take the audience on a journey of 240 years of western music from ragtime to rock as they move through the decades.

Those who experienced the ’70s might remember Safka’s hit “Brand New Key,” a flirty feel-good song that shot up the charts. She will sing another of her hits in tonight’s program called “Candles in the Rain,” born of Safka’s earlier 1969 Woodstock experience.

Safka, now 66, talked about the experience by cellphone earlier this week as she cruised along Interstate 84 toward Portland (she wasn’t driving). She said she was a relative unknown in the late 1960s who dropped into the Woodstock organizer’s New York City offices and talked her way into the lineup. She admitted she had a muddled conception of the mega-concert.

“I thought it sounded nice — three days of peace, love and music and people having picnics on blankets,” she said.

Safka’s mother drove her to the site, a 600-acre dairy farm in the Catskills where 500,000 people gathered for wall-to-wall music. The only way to get to the performers’ staging area was by helicopter, and the pilot told her mother “no moms — just bands and managers.” The 22-year-old singer’s eyes got as big as dinner plates when she saw Janis Joplin and realized the lineup of 32 also included such icons as Santana, Joan Baez, The Who, Jimi Hendrix and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young.

“I instantly became terrified,” she said. “I was just a three-chord strummer — I accompanied myself (on guitar).”

Safka, who described herself as painfully shy, waited in a little tent by herself. The New Yorker said she wasn’t tempted by the drugs flowing freely through the crowd.

“I was a purist and a vegetarian. I didn’t even drink Coca Cola,” she said. “I was absolutely sober and terrified.”

Finally, her turn came on the first night at 10:50 p.m. People passed around candles and soon the audience was a sea of flickering lights. Safka leaned in to the experience. For a half hour, she sang her heart out.

“It was a release and an out-of-body experience,” she said. “I went on stage an unknown person and came off the stage a celebrity.”

Her career blossomed, though she weathered her share of challenges. Getting played on the radio proved difficult for women in those days.

“It was the age when radio played one woman an hour,” Safka said.

The singer-songwriter released “Brand New Key” in 1972. She enjoyed the success, though it stuck her with a cutesy, bubble-gum image that took a while to shake off.

She received Billboard’s top female vocalist award that year. After two gold albums and another top 40 hit (“Bitter Bad”), she backed off performing to raise three children with her record producer husband Peter Schekeryk.

In later years, she continued to write songs and perform. In 2010, she lost her beloved husband suddenly of a heart attack during a shopping trip.

“My husband dropped me off at Whole Foods and went to Best Buy — he didn’t pick me up,” she said. “It was an incredible crash course in reality.”

She had met him by accident one day when she got lost on the way to an audition and wandered into his office a year after Woodstock. It was instant attraction, she said. A play called “Melanie and the Record Man” that opened in October tells the story of their lives together.

These days, Safka is investing her energy in the tour.?She called the show “a beautiful and very eclectic musical mix” that presents western history with a different slant.

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Contact Kathy Aney at kaney@eastoregonian.com or 541-966-0810.

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