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“It Was Like Being Fed to the Lions”: Late Folk Legend Melanie on Her “Terrifying” Woodstock Breakout

As the 50th anniversary of Woodstock approached in 2019, I embarked on a mission to track down Melanie, the folk singer who rose to fame in the late 1960s. There was something intriguing about her journey from international stardom to relative obscurity, and I was eager to uncover the truth. Watching old clips of Melanie on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson only deepened my curiosity, particularly about her complex relationship with fame.

After finally reaching Melanie by phone in Nashville, she graciously shared her memories of the past, starting with her breakout success in Europe in 1968. She recounted surreal experiences, like sharing a dressing room with a camel during her time at the Olympia theater in Paris. Despite her European fame, Melanie remained relatively unknown in her home country of the United States.

The story took an unexpected turn when her producer suggested she attend Woodstock the following year. Unaware of the festival’s significance, Melanie found herself caught in traffic on the way to the event, surrounded by music legends like Sly Stone and Janis Joplin upon arrival.

The pivotal moment came when Melanie boarded a helicopter, leaving behind her mother and embracing the uncertainty ahead. Hovering over the crowded field, she marveled at the spectacle below, unaware of the impact she would soon make. Despite initial setbacks and delays, Melanie eventually took the stage, overwhelmed by the sheer scale of the audience and the weight of the moment.

As Richie Havens performed, Melanie grappled with nerves and uncertainty. When her turn finally arrived, she experienced a surreal out-of-body sensation, transcending fear and doubt to deliver a performance that resonated with half a million people. Woodstock, she concluded, was nothing short of magical, a defining moment that shaped her career and identity forever.

Melanie’s story, recounted in one of her final interviews before her passing, offers a glimpse into the transformative power of music and the enduring legacy of Woodstock.

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