Bergeron: Music, memories and a family's grief.
At Amazing Things Arts Center Saturday night, Melanie enthralled a full house
audience by singing her heart out three days after her husband died.
"Everyone dies," she said upon taking the stage, explaining Peter Schekeryk, her
husband and manager of 44 years died Wednesday of a heart attack.
Several people in the audience murmured condolences.
Melanie's appearance had been billed as a nostalgia trip - "the voice of an era"
- making a comeback with a new album and European tour. Many in the audience
must have heard her growing up in 1972 when "Brand New Key" was playing on every
Her son, Beau Jarred Schekeryk, a virtuoso guitarist, opened the concert and
accompanied his mother throughout the show.
Melanie showed the set list her husband wrote for the show and joked she'd often
ignored it in the past. She leaned it against a guitar stand and glanced at it
throughout the show.
If the audience had come for nostalgia or camp, they saw something else.
Melanie bared her soul, summoning what must have been the lessons of her own
life in music, the skyrocketing success, inevitable letdown, the struggle to
earn a living doing what you love, to reach out with unrestrained emotion at
once raw and touching.
She played a continual 90-minute set, singing old hits like "Beautiful People"
and "Brand New Key" with gusto and passion. She mixed in newer songs and sing-alongs,
talking about several of the tunes and sharing memories of her husband, pausing
to compose herself but never quitting.
A singer-songwriter who'd infused the Age of Aquarius with her own brand of girl
power and idealism, Melanie had soared through the late '60s and '70s, peppier
than Joan Baez and lots more fun than Joni Mitchell.
The first night at Woodstock - 41 years ago - she played at 11 p.m. when the
Nitty Gritty Dirt Band refused to play in the rain. Responding to her plucky
exuberance, audience members lit candles that flickered through her performance.
That night inspired Melanie's signature song, "Lay Down (Candles in the Rain),"
her anthem to the power of ideals and dreams to end the Vietnam War.
Those lyrics may seem impossibly naive today, a mantra of peace and love in the
age of terror: "So raise the candles high cause if you / Don't we could stay
black against the night. / Oh raise them higher again / And if you do, we could
stay dry against the rain."
When Melanie spoke of the beauty of "making connections" and the goodness she
believed resided in others' hearts, it was difficult not to imagine she was
still dealing with the loss of the man she'd married in 1966 and who'd fathered
her three children.
They joined her and Beau Jarred on stage, something she didn't seem to have
expected, first her daughter Jeordie and then Leilah.
When Melanie faltered or seemed overcome, they supported her with embraces and a
tenderness that would have moved all but the flintiest heart.
Many in the audience must have wondered why she came from Tennessee to play in a
medium-sized venue so soon after her loss. Under the circumstances, she
certainly could have canceled without penalty. After a tour and new album, the
money must have been inconsequential.
I believe she played to a town she'd never been to as a tribute to her husband,
who'd shepherded her through the ups-and-downs of a long career. And I have to
believe she reached as deeply as she could within herself to share with the
audience her music in his memory.
Whatever big name groups played that night in Boston in the Orpheum Theatre,
House of Blues or Paradise Lounge, I can not believe those audiences saw what
she delivered - not a performance in the sense of a staged act - but honest and
revelatory art from a 60ish woman long off the major industry radar charts.
Willing to reach deep within herself, she shared the very best she had to offer.
That may be the often forgotten wonder of places like Amazing Things and The
Center for Arts in Natick or area coffeehouses from Franklin to Hudson: Artists
clawing their way onto the stage or those, who, seeing fame in the rear view
mirror, bring a wisdom and honesty rarely found in the hot names du jour.
That night a "mature" audience, less comfortable with displaying emotion at
concerts than their grandchildren, were on their feet at the end, clapping,
cheering and even pumping an occasional fist.
When Melanie and her children ended with a heartfelt rendition of "Lay Down,"
audience members, like others in 1969, signaled how touched they were, not by
lighting candles but by holding up blinking cell phones.
For that moment, Melanie, her children and the audience held out their own light
against the dark.
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