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Richie Havens

Posted by purplemary54 on April 22, 2013

You know, for a music fan, I had no knowledge of how Richie Havens’ classic performance at Woodstock came about.  I suppose it’s because I was never much of a Havens fan.  He’s one of those musicians I know is talented and charismatic, but who just doesn’t connect with me for some reason.  He’s also one of those performers who comes off better live than in the studio.  He seemed to need an audience’s energy to feed off of.  And at Woodstock, he had a lot of energy to fuel him.

“Freedom” became a hit and a staple of Havens’ live shows after Woodstock.  Which is pretty amazing since it didn’t exist until that day.  See, Woodstock was already a hot, chaotic mess even on the opening day.  The originally scheduled opening act wasn’t there.  In fact, a lot of other acts weren’t there.  I think at the scheduled opening time, Richie Havens was the only performer who had made it.  So the organizers asked Havens, scheduled as the fifth act on opening day, if he would go on early.  Havens and  two back up players were helicoptered to the stage (that’s how the artists had to get there, because the crowd was so huge).  Havens ended up playing a three-hour acoustic set to half a million hippies.  He and the guys playing with him actually ran out of songs to play.  So Havens improvised “Freedom,” which he based on the old spiritual “Motherless  Child.”

The song became one of the iconic songs of that historical concert.  Havens also had a hit with his cover of the Beatles’ “Here Comes the Sun.”  His playing and performing was zen-like, almost mystical.  Havens was like a a man possessed on stage.  He might not have been to my taste, but he was compelling and wonderful.  It seems oddly appropriate that he left this world on Earth Day.  Havens was 72.



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