Richie Havens – Freedom at Woodstock 1969
Richie Havens was the first act of some concert in some cornfield; apparently the importance of this seemingly mundane scenario cannot be overstated.
The Brooklyn born Havens began as a doo-wop and gospel singer who eventually gained stardom within the Greenwich Village Folk music scene along with such performers as Bob Dylan and Joan Baez; perhaps you’ve heard of them?
Havens is best known for his guitar playing in the sense that the percussion of his foot tapping coupled with a fretting style that is seen as unconventional. A wizard at applying his own style to the material of other artists, most recognizably Bob Dylan and The Beatles, the original set for the opening Woodstock session was mostly Beatles cover songs. His song “Freedom” became the anthem for a generation when he ran out of material after demand for numerous encores. He began splicing the blues song “Motherless Child” with “Freedom”, and when the particular cut of the song was put on the film Woodstock, it instantly became an international hit.
The ambient serenity coupled with the accidental beauty stays with those who have heard it and the song remains a patchwork folk classic.
After Woodstock 1969, Havens’ album “Alarm Clock” was his first to reach the Billboard top 30 and from the album emerged his hit “Here Comes the Sun”, an individually tailored cover of the Beatles’ song. Under his own record label Stormy Forest, he released four more albums. Throughout his career of three decades, Havens is responsible for over 25 studio releases, appearances in numerous films, and being the only act other than Barbara Streisand to be asked for a second performance on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson.
Havens’ icon as a folk star has not diminished as time elapses. He remains actively touring in his grab bag, unique style where the task of predicting the style of the show is near impossible. Recent mentionable events include performing at the inauguration of Bill Clinton and performing at the Tibetan Freedom Concert.
The career of Havens comes full circle with his most recent album titled “Nobody Left to Crown” as he draws parallels between the turmoil of the 60’s and today with a sense of timelessness. As was relevant in the music of his early career, he speaks of change and recovery by using the sincerity that folk music seems to harbor as a means for reaching listeners.
When he is not maintaining the folk roots of the Greenwich Village scene, Havens spends his time (and cash) on educating children on the environment by means of the Northwind Undersea Institute, a nautical museum in the Bronx and an organization known as The Natural Guard.