One of the most moving concerts I ever attended, was on the Saturday following the tragic events of 9-11. Living in DC at the time, and still in a state of shock, we traveled to Henlopen State Park in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware to see Richie Havens.
Rather than cancel, Havens had decided to perform and before the show began, he passionately recounted watching the events unfold from his NJ home, directly across the river from Manhattan. As we were all still trying to make sense of it all, Richie's music was suddenly a moving, and reaffirming measure of the power that music, and Havens himself, have to heal.
Havens' website stated, "Beloved folk icon Richie Havens died Monday morning in his home from a sudden heart attack. He was 72."
"Havens first became part of musical history during his impromptu opening performance at the 1969 Woodstock Festival. Best known for his distinctive intense, rhythmic guitar style and soulful covers of pop and folk songs, Havens toured and recorded music for over 40 years before retiring from the road 3 years ago. Beyond his music, those who have met Havens will remember his gentle and compassionate nature, his light humor and his powerful presence.
While his family greatly appreciates that Richie’s many fans are also mourning this loss, they do ask for privacy during this difficult time. A public memorial will be planned for a later date."
Havens was humble and gracious after that memorable show, and his presence had a soothing effect on the entire crowd. I'd expected Havens to be performing solo, as he generally did, however Havens actually had a guitarist/bassist, a singer, and a great multi-percussionist that day, which I loved. I didn't expect him to have a back- up combo, and apparently, neither did he. I'd seen Havens many times over last 20 years, and I don't think I can ever remember seeing him with a combo; according to Havens, it turned out to be one of those serendipitous moments for everyone.
Sitting backstage after she show, Havens explained that this was an extraordinary week, and that "it's great to have your friends around you, and they said they wanted to perform with me… Man, I still can't believe it, but this is a nice thing, the least I could do.."
USA Today wrote, "Born in 1941, the Brooklyn native moved to Greenwich Village in the early '60s and released his first album, A Richie Havens Record, in 1965. In 1967, he signed with Bob Dylan's manager, Albert Grossman, and also landed a deal with Verve Records. His big break came when he played a lengthy opening set at Woodstock, particularly a memorable extrapolation of the spiritual Motherless Child that became known as Freedom.
In 2004, Jack Black told USA TODAY that Havens' blistering acoustic set was an inspiration to his comedy rock duo Tenacious D "because we couldn't believe how hard a guy could rock with an acoustic guitar."
Havens often covered popular songs, his gritty voice and singular strumming style giving them an easily recognizable sound. His biggest radio hit came in 1971 with a remake of The Beatles' Here Comes the Sun, which reached No. 16 on the Billboard Hot 100. He released more than two dozen albums and compilations, the most successful being 1969's Richard P. Havens, 1983 and 1971's Alarm Clock. He later lent his voice to several commercials, including one for Cotton Incorporated for which he sang The Fabric of Our Lives jingle.
Havens, who was paid $6,000 for his 1969 Woodstock appearance, returned to the site in upstate New York in August 2009 to commemorate the festival's 40th anniversary. He reprised Freedom for an audience of about 150 in an open field there that afternoon, then performed at Bethel Woods Center for the Arts that night, telling the crowd: "My generation was very, very special, because we had the best-looking generation. We look good ... still." Havens announced his retirement from live performing in 2012, citing health problems…"
Havens was a personal inspiration for me growing up; he and his music opened me up to a world of people I might never have been exposed to in the 1970s and 1980s; Pete Seeger and the boat rides down the Hudson; folk festivals far and wide; and the gift of teaching and giving through music.
We will miss you my man.
E. "Doc" Smith is a musician and recording artist with Edgetone Records, who has worked with the likes of Brian Eno, Madonna, Warren Zevon, Mickey Hart and many others. He is also the Arts & Entertainment editor for Beyond Chron and inventor of the musical instrument, the Drummstick.