News

Singer-Songwriter Richie Havens Remembers His Woodstock

There were a great many great musical performers at the historic three day Woodstock Music and Arts Festival, whose 40th anniversary is being celebrated this August 14-16. But few are as etched into the public mind as singer-songwriter Richie Havens, whose rendition of "Freedom/Motherless Child" and others songs were featured in the Oscar-winning documentary about the legendary festival.   

Richie Havens played his now-iconic medley end of the opening act before a crowd of between 300,000 and 500,000 music fans, hippies, counterculture activists and drug-soaked pleasure seekers.  Havens was later followed onstage by superstars like Jimi Hendrix, the Who, Ravi Shankar, Santana, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young and Janis Joplin. That might also help explain why Havens' long African-style tunic was soaked with sweat during his performance.

Havens recently told this reporter that he had already been onstage for nearly three hours when he played that song, which suddenly sprang to mind from his doo wop and gospel days back in Brooklyn.  

"To tell you the truth, I had sung … all the songs I knew, and I am going 'What am I going to do now,'" he said.

At the same time, Havens was deeply moved by the camaraderie and free-spiritedness and of the Woodstock audience. 

"And in my mind I'm going 'you know, this is the freedom that my generation is looking for," he said. 

Havens was onstage for as long as he was because Woodstock producers were waiting for the other performers to arrive. The roads to the festival site were choked with cars backed up for over 100 kilometers in all directions. So Havens and the others had to be flown in by helicopter.

Havens remembers hovering high above that city of youth massed in what days before had been a peaceful cow pasture, and being awed by the size and the power of the gathering.  

"And when I looked down and I saw all those colors, I said to myself 'If the newspapers get hold of this shot, we've won,'" he said.      

Woodstock was billed as entertainment, not politics. But as it swelled, the watching world was aware that the vision of peace, music and community it represented was a gentle protest against the previous generation's way of life.

But music and rebellion were nothing new, says Havens. "We were protesting in the 1950s!" he said with s smile, and began to sing – in a perfect "doo wop" falsetto "No, no no!  I'm not a juvenile delinquent!'" Those lyrics, to his ear, expressed the spirit of youthful protest too. "It was about being something our parents don't understand you are. It's [asserting] the freedom to have a voice!"  

With escalating racial tensions and increasing public anger over the Vietnam War, the Sixties was a time filled with strident voices. But Havens says that for those three muddy days at Woodstock, politics and activism took a back seat to peace, love and cheerfully dealing with the rain and mud.

"Many of the fans that I came in contact with, they were so mellowed out, you could feel there was real joy," said Havens, who added that he was hugged "thousands and thousands" of times over the course of the event.

As August 1969 fades farther into the past, the Woodstock Festival continues to enjoy a near-mythic status, both for those who were there and for the millions who wish they'd been there. But many of the tens of millions more who've been born since, and who know only the music, the legend and the media hype, are still inspired by the free-spirited and communitarian values that Woodstock has come to symbolize.  

"There was just such an open door [that] even the least of us could have a vision," Havens said. "This is the challenge we have now: to open a lot of those doors."  

For his part, Havens, now nearly 70, continues to express the Woodstock ethos with new songs like "The Key," which is featured on his new album Nobody Left to Crown,  Meanwhile, in a role he  seems to relish, Havens will continue to act as a benign, bearded ambassador for the Woodstock state of mind.
 

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountaini
X
July 02, 2015 4:10 AM
Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountain

Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Xenophobia Victims in South Africa Flee Violence, Then Return

Many Malawians fled South Africa early this year after xenophobic attacks on African immigrants. But many quickly found life was no better at home and have returned to South Africa – often illegally and without jobs, and facing the tough task of having to start over. Lameck Masina and Anita Powell file from Johannesburg.
Video

Video Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prison

As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video UK Holds Terror Drill as MPs Mull Tunisia Response

After pledging a tough response to last Friday’s terror attack in Tunisia, which came just days before the 10th anniversary of the bomb attacks on London’s transport network, British security services are shifting their focus to overseas counter-terror operations. VOA's Henry Ridgwell has more.
Video

Video Obama on Cuba: This is What Change Looks Like

President Barack Obama says the United States will soon reopen its embassy in Cuba for the first time since 1961, ending a half-century of isolation. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video US Silica Sand Mining Surge Worries Illinois Residents, Businesses

Increased domestic U.S. oil and gas production, thanks to advances known as “fracking,” has created a boom for other industries supporting that extraction. Demand for silica sand, used in fracking, could triple over the next five years. In the Midwest state of Illinois, people living near the mines are worried about how increased silica sand mining will affect their businesses and their health. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh has more in this first of a series of reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Texas Defies Same-Sex Marriage Ruling

Texas state officials have criticized the US Supreme Court decision giving same-sex couples the right to marry nationwide. The attorney general of Texas says last week's decision did not overrule constitutional "rights of religious liberty," and therefore officials performing wedding services can refuse to perform them for same-sex couples if it is against their religious beliefs. Zlatica Hoke reports on the controversy.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.
Video

Video Saudi Leaks Expose ‘Checkbook Diplomacy’ In Battle With Iran

Saudi Arabia’s willingness to wield its oil money on the global diplomatic stage appears to have been laid bare, after the website WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of leaked cables from Riyadh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video In Kenya, Police Said to Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

An organization that documents torture and extrajudicial killings says Kenyan police were responsible for 1,252 shooting deaths in five cities, including Nairobi, between 2009 and 2014, representing 67 percent of all gun deaths in the areas reviewed. Gabe Joselow has more from Nairobi.

VOA Blogs