December 7, 2006


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More than the one-word song
A icon of American history brings all-American folks
By Bill Copeland

Richie Havens will forever be known as the man who opened Woodstock during that historic summer of 1969; images of him singing “Freedom” on that huge stage are etched in the minds of many.

“Woodstock had to happen,” Havens said. “People relate Woodstock to the ’60s. They forget the fact that it was the teenagers of the ’50s who became those people in the ’60s. We had been looking for that kind of freedom in the ’50s.”

Havens, who will play at Tupelo on Saturday, Dec. 9., does not belong to just one part of music history. He is actually well rooted in the history of all-American folk music. He began his career as one of many aspiring singer-songwriters in the Greenwich Village folk scene in the early 1960s.

“One of the most important things was learning to play the guitar. It took about three days for me to get on that stage down there,” he said. “I was hearing songs that really changed my life, as sung and written by the people that were down there at the time.”

Havens is still very much a working musician, touring more relentlessly than musicians half his age.

“I’m invited. I’m open,” he said.” In January, Havens will travel to the U.K. for 20 days, then come back to the United States and play more weekends.

After recording 31 albums in his career, this singer-songwriter still feels he has something to say.

“There is still a lot to be said, especially when there’s new blood in Washington, and there’s a chance that some of the outsiders would be asked to participate in some of these decisions in our lives. I know that on the side of the people who won, they’re definitely open to ideas for change.”

 For about 44 years now Havens has focused  on a need for brotherhood and personal freedom.

“That is the need of the whole world. That is what we’re still talking about. Now we talk about other people’s freedom in the world. We hardly talk about ours,” he said.

Havens is not without his own influences. He was a fan of singer Nina Simone when he was becoming  an influence for the next generation. Havens was also co-writing songs with Oscar-winning film actor Louis Gossett Jr back in the day.

Havens released his first two albums to some acclaim, but his Something Else Again album was the one that broke through and made the Billboard charts. It may have been the album’s shorter songs that put him over.

“In those days, they were still having problems putting 5, 6, 7 minute songs on the air. Only Dylan was getting away with it,” he said.

Once called a “premiere interpreter of Bob Dylan,” Havens takes it as a compliment. 

“I guess that means I do Dylan better than anybody else who tried. But it isn’t a matter of doing Dylan. To me, it’s a matter of actually singing the songs he wrote. I was moved to do some of those songs. It was, in fact, different from most other people because I tune in an open tuning so it sounds different. All of the songs that I’ve done of his were songs that actually changed me, personally.”

Who: Richie Havens
Where: Tupelo Music Hall, 2 Young Road, Londonderry,
When: Saturday, Dec. 9 at 8 p.m.
How much: Tickets cost $30.
For more info: Go to