Written by Jon Riedeman
On the night Richie Havens died I called my sister and we shared Richie Havens stories. We have loved him since we were kids and were fortunate to have seen him play and talked with him many times.
I’m sure thousands of Richie Havens stories have been passed back and forth these last two weeks. He was that way, his concerts were more than just making music, they were making connections. He would walk onto stage like a shaman in his long tunic, rings on every finger. His warmth, his sincerity, that spark in his eyes, his soft voice, his music would touch people deeply.
He was kind and generous and would always take the time to talk and share stories. After one concert my sister told him how much she like his song “Paradise”. She wanted to learn to play the song so she asked him if he had published a songbook. He said no, he did not have a songbook, but a few days later he sent her an email. “It’s always nice to hear from friends,” he said, I am working on a book of songs but until then…” below he had written out the lyrics and the chords for the song.
My first connection with Richie Havens was at Woodstock. Not at the festival in 1969, I was too young for that, but thirty years later when Melanie, Country Joe, Arlo, Johnny Winter and Richie Havens returned to Yasgur’s Farm for a reunion concert. Gave me a chill to step onto the hillside where half a million kids had converged for a festival that amazed the world and defined an era. Before Richie Havens played, he spoke about impact of Woodstock, the importance of the music and the power of that land. He said he believed that we were sitting on a powerful spot, that the energy of each performer who had played at Woodstock was still there. “I know it’s here, I can feel it” he said.
Richie Havens was slated to be Infinity Hall’s first performer when we opened four years ago, but our opening date was delayed so his concert had to be pushed back a few months. A huge snowstorm hit on the day of his show. Richie and his wife left their home in Brooklyn and drove 12 hours through the storm, arriving just minutes before showtime. He played a wonderful show and stayed long after to talk with fans and sign autographs.
I am so grateful to have known him, grateful for the gifts he left us; his beautiful music and poetry. Richie was cremated last Tuesday and his ashes were placed in a stone pyramid urn. Later this summer they will be brought back to Yasgur’s Farm and scattered across the site of the Woodstock festival, the land he revered.
We will miss you Richie. But your energy is still with us, up on our stage. I know it’s there. I can feel it.