Interview with Richie Havens

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Richie Havens
Richie Havens

Interview and Photos by Scott Preston

Richie Havens is gifted with one of the most recognizable voices in popular music. His fiery, poignant, always soulful singing style has remained unique and ageless since he first emerged from the Greenwich Village folk scene in the early 1960’s. It’s a voice that has inspired and electrified audiences from the Woodstock Music & Arts Fair in 1969, to the Bill Clinton Presidential Inauguration in 1993 -coming full circle with the 30th Woodstock Anniversary celebration, “A Day In The Garden”, in 1999.

For over three decades, Richie has used his music to convey messages of brotherhood and personal freedom. With more than twenty-five albums released and a touring schedule that would kill many a younger man, he continues to view his calling as a higher one. As he told The Denver Post, “I really sing songs that move me. I’m not in show business, I’m in the communications business. That’s what it’s about for me”. (from richiehavens.com)

I have had the pleasure to see Richie perform a few times over the years. The last time was in 2005 at Peach’s Grill in Yellow Springs, OH. Peach’s doesn’t hold a lot of people, I’m guessing but probably no more than 200. When Richie started performing there was complete silence. No one spoke a word, everyone was focused on Richie. This just proves the respect he has earned over the years from everyone that has heard him perform. On top of that he generally will come out after his show is over and will sign autographs and take photos with the fans. Which is something he doesn’t have to do, but I believe he really enjoys interacting with people. Richie will be making a return performance to Peach’s Grill in Yellow Springs, OH on March 29, 2008. I was lucky enough to be able to ask Richie some questions about his career:

Cincy Groove: What was the vibe like when you played at Woodstock in 1969?

Richie Havens: It had this real interesting strange feeling of being ancient and futuristic at the same time. A lot of the idea that it was mostly the young people that went to Woodstock is slightly off track. There were grandparents with their grandkids camped out there for the week before it all started. I would say 25 percent of the people were over 50. Another 25 percent of the people were under 14. So it really covered the whole arch of people. I think basically because the elder people thought it was going to be kind of folky. The good thing about it was that it grew instead of diminished over the weekend.

Cincy Groove: Were you one of the performers who had to be taken into the venue by helicopter?

Richie Havens: Actually all of us had to be taken in by helicopter (laughing). I can say in terms of wanting to be where everything was we were told to come 7 miles away to the hotels we would be staying at. Of course there was no road to take the performers and equipment in with. People had abandoned their cars 7 or so miles away and walked. It was truly amazing, those people had their own 3 days of sitting on top of their cars and feeding each other on the highway. There was this constant stream of people coming in. There was about 520,000 people there when I went on.

What happened was they found this farmer down the road with a glass bubble helicopter. He landed just outside the Holiday Inn parking lot. I hear the knock at the door , I had actually been there for 7 hours waiting to see what was going to happen. Since I had the least number of people and instruments they took us over. Once they let us out behind the stage he flew back to the Holiday Inn and they said “Can you take these guys over?”. He looked at all the equipment and said this isn’t that kind of helicopter to be doing that with and he went home. I was at the stage and everyone else is back at the hotel.

I was supposed to go on fifth. A little piece of trivia, is that the organizers had to chase me around for about 1 1/2 hours to get me to go on first. Of course the people just wanted anything to happen, so when I walked out it was absolutely amazing to see that many people in one place.

When you start to see the people stand up when I started singing in the film you see how high the hill goes. When you get to the top of that hill there was really a road there. On the other side of that hill there was just as many people as you saw on the front side.

Cincy Groove: Since you were the only one there didn’t you have to extend your set?

Richie Havens: Yeah thats what they called it (laughing). They told me until someone else gets here your it. They said go on and do your 40 minutes and by that time someone else will be here. I said ok no problem so I got up there and did my 40 minutes. I walked off and they said “Richie can you do 4 more songs?” and I said ok. Well 2 hours and 45 minutes later I didn’t know what else to sing. I sang every song I knew.

After I walked back out on the stage for the 7th time, I sat down. The long intro you hear is me stalling to figure out what the hell I was going to sing. What happened was as I was looking over the crowd as they were coming in and started talking and don’t exactly remember what I said. But it was something about everybody in the world is going to be looking at this one and if they do they are going to know we are the good guys. This is the freedom we wanted in 1959 , we felt we should have been listened to earlier. Woodstock served its purpose, it got people involved of all genres of music. The fact that all the people that played never went on the time they were supposed to added to the magic of the event.

Cincy Groove: I noticed early in your career you did some acting, have you done any acting lately?

Richie Havens: Yes I have , I was in the Dylan movie “I’m Not There”. I played a grandfather living with his son , wife and grandkids. Most people that have heard Bob Dylan never heard him sing as Robert Zimmerman. While he was Robert Zimmerman he was putting out these records with funny names on them. Then he came to New York. The time frame of when he was still Robert Zimmerman after he arrived in New York and before he changed his name to Bob Dylan is what the meat of the story is about.

The first movie I did was Othello. I had never been in a movie in my whole life. The guy who put it all together said there are 2 things that make this version of Othello interesting. One is that Shakespeare should never be done without musicians doing all the parts. He said musicians conversate and actors orate. This guy had chased me for about a year to be in this movie. His name was Jack Good. He was the first person in England to put Rock and Roll on tv. He had the shows Shindig and Hullabaloo. The movie had some tough competition because Jesus Christ Superstar had come out the same week. United Artists had wanted to get out of the movie business at the time so they said lets open the movie in England and get the worst of the worst critique. Because they don’t like any American doing Shakespeare. But what ended up happening is that they liked it.

Richie’s band is:
Richie Havens – guitar and vocals
Walter Parks – guitar – http://www.walterparks.com
Stephanie Winters – cello – http://www.stephaniewinters.com

Upcoming Richie Havens tour dates:
for complete show info please visit Richie’s website – richiehavens.com
March 27, 2008 Massillon Museum Massillon, OH
March 28, 2008 Stuart’s Opera House Nelsonville, OH
March 29, 2008 Peach’s Grill Yellow Springs, OH – with opener Steven Gregory and Casey Lamb
March 30, 2008 The Kent Stage Kent, OH
April 5, 2008 Richard P. Marasco Center for the Performing Arts Monroe Township, NJ
April 12, 2008 Amazing Things Arts Center Framingham, MA
April 18, 2008 Turnage Theater Washington NC
April 19, 2008 Shakori Hills Grassroots Festival of Music & Dance Pittsboro, NC
April 22, 2008 Hugh’s Room Toronto ON
April 23, 2008 Hugh’s Room Toronto ON
April 24, 2008 Ottawa Folk Festival / Centrepointe Theatre Ottawa ON
April 25, 2008 Sydenham Street United Church Kingston ON
April 26, 2008 Oscar Peterson Concert Hall Montreal QE
May 2, 2008 Metropolitan Museum of Art New York, NY
May 3, 2008 Towne Crier Cafe Pawling, NY
May 9, 2008 City Opera House Traverse City, MI
May 10, 2008 Old Town School of Folk Music Chicago, IL
May 11, 2008 The Ark Ann Arbor, MI
May 17, 2008 Jacoby Auditorium Umpqua Community College Roseburg, OR
May 30, 2008 Turning Point Cafe Piermont, NY
May 31, 2008 Mauch Chunk Opera House Jim Thorpe, PA
June 13, 2008 Stone Church Music Club New Market, NH
June 24, 2008 Crooked Tree Arts Center Petosky, MI
June 25, 2008 Springfield Arts Council Summer Arts Veterans Park Ampitheater Springfield, OH
June 27, 2008 Riverwalk Center Breckenridge, CO
June 28, 2008 The Soiled Dove Underground Denver, CO
June 29, 2008 Strings in the Mountains Strings Music Pavilion Steamboat Springs, CO
August 9, 2008 LL Bean Summer Concert Series Discovery Park Freeport, ME
August 10, 2008 Nashua River Valley Folk Festival Lancaster MA
August 25, 2008 Mohegan Sun Uncasville, CT
August 26, 2008 Mohegan Sun Uncasville, CT
August 29, 2008 Rhythm Festival 2008 Clapham, Bedfordshire, UK
August 30, 2008 Rhythm Festival 2008 Clapham, Bedfordshire, UK
August 31, 2008 Rhythm Festival 2008 Clapham, Bedfordshire, UK
September 5, 2008 The Ohio Theatre Cleveland, OH
November 22, 2008 Patchogue Theater for the Performing Arts Patchogue, NY
January 16, 2009 One World Theatre Austin, TX
April 17, 2009 Macomb Center for the Performing Arts Macomb, MI
April 18, 2009 Jasper Community Arts Center Jasper, IN
April 24, 2009 Stoughton Opera House Stoughton, WI