RICHIE HAVENS Right place, right time
The singer is perhaps most famous for opening the Woodstock festival.
Singer/songwriter Richie Havens has made a career out of being in the right place at the right time.
As a young and talented acoustic guitar player, the New York City native moved from Brooklyn to Greenwich Village just as the folk boom of the early '60s was emerging. For seven years he honed his exuberant live show and by the time he released his debut album "Mixed Bag" in 1967, the music world was changing, with folk rock acting as a peace-and-love soundtrack to the hippie movement.
In looking back at all of the legendary festivals that took place during this era - 1966's Newport Folk Festival, 1967's Monterey Jazz Festival, 1969's Woodstock and Isle of Wright Festivals -- Havens was on every bill.
"It was a very strange thing and it took me awhile to figure it out," Havens said, calling from his home in New Jersey. "Basically, my first record was a mixed bag, just as the title says, with songs from every genre and that's the way I started. ... It's just amazing at what I got to be a part of."
A career turning point
Havens is best known for opening the Woodstock festival, which wasn't initially the plan. Originally fifth on the bill, concert organizers pleaded with Havens to take the stage some five hours after the show was supposed to have started. Because of the unexpected traffic jam, artists were unable to get to the farm-turned-concert venue. So a four-seat helicopter, packed with conga drums, acoustic guitars, Havens and his band, delivered the artist backstage for what would become the defining moment of his career.
After a handful of encores, Havens strummed the guitar and what came out was rock history.
"I didn't have another song to sing, so I just started playing guitar, that's why there is a long intro on the record," Havens said. "And in my mind, I started thinking, what some of these young people out here don't realize is that this is the freedom we've been looking for. That this was a freedom that we were trying to find, trying to do, to get together and do what we do and have a good time with no problems. So the word freedom came out and that's how it started."
If there is an anthem associated with the first Woodstock festival, it's Havens' improvised "Freedom," which is built around the spiritual standard "Motherless Child." Oddly enough, Havens had to wait for the Woodstock documentary to be released a few years later to learn what he had played.
Today, Havens continues to release new albums, including 2004' s "Grace of Sun," but he finds performing onstage the most satisfying. You can see the folk legend April 30 at Kent's The Kent Stage. And to this day, aftermore than 40 years in the business, the singer/guitarist wholeheartedly embraces the importance of timing -- or being in the right place at the right time from a musical standpoint -- within his live shows.
"I always have to do some of the old songs because the people will get me outside and beat me up," Havens said, laughing.