Richie Havens passed away April 22, 2013. Rest in peace, Richie Havens.
The loss of your bright shining heart and soul from our world is a shock. I realized that that I had seen you perform four times. More than I have seen any other nationally touring performer.
I first saw you at the Stephen Talkhouse in Amagansett, NY when I was barely out of college. My best friend had gotten concert tickets from his older brother. His brother decided he didn’t want to go to see some oldies acts. We were psyched to see Country Joe and the Fish. We reveled in his famous anti-war song. Joe was fun. We stayed to see the next act that — in our ignorance — we had never heard of. We figured we were there anyway. Why not give you a listen?
You blew us through the doors.
Your voice and guitar playing was riveting and raw. It was a whole orchestra in one human being. You played songs we knew, but we did not recognize them because you owned them. I think only Hendrix owned songs the way you did. You played Sting’s “They Dance Alone” and we did not realize it until halfway through.
A couple of years later, I was down in DC during the Clinton inauguration. I saw you were playing a free concert on the National Mall. I had to go. It was there on the open air stage — in the sunlight — I saw how you radiated peace and love. I remember going backstage after the show, and watching complete strangers come up to you and ask for a hug. And you hugged them warmly, without hesitation. Years later, I saw the Dalai Lama speak in Central Park. He is the only person I can think of that I saw in person that radiated love, and peace, and joy the way you did.
A few years after that, I was back on Long Island. I had discovered one of the best kept secrets on the Island: The Nassau County Community College Folk Festival. It was free, and wonderful. I spent 4 years going to school right next door, and never knew about it. The Festival is, sadly, now defunct. I talked a good friend of mine into going to see you at the festival. My friend is a musician himself. When I said to him that Havens thumb over the top guitar playing was the best I had ever seen, my friend understandably gave me a “yeah, right” look. After all, none of your albums could capture your live voice and playing. I am reminded of the first time that I saw a Van Gogh at a museum. I finally understood. The photos of the Van Goghs’ painting allowed me to recognize what they looked like but captured none of the emotion and psychic energy. It is the same with the recordings of your music. But when you started playing, my friend’s face lit up with a happy grin. He looked at me, and said, “You are right.”
The fourth time I saw you was in Port Washington. I took my wife. I wanted to share your music and your way of being with her. Seeing you was something special that I had experienced, and I wanted to share it with the person I loved the most. She and I had seen the Dalai Lama together in Central park and were moved. She saw what I saw in your live performance and your being, and I was glad.
Thank you for all you have given the world.