The world lost an amazing folk singer on Monday when Richie Havens passed away at the age of 72 from a heart attack. He was a big deal in the folk scene of the Sixties and was actually the first act to hit the stage at Woodstock. He was most famous for the imaginative covers he did from classic bands like The Rolling Stones and The Beatles (look up his cover of "Here Comes the Sun"). But its the Woodstock story that I like the best.
He had already had a little fame before he was asked to play at the famous festival. Recalling his trip to the grounds by helicopter he said "It was awesome, like double Times Square on New Year's Eve in perfect daylight with no walls or buildings to hold people in place". He also wasn't supposed to be the first act to open the festival, it was supposed to be the band Sweetwater but that band ended up stuck in traffic and co-organizer Michael Lang then approached Havens and basically begged Havens to go on instead.
After performing a half-dozen songs, Havens ran out of materials until he later said he remembered "that world I kept hearing while I looked over the crowd in my first moments onstage. The word was: freedom." Havens began chanting that world over and over, backed by his second guitarist and conga player and eventually segued into the gospel song "Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child" which he had remembered from church. The medley wasn't just a crowd pleaser, it later became a highlight of the Woodstock movie, which immortalized Havens.
"My fondest memory was realizing that I was seeing something I never thought I'd ever see in my lifetime - an assemblage of such numbers of people who had the same spirit and consciousness."