Richie Havens was a warm and kind person. He was a strong man, with radiant ebony skin and full beard, a ring on every finger, and often wearing a long, blousy African shirt, draped with necklaces he’d collected from around the world. The man commanded your attention the moment he walked on stage. And he kept it—seated on a stool and playing his acoustic opened string tuned guitar with a large triangular pick he rhythmically strummed like he was playing on an ancestral drum. It was hypnotic.
Richie owned every song he ever played. Be it George Harrison’s Here Comes The Sun, Dylan’s Just Like A Woman, or his own redemptive version of Freedom—immortalized by his performance at Woodstock.
He walked with gentle courage and had a belly laugh that bubbled up out of his very being with an infectious smile that circled the world. I shared the stage with Richie on several occasions through the years. In Central Park at Ben & Jerry’s Folk Festival. On the dry grazing Diné lands of Arizona to support an end to the mining of ancestral land (where, in appreciation, the Hopi people invited Richie into a ceremonial gathering on top of a sacred mesa). The last time I shared a stage with Richie was at Pete Seeger’s 90th Birthday celebration at Madison Square Garden, where he once again mesmerized thousands with his soulful gift of musical acoustic wonder.
Richie Havens was a star in the purest sense of the word. His light shone brightly. Not upon himself, but upon the love we all share within our hearts. He will be deeply missed.
By Larry Long
April 23, 2013