Richie Havens plays Waterloo Records: 2005

Does the idea of seeing a singer/songwriter with an acoustic guitar seem kind of…Dullsville?  Even fratboys do that, right?  I hate to admit I’m less than open-minded about this genre, and generally keep my own lyrics of cosmic angst, protest, and lack-of-woman and so forth coupled to acoustic strumming to myself. So…I was TOTALLY UNPREPARED for Richie Havens, the living legend from Greenwich Village and the 1960’s. Ever see the Woodstock movie? It could be argued that Havens stole the show…the audience screamed for encore after encore, until Havens had to make up songs.  This is a beautiful artist of rare power who plays guitar like he is in a light-saber battle with Darth Vader.  This bald, bearded, sixty-something was dressed like Buddha and had hands like baseball gloves. How can someone who’s surely played many thousands of times be so incomparably passionate?  He sang with the righteous conviction of a pissed-off saint.  He squeezed a torrent of chords out of a simple 6-string, and he got into the Zone, and pleaded with the world to do better, to be good, to be fair, to end all the suffering and injustice. His intensity while singing suggested someone who would try to overcome all the wrongs of the world by force.  I’ve read that the enigmatic West Texas preacher and singer Blind Willie Johnson was arrested for playing guitar and singing. Why? Because he was the song was “If I Had My Way I’d Tear This Building Down”, and he was standing in front of a prison or jailhouse, and the sound of his possessed voice must have filled those around with fear of God. Of any musician I have seen, only Havens has this quality of soul-power.  And as he thrashed his acoustic at the climax of his anthem “Freedom”, the bald, bearded, sixty-something year old stood up and made a mighty kick in the air. Havens is a force of nature.We shall not see his like again.


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