Skip to main content

Richie Havens in his own words

By Richie Havens, Special to CNN
April 23, 2013 -- Updated 1823 GMT (0223 HKT)
Richie Havens opened the Woodstock festival at Bethel, New York, in 1969. He died of a heart attack Monday.
Richie Havens opened the Woodstock festival at Bethel, New York, in 1969. He died of a heart attack Monday.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Richie Havens, who came to wide fame as the opening act at Woodstock, died Monday
  • He wrote a recollection of the festival for CNN.com on its 40th anniversary in 2009
  • Havens said he took the stage to perform his iconic set when other acts were delayed
  • Havens: In a pre-digital age, Woodstock was a peaceful protest and global celebration

(CNN) -- Folk singer Richie Havens, who died Monday at 72, was the opening act in 1969 at Woodstock, the historic counterculture music festival, catapulting him to fame and securing his status as an icon of the baby-boomer generation. Havens would tour widely for the next 40 years and release more than 20 albums. On the 40th anniversary of the Woodstock festival, Havens wrote this reflection for CNN.com in 2009.

Forty years ago this summer I wound up opening the Woodstock festival when the four acts scheduled before me were stuck in massive traffic jams and delayed in getting to the concert site in Bethel, New York.

My band had made it up from Manhattan in the early morning hours, and we had the least amount of gear to set up, so after some strong convincing from the promoters I agreed to go on.

Havens performs at a festival in England in 2007
Havens performs at a festival in England in 2007

The show was late in starting, and they were feeling pressure to start the music. We played for nearly three hours as they were still building the stage around me. I sang every song I knew, and when they asked me to go back on one more time, I improvised "Freedom."

When you see me in the movie tuning my guitar and strumming, I was actually trying to figure out what else I could possibly play! I looked out at all of those faces in front of me and the word "freedom" came to mind.

One of my strongest memories of that day is flying in the helicopter over that vast, spectacular crowd that had already stretched back over the hills and well out of view of the stage. Looking down, my only thought was, "This is incredible. ... We're really here and they can't hide us anymore."

Become a fan of CNNOpinion
Stay up to date on the latest opinion, analysis and conversations through social media. Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion and follow us @CNNOpinion on Twitter. We welcome your ideas and comments.



I've been asked all summer long if I believe Woodstock is still significant and if I think another Woodstock is ever likely to happen. Well, certainly large three-day festivals are still happening all over: Coachella and Bonnaroo in the United States, the Isle of Wight and Glastonbury abroad, but the reality of what made Woodstock become such a historic event has definitely changed.

Woodstock happened in August 1969, long before the Internet and mobile phones made it possible to communicate instantly with anyone, anywhere. It was a time when we weren't able to witness world events or the horrors of war live on 24-hour news channels.

Folk singer Richie Havens, the opening act at the 1969 Woodstock music festival, died on Monday, April 22, of a heart attack at age 72, his publicist said. He is pictured performing on a TV special in Copenhagen, Denmark, in June 1969. Folk singer Richie Havens, the opening act at the 1969 Woodstock music festival, died on Monday, April 22, of a heart attack at age 72, his publicist said. He is pictured performing on a TV special in Copenhagen, Denmark, in June 1969.
Legendary folk artist Richie Havens
HIDE CAPTION
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
>
>>
Photos: Legendary folk artist Richie Havens Photos: Legendary folk artist Richie Havens
2006: Havens says he's not anti-soldier

News coverage was filtered and selective, and we felt manipulated and silenced by the lack of information. So much was happening around us, and we didn't feel like we were being told the truth.

With everything that was going on in the late 1960s -- the war in Vietnam, civil and human rights issues, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassination -- we rallied and relied on strength in numbers. We came together communally to be heard and to be acknowledged.

Though it's frequently portrayed as this crazy, unbridled festival of rain-soaked, stoned hippies dancing in the mud, Woodstock was obviously much more than that -- or we wouldn't still be talking about it in 2009. People of all ages and colors came together in the fields of Max Yasgur's farm.

Some traveled for days or weeks to get there. The world was quickly changing, and none of us was willing to sit and just watch it go by. We needed to feel like part of the change and that spontaneous coming together felt like the world's biggest family reunion!

When Wavy Gravy said, "What we have in mind is breakfast in bed for 400,000," that's what it felt like: hundreds of thousands of friends and loved ones taking care of one another. Woodstock was both a peaceful protest and a global celebration.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary were solely those of Richie Havens.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
December 13, 2014 -- Updated 2108 GMT (0508 HKT)
The NFL's new Player Conduct Policy was a missed chance to get serious about domestic violence, says Mel Robbins.
December 16, 2014 -- Updated 1740 GMT (0140 HKT)
The slaughter of more than 130 children by the Pakistani Taliban may prove as pivotal to Pakistan's security policy as the 9/11 attacks were for the U.S., says Peter Bergen.
December 17, 2014 -- Updated 1600 GMT (0000 HKT)
The Internet is an online extension of our own neighborhoods. It's time for us to take their protection just as seriously, says Arun Vishwanath.
December 16, 2014 -- Updated 2154 GMT (0554 HKT)
Gayle Lemmon says we must speak out for the right of children to education -- and peace
December 17, 2014 -- Updated 1023 GMT (1823 HKT)
Russia's economic woes just seem to be getting worse. How will President Vladimir Putin respond? Frida Ghitis gives her take.
December 17, 2014 -- Updated 0639 GMT (1439 HKT)
Australia has generally seen itself as detached from the threat of terrorism. The hostage incident this week may change that, writes Max Barry.
December 12, 2014 -- Updated 2020 GMT (0420 HKT)
Thomas Maier says the trove of letters the Kennedy family has tried to guard from public view gives insight into the Kennedy legacy and the history of era.
December 15, 2014 -- Updated 1456 GMT (2256 HKT)
Will Congress reform the CIA? It's probably best not to expect much from Washington. This is not the 1970s, and the chances for substantive reform are not good.
December 15, 2014 -- Updated 2101 GMT (0501 HKT)
From superstorms to droughts, not a week goes by without a major disruption somewhere in the U.S. But with the right planning, natural disasters don't have to be devastating.
December 15, 2014 -- Updated 1453 GMT (2253 HKT)
Would you rather be sexy or smart? Carol Costello says she hates this dumb question.
December 14, 2014 -- Updated 2253 GMT (0653 HKT)
A story about Pope Francis allegedly saying animals can go to heaven went viral late last week. The problem is that it wasn't true. Heidi Schlumpf looks at the discussion.
December 14, 2014 -- Updated 1550 GMT (2350 HKT)
Democratic leaders should wake up to the reality that the party's path to electoral power runs through the streets, where part of the party's base has been marching for months, says Errol Louis
December 13, 2014 -- Updated 2123 GMT (0523 HKT)
David Gergen: John Brennan deserves a national salute for his efforts to put the report about the CIA in perspective
December 12, 2014 -- Updated 1426 GMT (2226 HKT)
Anwar Sanders says that in some ways, cops and protesters are on the same side
December 11, 2014 -- Updated 1439 GMT (2239 HKT)
A view by Samir Naji, a Yemeni who was accused of serving in Osama bin Laden's security detail and imprisoned for nearly 13 years without charge in Guantanamo Bay
December 14, 2014 -- Updated 1738 GMT (0138 HKT)
S.E. Cupp asks: How much reality do you really want in your escapist TV fare?
December 11, 2014 -- Updated 1828 GMT (0228 HKT)
Rip Rapson says the city's 'Grand Bargain' saved pensions and a world class art collection by pulling varied stakeholders together, setting civic priorities and thinking outside the box
December 13, 2014 -- Updated 2310 GMT (0710 HKT)
Glenn Schwartz says the airing of the company's embarrassing emails might wake us up to the usefulness of talking in-person instead of electronically
December 12, 2014 -- Updated 2233 GMT (0633 HKT)
The computer glitch that disrupted air traffic over the U.K. on Friday was a nuisance, but not dangerous, says Les Abend
December 12, 2014 -- Updated 1740 GMT (0140 HKT)
Newt Gingrich says the CBO didn't provide an accurate picture of Obamacare's impact, so why rehire its boss?
December 13, 2014 -- Updated 0040 GMT (0840 HKT)
Russian aggression has made it clear Ukraine must rethink its security plans, says Olexander Motsyk, Ukrainian ambassador to the U.S.
December 12, 2014 -- Updated 0046 GMT (0846 HKT)
The Senate committee report on torture has highlighted partisan divisions on CIA methods, says Will Marshall. Republicans and Democrats are to blame.
December 11, 2014 -- Updated 1833 GMT (0233 HKT)
It would be dishonest to say that 2014 has been a good year for women. But that hasn't stopped some standing out, says Frida Ghitis.
ADVERTISEMENT