A few years ago when I was still living in Ireland, I was gifted the opportunity of listening to Richie Havens play in a concert in Cork City. In truth I had gone mostly to hear the warm-up act, a wonderful singer/songwriter by the name of Don Mescall who I had briefly gotten to know. Of course I had heard of Richie and like many growing up in North America had at one point or another seen the iconic documentary, Woodstock. But that’s as far as it had gotten.
I was unprepared for the sheer power and beauty of this man’s performance. For almost three hours, he wrapped us in the warmth of his heart and talent. He had more energy than you could possibly imagine and he took that energy and generously gave it to us so that by the end of that evening we were all inspired, delighted, and at moments, yes perhaps a bit blown away by the incredible power of word and image and song that he invoked. Later he sat in the lobby of the theatre and graciously signed CD after CD to a line of fans long and winding. His patience impressed.
I read online today in one of what will surely be many articles about the man that at some point he was quoted as saying, “I’m not in show business, I’m in the communications business”. I can acknowledge the truth of that. From my perspective and experience of his music, Richie Havens knew with each concert he gave (perhaps even with each song he wrote) that he had an opportunity to, for a brief moment, lift the spirits of those around him and open their hearts just a little more. I sense he recognized that in doing so each of us might become more inspired within to envision and create a more loving and beautiful world. For me, that was often the message within his songs and his life.
A day later I got to meet him again while visiting Don at his family’s home. Richie and the band dropped by. It was an easy effortless sitting around chatting on a sunny Cork day. The man exuded both gentleness, kindness, and a beautiful depth of spirit. I consider it an honour to have met him.
So here’s to you, Richie Havens – fly high and free, soar with the angels, sing with the heavens. We are all blessed to have had you with us. Your music lives on.