- Richie Havens
played The Stephen Talkhouse
on Friday, June 19, and once again reminded the audience why he is unquestionably one of the most gifted guitarists and heartfelt vocalist in American music today.
Havens began his set with a recollection of how he comes across a song, asking around he found the lyrics via a third party to a song that really appealed to him. At a show in lower Manhattan one night, he took the stage, began to play and realized the audience appeared surprised at his performance. Becoming uncomfortable he left the stage, walked down a flight of stairs and a fellow steps out and says to him, "I really liked the way you played that song," Havens fondly recalled. "It was a startling way to meet Bob Dylan
," he grinned, and of course, the song was "Along The Watchtower."
Havens graciously sat outside The Talkhouse Friday evening after his performance to sign C.D.'s and gave fans the opportunity to have their photo taken with him. Photos by Eileen Casey
Known for his beautiful interpretation of The Beatles
' "Here Comes The Sun" which he performed, among other covers, including tunes from his own vast repertoire and cuts from his latest C.D. "Nobody Left To Crown," it is always with great anticipation that audience members wait for the signature Havens tune "Freedom" - originally known as "Motherless Child" - based on a spiritual dating back to the late 1800s about slavery, and which will forever be identified with Havens and his performance opening Woodstock in 1969. The sheer vulnerability and strength of the song stuns audiences still with its profound lyrics and Havens' masterful guitar licks.
Born in Brooklyn in 1941, Havens always enchants his audiences with stories of his childhood and lessons learned. "Everyone is always talking about outer space," he says, sparking the audience to join him in repeating the "Superman" mantra of "truth, justice and the American way," before he contends jokingly that "Superman" on television was not really from outer space "because his hair wasn't blue." Adding, "We are already in outer space, and the aliens - well - they are kids" - eliciting a great deal of laughter and head nodding from the audience. In his indomitable Havens way he concludes his repartee by observing, "I always thought that truth and justice was
] the American way."
Havens greeted all his fans with warmth and a smile.
Having an opportunity to speak briefly with Havens in the upstairs lounge area after his performance, I asked him what it was about The Talkhouse that brought him back to perform each year to the delight of his many fans. He replied "The Talkhouse is a place where you can
always come back to. It's a major place that is hidden from all 'circus' types. There are many of us [musicians] that enjoy coming back to play places where we have always been welcomed and where we are relaxed."
Speaking of contemporary musicians and songwriters whose work he is particularly fond of, Havens said, "We are all members of the same circle and we all live in that circle of places, some are hidden and some are obvious, but there is always a connection, as we [musicians] are always happy to play and hang out."
Finally, I asked Havens if the recent election of President Barack Obama
gave him renewed hope as the songs of peace and unity he has been singing for over 40 years may have influenced younger generations. Havens expressed his interest at the association, commenting, "Longevity is wonderful and the crisscross over generations is also a wonderful thing." He then smiled and added, "There is nobody left to crown."
If I could tell a story, what secrets I would tell, Of those who have gotten the glory, And those who went to hell; If I could show the pictures, Of the faces I believed,
They'd all be children smiling, With nothing up there sleeves...
Havens took his time, spoke with each fan and thoughtfully composed an inscription on each C.D. presented to him for an autograph. His long, tapered fingers giving evidence to his guitar mastery.
After a long set of old and new favorites, this gracious and talented man then proceeded downstairs
and outside to sign autographs and participate in photo opportunities for fans who lined Main Street to chat with this man of song. I was reminded of a lyric from "Freedom" - Sometimes I feel like I'm almost gone; A long, long, long, way - way from my home
Well, welcome home Mr. Havens.
Eileen Casey spent many years working in the television and music industries in New York City on the "ABC In Concert" weekly series, as well as several prime time network and cable television specials. An award-winning journalist, editor, and artist, and former Editor-in-Chief of Hamptons.com, she enjoys staying warm in Charleston and cool in the Hamptons.