Local Wire

Richie Havens

Though he is, in a sense, crystallized in the public's memory as the first act to perform at the original Woodstock, legendary folkie Richie Havens is arguably still in possession of the vitality and spirit that made him famous 40 years ago. Sure, Havens hasn't had an onstage epiphany quite like what he experienced when he closed his Woodstock set with "Freedom," his improvised reworking of the old Negro spiritual "Motherless Child," but spontaneity still factors heavily into his live shows. (Other than planning the first and last song for any given night, Havens still refuses to make setlists.) Havens is best known for his iconic renditions of other people's songs, such as Dylan's "All Along the Watchtower" and George Harrison's "Here Comes the Sun," though he has always been a songwriter in his own right and even based his guitar tuning on standard doo-wop harmonies. On his latest album, Nobody Left to Crown, however, he again demonstrates why he's been especially affecting doing covers, including when playing his rendition of The Who's "Won't Get Fooled Again." Havens' version encapsulates his enduring appeal in the way that he is able to take an all-too-familiar radio staple and capture its power while putting a slight twist on its meaning. And while he tends toward an almost blindingly optimistic outlook in interviews, his music still conveys the dire urgency and sense of indictment necessary to keep it from molding into hippie cliché.
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Saby Reyes-Kulkarni