Richie Havens was one of the first performers I saw play live back in my pre-teen years when my father took me to see him at the Hudson Valley’s legendary Opus 40. Most famous for stepping in to open up the Woodstock concert, the Brooklyn-born Havens died yesterday of a heart attack at the far too-young age of 72.
Beyond his Woodstock status—he’d originally been scheduled to play fifth but was bumped up because of other acts’ travel delays—and a long, successful musical career interpreting songs as well as writing his own, Havens was a determined progressive who took every opportunity to use his music to help improve peoples lives.
A stalwart ally of the environmental movement, Havens devoted considerable energy to educating young people about the critical urgency of environmental activism. In 1975, he founded the Northwind Undersea Institute, an oceanographic children’s museum on City Island in the Bronx. In the early 1980s, he created the Natural Guard, an environmental organization for children. He did too many benefit concerts to count on behalf of environmental, antiwar, civil rights and anti-nuclear causes.
In tribute, here’s my (highly debatable) list of Havens’s top ten performances.
1. Freedom (performed at Woodstock)
2. Here Comes the Sun
3. All Along the Watchtower
4. Motherless Child
5. Helplessly Hoping
6. The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down
7. Fire and Rain
8. Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen
9. What’s Going On?
10. Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands