Revisiting Richie Havens' Anchorage performance

Matt Sullivan

Folk singer and guitarist Richie Havens died Monday at the age of 72. He famously opened the Woodstock Festival in 1969, and Spencer Shroyer reviewed Havens' 2005 concert in Anchorage. Below is the story that originally ran in the Anchorage Daily News on May 8, 2005.

Richie Havens tried to leave the stage at the Discovery Theatre on Friday night the same way he left the stage at the Woodstock Festival in 1969: singing "Freedom." The tune was originally improvised from the old spiritual song "Motherless Child" and was something Havens came up with after several encores at Woodstock had forced him to play every song he knew. When he did the song Friday the packed theater clapped along as he played with a vicious intensity, breaking strings as he went. It would've been a great way to go out, but the crowd wouldn't let him. They needed more.

Havens played for nearly two hours straight Friday after standing ovations convinced him to perform two encores. He kept the audience under his spell all night with a balanced mix of anecdotes and fierce guitar playing.

He began the night with two songs from Bob Dylan, his deep and melodic voice putting a different touch on "All Along the Watchtower" and "Just Like a Woman."

Sitting on a stool to play, Havens pointed the head of his guitar toward the floor so he could form chords with his thumb across the frets. He strummed furiously on the strings while he was playing and had to pause to re-tune his guitar between each song. He used the breaks to joke with the crowd, telling stories about his experiences in Greenwich Village and sharing his take on life.

Havens' acoustic folk sound was accompanied on stage by the electrified acoustic guitar of Walter Parks. His amplified playing proved to be a good compliment to Havens' folk strumming, and he held his own during the night with emotional guitar play and intricate solos.

The two stuck mainly to folk rock songs, playing tracks that Havens had written along with some covers of '60s tunes. Havens kept things political with versions of Joni Mitchell's "Woodstock" and Quicksilver Messenger Service's "What About Me?" During the later tune he got up out of his seat chanting, "No taxation without representation, " and finished with a frenzy of strumming so hard that he said it made his pick dissolve.

Opening for Havens was Cliff Eberhardt. The singer-songwriter exchanged playful barbs with a boisterous crowd between songs, telling them "I'm the only one supposed to be shouting here." He played well, picking and strumming a couple of his own country-blues tunes including "Every Time You Break My Heart" and "White Lightning." He even brought Havens out early for a duet on the track "The Long Road." The audience stayed reverent and captivated during Havens set, remaining silent during songs and exploding into applause and cheers the moment he finished.

They were rewarded for their loud appetite in the end with a special treat from Havens. For his final encore he returned to the stage by himself and silenced them with an a cappella performance of "No more, no more."

Matt Sullivan