Richie Havens brings musical message to Frederick

February 14, 2003|by KEVIN CLAPP

Snowflakes gently tumble to the Hagerstown ground at mid-morning Monday.

In New York City, the skies remain dry. To tell the truth, Richie Havens wouldn't mind if a little bit of the white stuff sprinkled to the earth.

"I figured out, a long time ago, whenever it snows a real lot up here, people get nicer," the legendary musician says. "Their whole attitude changes."

Havens is one with the people sharing through song his thoughts on life and the ever-evolving world for more than 30 years. He performs Saturday, Feb. 15, at Frederick (Md.) Community College.


It is another chapter in an endless cycle of weekend touring. The 60-plus musician hits the road nearly every weekend - has since 1967 - sharing his vision of the world through song at venues and on campuses around the world.

"I'm 45 and I remember Woodstock. I remember Richie Havens," says FCC Associate Professor of Visual Art Wendell Poindexter. "His appearance at the college is rather timely given the state of the nation."

Poindexter praises Havens' ability to preach brotherhood musically, says the message is as valid today as it was when he got his start. Emerging from New York's Greenwich Village in the 1960s, Havens gained fame in part for interpreting the work of artists such as Bob Dylan, in part for kicking off three days of peace and love during Woodstock with a three-hour set.

Havens shrugs off critical praise for his versions of classic songs. Fact is, he's just a fan of good music and enjoys sharing it.

Like anyone who heard Dylan's "Just Like a Woman" or the Beatles' "Here Comes the Sun" on the radio, he says the covers are just tunes that changed his life.

"I really don't think I'm adding my own spin on it. I'm trying to reinterpret what the writer and singer was actually trying to get through," Havens says. "I basically sing them thinking these songs have to stay alive because they did it to me."

Havens' music has led to expression in sculpture and painting. He has worked to better the environment by creating the Northwinds Undersea Institute, a children's oceanographic museum, and the Natural Guard, an environmental

education group. He calls his generation, which grew up in the '50s and turbulent '60s, the first artistic generation, an outpouring of creativity born in part of the culture they encountered.

"My generation actually believed what they told us in school. We actually believed it, and we loved the idea of the history of ourselves," he says. "When you come out of school and discover it wasn't true, something happens to you.

"They labeled us angry. But it was we were hurt. My generation was hurt by being deceived."

With a romantic's eye, Havens recalls the wonder of growing up with a worldview, teens across the nation galvanized by the sounds spit out of radios from San Francisco to his Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood in Brooklyn.

The music was their newsletter, he says, crisscrossing the country with a uniform effect.

"Rock 'n' roll was our first look out at other teenagers in the country, no matter their color," he says. "That's what I like about the opportunity to do what I do. It's everybody."

Richie Havens, regular Joe, is tickled by the cross-section of society that turns out for his shows, a generational mishmash of ages eager to hear what he has to say.

Young kids with no business knowing them request songs that predate them by years. Teens turn out in packs. Poindexter, for one, has been pleasantly surprised by the number of twentysomethings purchasing tickets for the shows.

Havens is not. Youths, he says, are sensitive to the world around them.

They are kindred spirits, and it warms his heart. Which is why he prefers no gig to any other. Which is why, in his mind, colleges and clubs hold equal standing.

"I prefer every person that would like to hear it, because I sing about all of us. I don't feel any differently than anyone else," Havens says. "It's us. Anywhere I go, it's about us."

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