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Richie Havens
Castle Clinton
American Express
River to River Festival
July 23, 2009

Written by
Daniel-Rene Peter Bindschedler

Photographed by Brandie Raasch

Richie Havens may look old, but he's still got the moves. No, seriously; apart from a cache of familiar tunes that jumped back and forth between tear-jerking and foot-stomping, the 68 year old Woodstock veteran clinched his Battery Park performance last wednesday with a running mid-air scissors kick that accentuated the last notes of a cover of CSNY's “Woodstock” for his encore. Some how, the term bad-ass comes to mind.

Walter Parks and Richie Havens

Such mind associations, of course, constitute the wonder that is Richie Havens, who has always possessed the unique ability to instill a duality of emotions in his listener's (among a slew of other soulful sentiments). As the evening progressed, it became clear to those present that a certain unshakable aura was mixing with the wet balmy air which was doing its best to gradually drive the rain away. One can only assume that Havens along with lead guitarist Walter Ports and percussionist Daniel Ben Zebulon were wonderfully responsible for such a feat.

Yet, as Havens cycled seamlessly between classics like “Handsome Johnny" and covers like “Maggie's Farm,” the shaman-like essence with he performed seemed more natural that the essence of Wednesday's rainy day atmosphere and the park's setting. The only element of the show that seemed to set itself apart from the earthy organic quality of the event was Havens' well known almost machine-gun like strumming style on the guitar. This technique was no doubt responsible for a surging energy that infused the audience's reception to “Freedom” one of the highlights ( not that there was a lack of them) of the night.

One might find it ironic to describe such a charming performer's style as anything violent like a machine gun, especially for one who emerged form the Greenwich Village folk scene and furthermore was a contributer to Woodstock. However, there's a certain message from that era that retains itself in Havens' playing that made Wednesday feel like a time warp returning the audience to that peaceful era. This message seemed to emanate from Haven's instrument, as if to say, that this guitar is the real weapon, and we will never give up the fight. In this light, Havens and his band mates played with a seraphic feeling which in a word described the heartwarming “15 handouts in the rain.”

The Band

As an audience in a state of welcomed awe attempted to recover from Havens' spontaneous bout of physical prowess, the musician closed with words of gratitude adding “I'm really glad to be here which means I'm really just glad to be anywhere.” It's a good thing that “anywhere” was Battery Park on Wednesday night, july 23rd; it would be surprising to learn of anyone that left the park disappointed that night.

The Crowd

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