Richie Havens / York, SC / 02-25-2004 Concert Review

Richie Havens is a legend. He’s also one of the most down to earth people you’d ever see. His calm reassuring speaking voice giving words of hope is perfectly juxtaposed with his soulful singing about civil liberties and “Lives in the Balance.” Set in the intimate confines of the beautiful Sylvia Theater, Haven’s performance was a remarkable triumph of songwriting and audience interaction. His dynamic performance was much like an episode of the VH-1’s Storytellers series. Havens told hilarious stories of his friends from back in Greenwich Village and Muscle Beach before kicking into the accompanying songs. Backed only by guitarist Walter Parks, Havens needed no one else. He kept time with his foot banging on the stage while playing rhythm guitar ferociously.

Before playing anything, Havens took the time to ask the crowd how they were doing. A lot artists do this. Havens went a step further. He had a full conversation with the crowd before playing a note. When he started into his opening number “All Along The Watchtower,” the crowd stayed with him every step of the way. A story followed every song. These interesting tales of experience made the night even more special.

The highlight of the night was an exceptionally heartfelt performance of “Paradise (is a Hard Place to Find)” with Havens singing “I’m easy as long as I’m breathing.” This seemed to be the theme of the evening. At one point he even declared that he’s happy to even be somewhere.

In the middle of the set, guitarist Walter Parks left the stage and it was just Havens alone for two songs. He was playing so hard that he broke his guitar pick. “The pick disintegrated in my hand.” He added, “they just don’t make ’em like they used to.”

The night wasn’t without it’s technical difficulties though. Before the show Havens changed the strings on his guitar. “New strings sound bad and old strings sound bad” he observed. He had to tune after every song. He explained it that his “ears are always arguing and I’m in the middle.” Amazingly, this didn’t matter. Despite the fact that he spent a large amount of time tuning his guitar, you forgot about that stuff as soon as he began playing. You were transported into his world of intense beauty and painful reality.

Havens closed his set with his Woodstock classic “Freedom”. He even ended the song with a jump kick! Havens received a standing ovation after the song and left the stage. The crowd needed and encore. Havens obliged. He came back and played his version of the Beatles classic “Here Comes the Sun” with a tacked on ending from “The End.” He ended the night with “Follow.” Afterwards he told the crowd how much he appreciated them and that “we love you and there is nothing you can do about it.” It was clear the feeling was mutual.

-Benji McKay