Saturday Singles Nos. 52 & 53

Originally posted January 26, 2008

I’ve never been one to holler out song suggestions at a concert. When others do so, it annoys me and I assume it annoys the performer. And I don’t think it does any good, anyway.

The first time I saw Don McLean, in St. Cloud State’s Stewart Hall back in 1987, the show was no more than five songs old before some goof in the balcony called out, “American Pie!” McLean shook his head and said, “There’s always one,” earning a sympathetic chuckle from the audience. “American Pie” came later, about two-thirds of the way through the two-hour performance. (And I’ve always wondered, did Balcony Man really think he had to urge McLean to perform “American Pie”? If you’re gonna request something from the seats, why not make it something otherwise unlikely to be heard?)

In the case of Richie Havens’ performance last night at St. Cloud’s Paramount Theatre, the unlikely song I would have loved to hear – as I wrote yesterday – was “Follow,” the sweet anthem from Havens’ 1967 album, Mixed Bag. He didn’t perform it, and I didn’t holler for it. (Only one person called out from the audience, for “Just Like A Woman,” and Havens didn’t play it.)

But it didn’t matter, because last night’s performance was one of the more remarkable performances I’ve ever seen. For an hour and forty-five minutes, clad in his familiar long shirt, Havens ran through a forty-year catalog of music, his trademark open tuning and powerful strumming propelling himself and his audience into his music.

He opened the show with an anecdote from his mid-Sixties day in New York’s Greenwich Village, telling how he got the chords and lyrics to a song he admired from its creator and how, in the spirit of the Village, he similarly passed them on to a guitarist who’d asked for them. “And he went and recorded it!” Havens said of Jimi Hendrix just before launching into Dylan’s “All Along The Watchtower.”

Accompanying Havens throughout the show was Walter Parks, whose electric guitar lines danced under, over and around Havens’ vocals and his madly strummed acoustic guitar. Midway through the show, the two were joined by Stephanie Winter, whose cello provided a foundation of flowing melody or percussive chording. The sound of the three together was the sound of musicians in accord with themselves and with each other.

And they took a good tour through Havens’ catalog. One of the certainties of a Havens’ concert, no doubt, is his take on George Harrison’s “Here Comes The Sun,” which went to No. 16 in the spring of 1971. Other stops along the way came from more recent albums, with “Paradise” and “Handouts in the Rain” coming from 2002’s Wishing Well and several songs coming from an album that Winter said after the concert will be released this spring.

One of those songs from the new album is a fiery version of Dylan’s “Maggie’s Farm,” a song Havens recorded for Something Else Again in 1968. This version, however, has a sly bridge installed that pulls a verse and chorus from the Who’s “Won’t Get Fooled Again.”

Maybe the most remarkable thing about the concert was the energy Havens puts into his performance. His entire being is focused on the guitar and his music, and sometimes he seems oblivious to the fact that his audience is present as the music envelops him. “Don’t you wonder where he goes?” the Texas Gal murmured to me during one such stretch. I nodded, eyes on the stage. The physical effort is as great as Havens’ emotional commitment: He broke at least two guitar strings during the show and who knows how many guitar picks. “They don’t make them like they used to,” he said of the picks. “They used to last weeks, but now they’re good for two songs.”

About ninety minutes into the show, Haven’s moved into a slow, almost contemplative version of Joni Mitchell’s “Woodstock,” weaving his way through the metaphors detailing the 1969 festival that he, of course, opened. As he finished amid applause, it seemed as if we in the audience held our collective breath. And we exhaled as the mad strumming began and Havens moved into “Freedom/Motherless Child,” the song he improvised near the end of his three-hour Woodstock performance. Havens’ beard is longer now, and gray, and many of those in the audience were graying as well. But the years fell away as Havens’ right hand propelled all of us back for at least a few moments.

Two encores followed: Gary Wright’s “My Love Is Alive” from Wishing Well and Jackson Browne’s “Lives in the Balance” from 1994’s Cuts to the Chase. And he and his companions left amid cheers from the three hundred or so who were there.

A little later, as he autographed our ticket stubs, I told Havens I’d been tempted to call out for “Follow.” He nodded and smiled and said, “That would have been a good song to sing.” Still smiling, he added, “There are so many to choose from, you know. So many.”

So from among many, I’ve selected Richie Haven’s version of “Woodstock” from 2004’s Grace of the Sun and “Freedom,” recorded at Woodstock for today’s Saturday Singles.

Richie Havens – “Woodstock” [2004]

Richie Havens – “Freedom” [1969]

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One Response to “Saturday Singles Nos. 52 & 53”

  1. About Lists . . . « Echoes In The Wind Archives Says:

    […] In The Wind Archives « San Francisco Bay Blues Times Two Saturday Singles Nos. 52 & 53 […]

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