Guitarist and folk legend, Richie Havens, had an illustrious career that spanned four decades and produced 30 albums, but he'll always be best known as the opening act for the 1969 Woodstock Music Festival. Havens was actually scheduled to go on stage fifth, but the opening acts were stuck in traffic at the time the show was set to begin. Because Havens had arrived on time, by helicopter, he took the stage to sing his five songs.


“It was 5 o’clock and nothing was happening yet,” Havens told Billboard. “I had the least instruments [to set up on stage] and the least people [in his band].” Havens performed for 40 minutes. “I went back and did that, then it was, ‘Four more songs …,’ and that kept happening ’til two hours and 45 minutes later, I had sung every song I know.”

His moving encore, Freedom, played on his Guild acoustic guitar was actually improvised on the spot.

His hands were very large, which made it difficult to play the guitar. He developed an unorthodox tuning so he could play chord patterns not possible with conventional tunings. The style was picked up by other folk and blues singers.

“A person looking at him might think he was just flailing about,” the guitarist Barry Oliver said in the magazine Guitar Player. “But the way he flailed about was so musical, and it went perfectly with what he was portraying. He’s a good example of not having to have to be a technically perfect guitarist in order to come across.”

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