August 15, 1969: Woodstock Begins, And Richie Havens Is Asked To Do The Unthinkable In Front Of Thousands
Sebastian W. Gruber / YouTube
Richie Havens Takes A Gamble And Wins
Not yet a household name when he took the stage on August 15, 1969 at Woodstock, singer-songwriter Richie Havens was thrust into the spotlight and into legend as the event’s opener after a traffic jam caused by the influx of festival goers prevented artists scheduled to perform after him from arriving until hours later, ultimately playing for upwards of three hours. With no other material prepared and his setlist completed, Richie threw caution to the wind by improvising what would become his signature song “Freedom,” silencing the crowd with what quickly became one of Woodstock’s single most defining moments.
“I think the word ‘freedom’ came out of my mouth because I saw it in front of me. I saw the freedom that we were looking for. And every person was sharing it, and so that word came out.”
His risk paid off; the very embodiment of everything Woodstock stood for, Richie jammed like a man possessed and had no choice but to believe that “Freedom,” born from the melody of the traditional Negro spiritual “Motherless Child” he’d sung as a youth, was like Woodstock: simply meant to be. However, it’s not just the Woodstock generation whose lives this moment touched; those who saw the Woodstock Festival documentary fell in love with this moment of pure magic and after watching this video, you will too!