Liverpool On Sunday afternoon, Aug. 18, the ashes of music legend Richie Havens were scattered across the field where the Woodstock Festival took place in 1969, now the site of Bethel Woods Center for the Arts.
The Day of Song and Remembrance Honoring Richie Havens was produced by my friend, Frank Malfitano, the founder and artistic director of the Syracuse Jazz Festival. The memorial celebration was free and open to the public. More than 1,000 fans, family members and friends attended, according to the Associated Press.
As a longtime concert impresario, Malfitano presented Havens to audiences in cities across America, including three times in Syracuse — in 2004 and 2010 at Syracuse Jazz Fest and at Onondaga Community College in October 2009.
“Yeah, I loved Richie a lot,” Malfitano said. “Worked with him a lot. Hung with him as often as I could. We spent a lot of nights talking ’til the wee hours, and I remember singing ‘All Along The Watchtower’ backstage with him one night before a gig. I don’t think I’ve ever smiled that big a smile!”
Raised in Eastwood and now residing in nearby Baldwinsville, Malfitano remembers seeing Havens open the Woodstock Festival in 1969. Decked out in an orange dashiki, Havens played an energetic two-hour set culminating in an improvisation on the traditional folk tune, “Motherless Child” which became known simply as “Freedom.”
Eulogists on Aug. 18 included Havens’ longtime friends Danny Glover and Louis Gossett Jr. (who co-wrote “Handsome Johnny” with Havens, Malfitano reports) and original Woodstock Festival organizers Michael Lang and Joel Rosenman, with appearances by Jose Feliciano, John Hammond, John Sebastian and Guy Davis.
Following the tributes, flower petals accompanied Havens’ ashes as they fell from the sky onto what was once Max Yasgur’s Farm. Havens was recognized around the world as a living embodiment of the spirit of Woodstock, and he carried that message of peace and love everywhere he went.