DETROIT (Billboard) - Richie Havens is going back to the garden -- again.
The veteran singer-songwriter, who was the first act on stage at the original Woodstock Music & Art Fair in 1969, will perform at noon at a media-only event on August 14 at the Bethel Woods Center for the Arts on the original festival site in Bethel, N.Y.
Havens frequently has appeared at Woodstock anniversary celebrations on the former Yasgur farm -- including 1999’s A Day in the Garden festival -- and he tells Billboard.com he still cherishes the memory of his Woodstock experience.
“I got up there and felt the whole place rise to the accounting and visibility of ourselves,” recalls Havens, who’s currently touring to promote his latest album, 2008’s “Nobody Left to Crown.” “All types of music went on that stage those three days, and all of them had the sense of what was needed -- and what’s still needed in terms of the information we’d like to latch onto and keep going.”
A big part of Haven’s Woodstock legend, of course, is that he was scheduled to be the festival’s fifth performer, not its first, but he was drafted into service when traffic impeded those due onstage before him.
“It was 5 o’clock and nothing was happening yet,” Havens remembers. “I had the least instruments and the least people (in his band). But they had to catch me first. I felt like, ‘They’re gonna kill me if I go up on stage first. Give me break. I need those four people in front of me to warm up the crowd.’
“But the people were great. I was supposed to sing 40 minutes, which I did, and from the side of the stage they go, ‘Richie, four more songs?’ 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,” including an epic version of “Freedom,” which is featured in the 1970 Academy Award-winning documentary about the festival.
Havens says he’s hoping that the August 14 event won’t be the only commemoration of the 40th anniversary of Woodstock. He’s a proponent of some sort of 2009 edition of the festival, which he hopes will be even greater in scope than the original.
“I think it’s time for sharing,” he says. “You get the young guys who are up and coming and get the guys who are down and going and put ‘em all in the same place and everybody gets a chance. Let’s take five days and say, ‘OK, rock, you get one day. Roll, you get one day,’ and then you mix ‘em all up.”