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Havens Relives 'Freedom'

Ad-Libbed Performance Set Tone for Woodstock Festival

Musician Richie Havens at NPR West in Los Angeles, Calif.

Musician Richie Havens at NPR West in Los Angeles, Calif. Roy Hurst, NPR hide caption

toggle caption Roy Hurst, NPR

Richie Havens will be forever remembered for his powerful performance of the song "Freedom" at perhaps the best-known music festival ever — the three days of peace, love and music at Woodstock, New York, in 1969.

It was the "coming out" party of the rock 'n 'roll generation. And as Havens tells NPR's Tony Cox, "it was the begining of the world, as far I was concerned."

As Woodstock's opening act, Havens was scheduled to spend just 20 minutes on stage. But after his set, he was asked to keep singing because the second act, Santana, was nowhere to be found.

"So I'd go back and sing three more," Havens says. "This happened six times. So I sung every song I knew."

By that time, Havens had been onstage almost three hours — and still they needed more. "And I thought, 'Gosh, what am I going to do?'"

Then he belted out "Freedom," and his electric ad-lib performance set the tone for the next three days. "The word 'freedom' came out of my mouth because this was our real particular freedom," he tells Cox. "We'd finally made it to above ground."

Decades later, Havens is still making music. His latest CD is Grace of the Sun.

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