Archive for August, 2013

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Interviewing Southside Johnny

August 23, 2013
John Bathke Interviews Southside Johnny

John Bathke Interviews Southside Johnny

Had an uncommonly candid, revealing interview today with Southside Johnny.  The singer/songwriter doesn’t do that many interviews but agreed to sit down with me at the Count Basie Theatre in Red Bank, New Jersey.  We talked music and about his private life in a way that is going to surprise even those people who know him well.

The interview will run in  a few weeks in our next “ON THE SCENE” special and I’ll write much more about the interview, then. For now, just keeping you all up to date!

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Richie Havens: Back To The Garden

August 19, 2013

On the 44th anniversary of the closing of the Woodstock Music And Art Fair that he opened, Richie Havens returned for his finale.

The late folk music icon wanted the site of the original Woodstock concert…Yasgur’s farm in Upstate New York…to be his final resting place.

Sunday, he got his wish.

As day turned to dusk, a small plane emerged over the Catskills,  humming toward the 500 or so people who gathered on a grassy hillside, their eyes to the sky.  The plane carried Havens’ ashes.  As it passed over,  a faint trail of dust could be seen lingering behind.

Havens had returned one last time.

The concert site is not an alfalfa field as it was in 1969.  It is now known as the Bethel Woods Arts Center which includes a museum dedicated to the Woodstock concert. (While the concert carried the Woodstock name, it actually took place some 60 miles from that community.)

As Havens told me during one of my interviews with him in 2005,  not a day went by that he wasn’t asked about Woodstock. And in a statement his family said that even after touring the world for decades, Woodstock is where Havens, who died in April at age 72 , felt his deepest connection.

Three hours before Havens’s ashes were dispersed, a memorial concert began at Bethel Woods.  It included performers who started out with Havens in Greenwich Village in the 1960s.  Among them,  John Sebastian, John Hammond and Jose Feliciano.  And there were stories by the organizer of the Woodstock concert, Michael Lang, and from Havens’ pals Danny Glover and Louis Gossett, Jr.

Gossett, who co-wrote Havens anti war ballad “Handsome Johnny,” recalled the time he was broke, getting evicted, and as he was taking out his possessions the mailman walked up and handed him a letter. In it was a royalty check for $72,000. Havens had recorded the song on his album “Mixed Bag.”

Longtime Havens collaborators also performed.  One of the concert’s most poignant moments came from Havens’ former accompanist Walter Parks.  After repeated calls to the sound operator for adjustments, a frustrated Parks unplugged, stepped off the stage and into the audience, and delivered a passionate, deeply personal and enthralling acoustic version of “People Get Ready” that would have made Havens proud.

Inevitably, tribute concerts such as this become burdened by their own good intention. With seven separate acts, even minimal resetting of the stage between performances dragged down the event.  Silence on stage for five to ten minutes at a time was filled by talking in the audience, some of whom stepped out to buy drinks or smoke a cigarette. No matter how fine the performances, the continuity of the event is lost and it seems like a disservice to the artist everyone gathered to honor.

And so it was crucial that this Havens homecoming concert have a strong closer and it found one in Jose Feliciano.  Feliciano’s touching performance of “In My Life (I Love You More)” not only gave the concert an emotionally satisfying conclusion, it was the perfect bridge to Havens’ final bow.

As the crowd moved from the concert area of the Bethel Woods market sheds to the adjacent hillside to await the plane’s arrival, the live recording of Havens’ “Freedom,” the song he improvised on stage at Woodstock which became not only his signature number but an anthem for troubled times, poured  through the loud speakers.

As a drum circle and the crowd joined in…clapping and singing…the plane buzzed overhead.

Havens had come home.