The Anthem Of Woodstock: The Story Behind ‘Freedom’ By Richie Havens
Richie Havens - Sebastian Walter / Youtube
The Woodstock Festival of 1969 was a gateway for artists to be exposed to a large crowd in an outdoor setting, greatly helping their popularity thanks to the word of mouth that spread tales of their performances in the three-date event. One of these artists was Richie Havens, who was a burgeoning folk artist that had the spunk but didn’t really rank up to the top acts like Jimi Hendrix.
Havens was tasked with an eight-song set, which was a mix of his originals and covers of songs by other artists. As his set neared its end, the next performer was nowhere to be found, which forced him to do encores with Beatles hits such as “Strawberry Fields Forever” and “Hey Jude”.
With pressures mounting, he began to play an impromptu groove, uttering the word “freedom” as it was the first thing that came to his mind, supplementing the lyrics with a few lines from the traditional song, “Motherless Child” . According to him (via Songfacts): “When you hear me play that long intro, it’s me stalling. I was thinking, ‘What the hell am I going to sing?’ 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.”
And just like that, “Freedom” became the anthem of Woodstock (and its accompanying eponymous 1970 documentary) and the youth back then, also making its way into a staple number of Havens’ future shows down his career.