Richie Havens at the Colonial in Pittsfield
Berkshire Singer Songwriter Meg Hutchinson Opens Love Fest
By: Charles Giuliano - Oct 11, 2009
It was dÃ©jÃ vu all over again last night when, just like Woodstock some 30 years ago, that perennial flower child, Rich Havens, festooned in love beads with rings on all his fingers, warmed the hearts of the audience at the Colonial Theatre in Pittsfield.
The laid back mood of the evening was nicely evoked with a charming and evocative opening set by Berkshire's own, singer songwriter, Meg Hutchinson. She was born and raised in Great Barrington before hitting the road. Her persona evoked the intimacy of a date with your high school sweetheart, girl next door, or that oh so talented classmate. A family affair on every level her Mom stopped by for a now rare local gig.
Hutchinson told us how thrilled and honored she was to open for Richie. Her interesting songs put a happy face on disasters like airline crashes and cancer. One song was inspired by a walk with her dog that later required an expensive operation. A "miracle" occurred when a check from Satellite Radio arrived in time to pay for the procedure. The audience cheered when she told us the dog is doing just fine. Another song explored life on the road. She celebrated that incredible, feel good story of the forced landing on the Hudson. At just a half hour her set was short and sweet leaving us hungry for more.
Shuffling out on stage Havens is now bald as an eggshell, stooped with age, and sports a long, prophetic beard. He ambled into the set with long introductions to songs and raps about the coffee shop days in Greenwich Village. They rambled on as we were told of his first embarrassing encounter with Bob Dylan when he botched the lyrics to one of his songs. For this he was berated by Dave van Ronk a noted folkie of the 1960s.
Havens seemed to be backing into playing music and more intent with catching up with the old friends gathered for a stroll down memory lane. There has always been an endearing sense of vulnerability and innocence in his performances. The songs are delivered with his flailing attack on the guitar which he approaches by fisting open chords in a percussive manner. The years have hardly improved his technique. But he does get a unique sound and galvanic rhythm. His singing similarly wanders over, under, and around the melody stretching the lyrics out into powerful, deep throated, earthy anthems. While never faithful to a tune he has a way of shaping and making it his own.
He opened with some lesser known Dylan material followed by the more familiar "All Along the Watchtower." It made one think about the Hendrix version of that standard. It was surprising that he performed the Beatles song "Here Comes the Sun" mid set. This is the tune that was captured in the Woodstock film and earned him a place in the Hippie Hall of Fame. Last night it seemed somewhat truncated compared to the riveting version captured in that classic film. It was just a glimpse of his set at Woodstock on the first "Folkie" day that with endless encores stretched out to a legendary three hours.
The intervals of story telling got so drawn out and convoluted that you wondered when he would play another tune. There was a long interval about the Superman mantra of "Truth, Justice and the American way." He got the audience to echo the words "Faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, able to leap tall buildings in a single bound." But you came to wonder just where this was going.
With a super backing guitarist, Walter Parks, who filled in all the cracks of the melodies we were treated to stunning versions of "You Are So Beautiful" and his unique remix of "Motherless Child" which morphed into "Freedom." He doesn't write his own material but has a way of bending songs by other people to suit his style. Another example of this was a deconstruction of Dylan's "Ain't Gonah Work on Maggie's Farm No More." It became an ersatz political/ protest song which may not quite be what Bob had in mind. No matter.
In the Woodstock film Havens was captured wandering off stage while still playing "Here Comes the Sun." Ending the set at the Colonial he reprieved a version of this. He got up from the stool and wandered around a bit. He couldn't summon the energy of that paradigmatic Woodstock stomp. But he floored and surprised the audience when he offered a somewhat arthritic version of a Pete Townsend leap conflated with a Chuck Berry Duckwalk. It was cool man. The crowd went wild with a standing O.
Later the fans lined up to have him sign CDs and posters in the lobby. Everyone greeted him like a long lost friend. It reminded me of when I hung out with him, a generation ago, back stage at Woodstock and later in a trailer during the Sunset Series on Boston Common. Them's was dah days. We was all a lot younger. Oh well.