When New Yorker Richie Havens opened the legendary Woodstock Festival in 1969 he set the scene for one of the most significant musical and social events in the 20th century. Nearly half a million young people from across the world had come together to celebrate the peace, love and freedom they craved. The last song of Havens’ performance started with an improvised groove, Richie repeating the words “freedom, freedom” followed by a few lines inspired by the spiritual song “Sometimes I Feel Like A Motherless Child.”
As local hero Richie explained later, “When you hear me play that long introduction it’s me stalling. I was thinking what the hell am I going to sing next. The word freedom came out of my mouth because I saw it in front of me, the freedom that we were all looking for.”
Sean Taylor explains the context for this video tribute:
It is a tribute to award-winning troubadour and peace campaigner Sean as well as to Richie that the spirit of “Freedom” is highlighted and kept alive 55 years after Woodstock in a world with some tragically familiar troubles. Notable, too, is Sean’s distinctive interpretation of the song with the help of Mike Seal on double bass and percussionist Paulina Szczepaniak. Given the speed and technicality of Daniel Ben Zebulon’s hand drumming at Woodstock, Paulina’s role is crucial. Her spellbinding, intricate stick work and versatility across a range of percussion are integral to the success of this version.
Sean’s mesmeric, heavy guitar strumming replicates the authentic sound of the original, while Mike’s intelligent and at times pulsating bass lines add a welcome dimension. The change of pace to slow down the song enhances the overall dramatic effect alongside Sean’s distinctive vocal tones and emotional intensity. An important part is played by the enthusiastic audience at the intimate Green Note venue in north London through interacting with the musicians and creating a positive vibe.
This is a fitting and heartfelt celebration of the life and achievements of the late Richie Havens, a true American icon who, in the words of the New York Times, “played his way into musical immortality at Woodstock.”
Sean Taylor was 2023 Male Artist of the Year FATEA magazine and runner up in UK Blues Award Acoustic Act of the Year