Highlight: What’s What with… Richie Havens

Nearly 40 years ago, he opened the legendary Woodstock music festival with a fiery performance of eight songs, even though he was only supposed to play one. This Saturday, foot-thumping revolutionary Richie Havens strums it at World Cafe Live. We caught up with him for a Q & A to get the scoop on the hippies, Hendrix and his four choices for the White House.

You are best known for your rousing performance at Woodstock. Does the association get a little old after a while?
No, I couldn’t possibly disengage myself from Woodstock. It’s a history I share with everybody. I never get tired of it, because that’s what it’s about: songs are meant to live for as long as they can.

A lot of kids have discovered their parents’ music — the Stones, the Beatles and Pink Floyd — music that was made well before they were born. Do you see many young people at your concerts?
It’s amazing. In the summertime, I play a lot of these outdoor summer festivals, when the kids are off from school. And you can’t imagine all the teenagers that bombard me. I am so fortunate to get so many who have just seen the [Woodstock] movie for the first time.

But do you think they get it, what Woodstock was about, what was happening in the Sixties?
Well, it took us until we were 19 or 20 to get it, the heart and mind connection. But it’s part of their DNA at this point. They are open. They didn’t have to be taught to be that way. They were nurtured with the history of my generation.

Is it true that you gave Jimi Hendrix his start?
[Laughs]. He was fired by Little Richard in Miami, and he came to New York not knowing what he wanted to do. There was this dance club owned by these guys from France, and I played there with my jam band. One night when I wasn’t working there, I went to party there and saw this band Carl Holmes and the Commanders and I couldn’t stop watching their guitar player, who seemed to be playing with his teeth. So after the show, I went to the dressing room and met him. He was hoping to start his own band, so I told him to get down to Greenwich Village and talk to a friend of mine. Two months later, it was Jimmy James and the Blue Flames. It was his first band, before he was even Jimi Hendrix. Pretty soon, he disappeared into England and sent me his first album. It was the first record I ever listened to with headphones. It was scary. The man was a monster. When he took the stage, he grew two feet. Magic.

Who do you like for president?
I look at it this way. If I could elect two presidents and two vice presidents, it would be Ron Paul, Dennis Kucinich, Clinton and Obama. That would be my choice. They’d all work well together to make this an easier place to live in.

Do you get political at your shows, à la Barbra Streisand and Bono?
I don’t get political. What happens to me on the stage is that I only know the first and last song I’m gonna sing. It’s been that way from the start. Because of that, there’s a certain mechanism that works where it leaves the door open. I talk about certain things that are on my mind. Some are serious, some are humorous.

For a guy literally at center stage of the revolutionary sixties, I’d imagine that our world today could be a pretty scary place, and yet I get the impression that you are hopeful for the future. Is that right?
I am beyond hopeful for the future. I am realistic that the future is actually upon us for the first time. There’s the news. There are the blogs. There are the websites. All the ways of communicating. The people are there. The only reason we don’t see it happening as it was back then is that we had to go out into the streets in big numbers and get beat up. Today, we don’t have to do that.

Richie Havens, January 12th at 7:30 p.m., $28 to $43, World Cafe Live, 3025 Walnut St., worldcafelive.com