WILKES-BARRE — Gary Taroli remembers introducing Richie Havens at the Fine Arts Fiesta in May 2007 and the hug he got in return.
The internationally famous musical artist died of a heart attack Monday in New Jersey, his family said in a statement. He was born in Brooklyn.
Taroli, 58, an attorney at Rosenn Jenkins & Greenwald, is a music aficionado who provided pro bono work to secure permits for the 25th anniversary concert of Woodstock.
Havens, a folk singer and guitarist with a raspy voice, is most famous for his appearance at the original Woodstock in August 1969, when he took the stage as the opening act and played for nearly three hours because other artists couldn’t get to the stage due to massive traffic jams leading to the venue.
Havens played every song he knew before ending his marathon set with “Freedom” — which he wrote as he played before 500,000 people in Bethel, N.Y.
Taroli was aware of Havens’ legend and he wanted to give him a proper introduction, not just “Please welcome Richie Havens to Wilkes-Barre.”
Played the world
So Taroli researched Havens and found out that Havens had recorded around 25 albums, toured the world and taught himself how to play the guitar while growing up in Brooklyn.
“Richie Havens ran up the steps of the bandshell, across the stage and gave me a huge hug,” Taroli recalled. “I’ll never forget that.”
After the Fiesta performance, Taroli said, Havens walked through the crowd on Public Square, talking to people and signing autographs.
“He seemed to be such a kind person,” Taroli said. “He was very soft spoken. His manager told me she had to get him out of there because they were going to another event. But she said Richie just loved people and didn’t want to offend anybody.”
Brian Benedetti, executive director of the Fine Arts Fiesta, said Haven arrived in town feeling under the weather. He said he checked into the Ramada on Public Square and decided to walk through the festival with his girlfriend.
“He saw a painting he really liked,” Benedetti said. “His girlfriend went back after and bought the painting and surprised Richie with it.”
The painting, done by Lenore Fiore Mills of Dunmore, was “Greenwich Village Halloween Parade.” Havens got his start in music in the Village, playing gigs with people such as 1960s’ icons Joan Baez and Bob Dylan.
“I went to New York City later that year to see Richie play at the Prospect Park Summer Music Festival,” Mills said. “His girlfriend saw me and introduced me to Richie. He told me my painting was hanging over a fireplace in his cabin in Woodstock, N.Y.”
Mills said Havens was a genuine guy who was pleased to meet her. “He was a very affable person,” she said. “He shook my hand and told me how much he liked the painting.”
Benedetti said he got to learn more about Havens over lunch. “He was a very kind, sensitive man,” Benedetti said. “He was humble and so appreciative to have the opportunity to play at the Fiesta.”
Public Square show
Benedetti said Havens liked the theme for the 2007 Fiesta — The Arts Path to Peace — and asked if there were any particular songs Benedetti wanted to hear.
“He performed for two hours,” Benedetti said. “When he came off stage he said, ‘I hope you’re happy.’ Richie was someone who left a lasting impression on everybody.”
Havens was the eldest of nine children. He is survived by his three daughters and many grandchildren.
A public memorial for Havens will be planned.