***Note: This is a story from my book, The Boy Who Would Be A Fire Truck. I’ve posted this story many times, but it’s one of my favorites, so here we go again!
One of folk singer’s Richie Havens’ biggest claims to fame is that he was the opening act at the legendary music festival Woodstock. That was probably one of the greatest times of his life. I can’t officially say this, but I think after you read this story you’ll agree that I was probably responsible for one of the worst times in his life.
Sometime in the early ‘80’s, I was driving home from work and heard an ad from an FM station for a local bar announcing that Richie Havens would be playing in their beer garden on the following Thursday night. The name of the bar was Cassano’s and it was located smack-dab in the center of Pioneer Park which was only a few blocks from the apartment complex where I lived.
The bar itself was dark, had a couple of pool tables and a vintage jukebox in the corner. In the back was a beer garden with a couple of picnic tables. It would be lucky if fifty people cold fit in there. And Richie Havens was going to be playing there? Talk about your Spinal Tap moments!
“Hello Cleveland!” Well, I guess that should be, “Hello Peoria!” Or maybe just, “Hello Beer Garden.” Anyway playing in Cassano’s beer garden was a gig I would’ve expected a local band to turn down. But Richie Havens? This guy had sold a lot of records through the years and was a famous musician.
Sure, Peoria was probably a pit stop on the way to a bigger gig in Chicago, but still, Cassano’s beer garden? I knew one thing though, I was going to go.
Thursday night came and I picked up my friend Tim. Tim and I have been friends since we were freshmen in high school and both of us love music and absurdist humor and this was going to be both of those rolled into one. Tim got in and as we drove to the bar I pulled out a big slab of hash wrapped up in tin foil out of my jacket pocket. And I’m not talking roast beef hash either, I’m talking hashish.
I had bought this off of a drug dealer friend of mine and he assured me it was top grade shit. And it was a big slab, like five inches by five inches. Tim was impressed with it and asked if I had a hash pipe in the car and since I didn’t we decided to eat it. Tim broke the slab in two and then broke those two in two and we each ate a quarter of the slab. I was sure that was enough to really get us fucked up. And it still left half the slab for later. It was like eating sandy dirt, but luckily Tim had brought a can of beer for each of us for the ride, so we quickly ate the big chunks of the hashish bar and washed it down with the beer.
Soon we pulled into the back of the gravel parking lot and made our way into the inner sanctum of Cassano’s Bar. We each sat at a stool with crumbling burgundy leather seats in the dark and smoky bar and ordered bottles of Budweiser. Two bikers were playing pool and there were assorted older hippie type people hanging out at the bar and sitting at a couple of the tiny beat up, wooden, cigarette burned rectangle tables.
After about a half an hour I asked Tim if he felt anything from the hash and he said he didn’t. I was certain my drug dealer friend had burned me, so we each ate another quarter of the slab. About five minutes later I started to feel really stoned. So did Tim.
“I’m starting to feel really fucked up,” I told Tim.
“Me too,” he shot back. “Wait’ll the second quarter kicks in.”
“Oh, shit,” I mumbled and then we both started laughing uncontrollably. The bartender was staring at us and so was everybody else in the bar because we couldn’t stop laughing.
Right around this time the back door to the beer garden opened up and a guy announced, “Anybody with tickets to see Richie Havens, can come into the garden.”
Still giggling we made our way to the door, we dutifully handed the guy our tickets walked into the beer garden. The beer garden was basically just part of the parking lot that the owner had put a fence around. Inside the fenced in area were two small picnic tables, some folding chairs and a steel garbage can to throw your empties into. Pretty exotic, huh? For this night they had pulled the tables back and a little a little make-shift wooden stage was built with a microphone stand on it. A silver, metal stool was placed directly behind the microphone.
Tim and I sat in a couple of the beat up white folding chairs and scoped out the rest of the “audience.” They were all older hippie types, with ponytails, faded denim and they all looked thrilled to be having this intimate show with the guy who opened Woodstock. All in all, the total audience count including Tim and I was probably around fifteen. A far cry from the 500,000 he performed for at Woodstock.
After about fifteen minutes the same guy who took the tickets at the door walked on to the small wooden “stage” and said into the microphone, “Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome the legendary Richie Havens.”
And out from the side of the bar he emerged, acoustic guitar in hand to as much enthusiasm as a fifteen person crowd can muster. Tim and I were higher than projectile moonbeams and we were laughing our asses off. To his credit Richie Havens walked right out with a beaming smile as if he was walking into a big concert hall gig.
He looked pretty much the same and was wearing jeans and a white cotton shirt. He thanked everyone for being there and started in on some meandering story about a wedding he had just been to and about what it had meant to him.
Tim and I were really fucked up at this point and I said to him, “I’m so high I can hardly stand it!”
I thought I had said it to him normally, but he told me later I had said it really loud, and that I almost shouted it. I was so high I wasn’t in control of my speaking levels.
Well, this caused everyone to turn and stare at me and Richie Havens even stopped his stupid little talk and he was staring at me too. I was so high and now with everyone staring at me it was too much. Koo koo ka choo. Paranoia had struck deep and I had to flee these staring faces.
I turned to Tim and said, “Let’s get the fuck out of here.”
That said we both got up and ran out of the beer garden, through the bar and out to the back of the parking lot where my car was. We jumped into the car and we both started laughing uncontrollably. In between our laughter I said to Tim, “Watch this.”
Then I started my car and drove it over to the beer garden fence and positioned my car directly behind Richie Havens and I pulled it up as close to the fence as I could get it. He was singing, “Here Comes the Sun.” I put the car in park and then laid on the horn. This stopped the song and some people were screaming at us, calling us assholes and various other sundry names.
I let up on the horn blowing and Richie Havens started singing the song again. Then I yelled out the window, “Hey Richie here comes the sun,” and I started turning my headlights off and on and honking the horn again.
What a jerkoff I was, but it was some funnyass shit, let me tell you. Tim and I were howling with laughter. It was one of those stoned mind-tickling moments that can only happen after ingesting a couple grams of high grade hash into your system.
By now tears are streaming down our faces and Tim shouted out, “Oh shit!”
This caused me to look in his direction and the burly bartender and about five guys were running towards my car. And they didn’t look too pleased. I threw the car into reverse, backed up and then floored it out of the parking lot, spraying gravel at the angry fellows in our wake. We went to another bar and laughed ourselves silly over our adventure. Tim and I still talk about it to this day.
Just the fact that Richie Havens could only drum up fifteen people to come see him in an entertainment-starved city must’ve been depressing enough. But then to have some stoned out hash-head blow you some serious shit must’ve really made for a bad night in the life and career of one Mr. Richie Havens.
When I lived in New York, I had always hoped to run into Richie Havens and ask him if he remembered that fateful night at a beer garden in Peoria. Well he died in April of 2013, so I guess I’ll never know!
Photo of the Day
This is the window next to my desk in my bedroom where I do all of my writing and a lot of thinking. I stare at this window a lot. The blinds have never been up.