Havens will always be remembered as the opening act at the Woodstock music festival in 1969. It wasn't his scheduled slot (the band Sweetwater was supposed to open), but because the highways were choked to a standstill with traffic, many of the other artists hadn't arrived. Festival co-organizer Michael Lang gave Havens the task of taking the stage first, and holding it for as long as need be. "It had to be Richie–I knew he could handle it," Lang later wrote, according to a Havens obituary at RollingStone.com. Havens gave a marathon performance that included numerous encores and an on-the-spot composition of what would become an anthem of the documentary film, and the era.
My mother’s family came from the British West Indies. And my father’s family came from, well, my father’s father came from the Montana/South Dakota area. They were Blackfoot Indian. And him and his brother came with Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show, got off in New York City, and left the show there and ended up on Shinnecock Reservation in Long Island. And he got married there, and moved to Brooklyn, and that’s how my father was born in Brooklyn. And how I ended up being born in Brooklyn as well.
"Richie Havens offered his support and commitment as a performer with Blackfoot Indian heritage during the formation of the Native American Music Awards," the organization said in a statement. "He proclaimed his Native American heritage at a press conference announcing the launch of the Native American Music Awards in lower Manhattan on April 22, 1998, exactly 15 years ago. He was also asked by the family of the late Jimi Hendrix to perform a musical tribute for Hendrix’s induction into the N.A.M.A. Hall of Fame at the First Awards ceremony held in May 1998 at the Foxwoods Resort & Casino."