"Someone just asked me how I felt about Washington," says folk guitarist and singer Richie Havens to a crowd at the legendary Cellar Door club in Georgetown. "Phhhheew. What a good question." The audience laughs. "So I said, 'Washington's groovy.' And it is."
That was 1970. The intro to his version of Bob Dylan's "All Along the Watchtower." Luckily, someone had the foresight to capture the performance on tape (recently released by Five Star Recordings).
Although 20 years have passed since Havens made that declaration, he still thinks Washington's pretty groovy. The singer, who inspired hundreds of thousands of young people in the peace movement in the late '60s, has chosen Washington as the headquarters for his latest project, the Natural Guard -- 60,000 children nationwide who are trying to save the planet so there is something left when they grow up.
"Homelessness, joblessness, drugs are all environmental problems," says Havens. Preserving the environment doesn't just mean stopping the cremation of the Brazilian rain forests, he says. It's also stopping the destruction of Brooklyn and the Bronx. "And what I have found is that we have this subtle army working on us -- our children."
He relishes in telling about how two 8-year-olds temporarily shut down a McDonald's that was using Styrofoam packaging by instigating a boycott. That fast-food outlet changed to biodegradable packaging soon after.
"I have found out," he says sweetly, "that these children are the generation of change. They are willing to work. They are really planetary children."
Havens certainly is willing to work too. During the week he communes with children. On the weekends he plays in small clubs around the country, reprising some lovely songs of his youth, such as George Harrison's "Here Comes the Sun" and Stephen Stills's "Helplessly Hoping," as well as strumming a few of his own.
"It's all the same agenda," he says of his projects, the children and the music. "I've never thought of myself as being in show business. I'm in the communication business. Because I grew up in the '60s, and that's what our music was about -- communication."
Richie Havens is performing at the Barns of Wolf Trap on Wednesday night at 8 with singer-songwriter Cliff Eberhardt. Tickets are $15 and available at Ticketron. For information call 202-432-0200.