Crisp summer temperatures met crisp, artful guitar playing as Artpark kicked off its first Wednesday at the Gorge concert series with legendary musician Richie Havens.
Buffalo native and opener Noa Bursie's soulful songs rang through the park as the audience filtered in and set up camp for the night's events. Bursie's bluesy vocals were by far one of the treats of the evening, and listeners were able to hear her sing a beautiful, emotional a capella piece as she closed her set. She walked off stage to much applause and seemed genuinely thankful for her audience's enthusiasm.
One might not have even noticed as Havens appeared for his set, as his stage setup was so simple. Missing was the large ensemble many artists of his age and experience often carry on tour with them; instead, three lone stools sat in spotlights. And that was all that was needed for a night of relaxing entertainment.
Though it was labeled a concert, the night could easily have been called Richie Havens' Night of Storytelling.
Havens didn't play a note for at least the first 10 minutes of the show. Instead, he simply talked to the mostly older crowd -- something many musicians these days rarely seem to enjoy doing. Many modern bands even work designated "talking times" into their set lists because they feel uncomfortable breaking out and interacting with their audience.
After finishing his one-sided conversation with the crowd, Havens started the night off with the frequently covered "All Along the Watchtower." Though the song has been played countless times before, his version was impressively fresh, with his powerful voice guiding the guitar and resonating throughout the park.
However, as the night went on, it became evident that his vocals weren't the only star of the concert. Paired with his soulful crooning was the outstanding and, more importantly, energetic guitar playing. Even after five decades of performing and the release of more than 25 albums, Havens still clearly enjoys being before a crowd.
But the night's peak came as Havens played the opening chords of "Here Comes the Sun." Though his version was not instantly recognizable, Havens turned the originally "popish" piece into a beautiful, slow tune, and played it against the backdrop of the beautiful sunset over the gorge.
Wednesday night as part of Wednesdays on the Gorge series at Artpark.