Published: Jun 24, 2008 08:34 PM
Modified: Jun 24, 2008 08:34 PM
Cyril Lance doesn't spend a lot of time browsing YouTube, but he did go to the site recently because he'd been thinking about Richie Havens and wanted to take another look at Havens' performance at Woodstock.
Havens was the first performer to go onstage, as many of the hundreds of thousands of fans were still making their way to the site. He was scheduled to play for 20 minutes, but his passion and inimitable voice kept the crowd spellbound. Six times he left the stage and was called back. Almost three hours later, the throng wanted more but an exhausted Havens had played every song he knew.
So he winged it. He started doing an old spiritual, "Motherless Child," and then he began improvising, belting out the word "Freedom" over and over. It was a mesmerizing performance, and it set the tone for everything that was to follow.
"Incredible," said Lance, a prominent local musician and songwriter. "One guy with an acoustic guitar, and he brought the whole place together. He inspired the whole festival, infused it with this spirit of freedom and love. What an incredible, powerful thing that is.
"I've always been drawn to music that has that kind of larger meaning, and that inspiration has always been at the root of my music."
Lance will share some of the music that over the years has brought people together and helped them get through hard times, in a special concert called "Songs of Freedom and Hope" at The ArtsCenter Friday night.
Playing with a band including Donna the Buffalo keyboardist Dave McCracken and Berklee College of Music faculty member Matt Jensen, Lance will feature songs by artists such as Havens, Mavis Staples, John Lennon, John Coltrane, Elvis Costello and more.
And, of course, Bob Marley.
"The name of the concert, 'Songs of Freedom,' is from Bob Marley's 'Redemption Song,'" Lance said. "As a musician and a human being, he epitomizes what this concert is about."
And what it's about, Lance said, is the way music can draw people together, build connections and speak to something deep within them.
"The more I play for people, the more I realize how powerful that communal experience is," Lance said. "It builds such a bond between people. It can be a release. It can be healing. People have been finding those things in music for thousands of years."
Lance grew up during the 1960s, when music played an integral role in the civil rights movement, the war in Vietnam and the other social and political changes that transformed America. Society now is more fragmented, more insular, he said; it's harder now to identify the soundtrack for the national experience.
Last year, Lance played an extremely successful "Night of Dylan" show at The ArtsCenter. Friday's show is an outgrowth of that one; Lance wants the concert to serve as a reminder of the role that art, particularly music, can play in defining and expressing the state of society.
"I feel blessed to have grown up at a time when music was such an important part of the social context," he said. "The Staples Sisters. Crosy, Stills, Nash and Young. Bob Dylan. Richie Havens. And before that, in jazz you had John Coltrane who, even without words, was exploring spiritual questions and expressing what it was like to be black in America.
"Part of the reason for the ArtsCenter show is that I want to keep expressing the message that music is an important part of change."
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