Sylvester Stewart gets down with half a million of his closest friends
Listen/Download – Sly & the Family Stone – Woodstock Medley – MP3
I hope all is well on your end as the summer creeps inexorably to it’s symbolic close.
I have returned from my travels, in which a family vacation was inevitably bisected (however briefly) with a digging soujourn (productive). Many good times were had, good food consumed (god bless the Vietnamese and their pho, as close to mother’s milk as soup has ever come) and waves of needless traffic fought bravely.
The tune(s) I bring you today are here in commemoration of the 40th anniversary of Woodstock.
“Woodstock??!” you say. “On Funky16Corners?!?!?”
While it was by and large a rock festival, Woodstock featured one of the most unequivocally blazing Sly and the Family Stone performances ever committed to vinyl (or film for that matter).
There, in the middle (quite literally) of the second night, Sly and his gang took to the stage, faced a crowd of drowsy, mud-soaked hippies and blew their fucking ears off with a veritable tidal wave of funky love, which was at least in the context of Woodstock without equal.
You might want to start and consider how amazing a band Sly & the Family Stone were. Though they sometimes get overlooked in funk/soul circles for their rock-ish style and traveling amongst the longhairs, Sly and the band were without question a going soul and funk concern. There was a pop edge, but what music in that time period didn’t display such filigree?
I want you to pull down the ones and zeros and slap on the headphones and turn the volume way the fuck up and tell me if around the seven and a half minute mark, when the band rips into the ‘Music Lover’ riff you don’t get the stone (pun intended) tingles up and down your spine as a shit eating grin explodes on your face.
I mean GODDAMN!
When Sly gets all ‘I WANT TO TAKE YOU HIGHER!’ and the audience shouts back ‘HIGHER!’ over and over again, and again in a rapturous bit of call and response I get a headrush, and a footrush (on account of they’re tapping so hard) and I kind of get taken away, and it’s 1969, and I’m almost seven years old, a ghostly pale white kid on my way to second grade, and somehow I’m transported (without the knowledge or consent of my parents, natch) to the foot of the stage, with my eyes and ears all bugged out, my crew cut blown back in the hot wind emanating from the edge of the stage and then I snap out of it and realize I’m still sitting at the dining room table with my laptop, typing this stuff and a brief wave of disappointment that I wasn’t there sweeps over me.
The really groovy thing (as they might have said back in the olden days) is that no one knew when they showed up to play at Woodstock that it was going to end up being anything but another gathering of the tribes. The on-stage energy you see displayed by Sly in the movie is the kind of thing he and the Family Stone were accustomed to bringing wherever they went. I remember seeing a film of them absolutely tearing the house down at some cockamamie battle of the bands at the Ohio State Fair (check it out over at La Colmena de Humo)and thinking to myself how few of the performances I’ve seen in my thirty some year concert going career came within 1,000 miles of that show, and Woodstock is BETTER than that one.
Of course Sly burnt himself out a few short years down the line and never really came back.
That my friends is a serious loss, and a lesson in the cruel ways of fate.
Life’s a bitch like that sometimes.
Dig the Sly.
NOTE: Make sure to check out the Midnight Soulstice show from this past Friday which includes a mix from yours truly. It’s archived for streaming or download here.