I’m John Felthous, and I work on the KEXP documentary team. Each week we produce a short radio story on a musical subject. Our current series is Psychedelics, where we trace the origins of psych music from 1966 until today. This past week’s story is about a band that lit up the stage at Woodstock, Sly and the Family Stone.
Woodstock should have been a disaster, and it almost was. In August of 1969 thousands of young people traveled to a quiet upstate NY farming community for a three-day music festival. The nearest town, Bethel, wasn’t prepared for it. Food and gas was in short supply. Rain washed out the roads leading in and out of the festival.
Everyone was trapped in what would have been hellish conditions, but everybody pulled together and helped each other. The hippies, the freaks, the artists and musicians all walked the walk, putting into practice what the peace movement was all about: Loving each other and leaving no one behind. Sly And The Family Stone understood this idealism. The band went on at 3am Sunday morning and amazed the crowd with electrifying versions of “Dance to the Music” and I “Want To Take You Higher.”
Sly And The Family Stone were a mix, in gender and interracial, and they personified a dream the hippies had for the future of the country. Their music crossed boundaries too. At the time, soul and rock were pretty well divided, but Sly and crew mixed the genres together with such love and enthusiasm, they made it seem natural, in their sound and their lyrics — just like Sly sings in “Everyday People”:
Sometimes I’m right and I can be wrong/ My own beliefs are in my song/ The butcher, the banker, the drummer and then/ Makes no difference what group I’m in/ I am everyday people
KEXP Documentaries are produced by Michele Myers. Assistant producer is Kate Shantry. With help from John Felthous, Zeek Earl and Leah Pogwizd. You can hear all our KEXP Documentary series online — including “Heart of Soul”, “Punk Evolution”, “Portraits of Post-Punk” and “Pop Goes Electronic” in the On Demand section of kexp.org.