Sly and the Family Stone
Stand!: The Woodstock Experience
First Appeared in The Music Box, August 2009, Volume 16, #8
Written by John Metzger
Mon August 24, 2009, 06:30 AM CDT
Within the span of two years, Sly and the Family Stone had become a formidable force in concert as well as in the studio. Released in May 1969, Stand! undeniably was the blossoming moment of founding father Sly Stoneís career. A critical, creative, and commercial success, the album soared up the charts, bringing Stoneís message of racial harmony to the masses. If anything, a few months later, Sly and the Family Stoneís reputation was further cemented by its appearance at Woodstock.
Yet, despite its initially sunny disposition, Sly and the Family Stone was entering a period of transition. As civil unrest gripped America, Stone increasingly began to feel disillusioned about the future. For the most part, Stand! was an optimistic effort, though it also boasted more direct expressions of his growing social consciousness. Several of its tracks ó Donít Call Me Nigger, Whitey and Somebodyís Watching You ó hinted ominously at the troubled times that would manifest themselves more completely on Sly and the Family Stoneís fifth album Thereís a Riot Goiní On.
Still, Stoneís spirit likely received a boost from the communal atmosphere that pervaded Woodstock. It was, after all, the realization of the utopian world that he long had envisioned. For a day at least, Stone stemmed his slow decline, took a step back, and reveled in the aura of peace, love, and happiness that surrounded him. In effect, Stone opted to stash his dark material away and save it for another day. Instead, he led his band through a feel-good set of hard-driving funk, hardly paying notice to the fact that the collective had taken the stage in the wee hours of the morning.
With the supreme joyfulness of MíLady, Sly and the Family Stone established the tone for its 50-minute set at Woodstock. Ragged vocals and a splattering of horns crisscrossed above the songís radiant, rhythmic undercurrent, making it clear that Stone was planning to hold court by hosting an exuberant sanctification of life. The politics that had begun to creep into Stand! were pushed aside in order to make room for an unfettered celebration of the power of music not just to unite but also to elevate the minds of the planetís population. Stoneís mission, at least at Woodstock, was simply to get the audience to join together and dance.
Half of Sly and the Family Stoneís set was devoted to a riveting song sequence that fused Everyday People, Dance to the Music, Music Lover, and Higher into a lengthy jam. The groupís new single I Want to Take You Higher served as the processionís mighty exclamation point. Itís hard to imagine a bid at product placement that was better designed or more effective than this. Held together by the ensembleís relentless energy and insistent determination, the tunes melted to become a mantra of sorts, one that conveyed the message that music was a unifying force that could deliver salvation and achieve equality for all.
Considering the strength of its performance at Woodstock, Sly and the Family Stone arguably had reached its peak. Itís only fitting, then, that the ensemble served as the prelude to The Whoís punishing set of manic destruction. Stoneís downfall may have been several years away, and he may have had one more masterful album left in him. Yet, as the shadows began to fall upon the band as well as the hippie scene in general, the rest was merely a matter of walking the path that led to its demise.
Of Further Interest...
Stand!: The Woodstock Experience is available from
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2009 The Music Box