THE WOODSTOCK EXPERIENCE
Friday August 15th.
Day One, Woodstock
"Man, it’s your trip.” He hands me some acid, it’s brown.
“Uh, not sure man …”
“It's together, just the last one you gave me ...”
“We're family man, it's all family - we've all got our own trip. But the intensity? You'll dig it. I promise you. If it get's too far out we’ll just split to the back ok.”
“Alright Mikey … give me the tab.” 1 minute later there’s a public announcement on the huge speakers. “The brown acid that is circulating around us is not specifically too good. It’s suggested that you do not take it but it is your own trip so please be advised that there is a warning on that one. Ok?”
60 seconds. What a pisser.
Saturday August 16th.
Day Two, Woodstock
350,000 freaks are in a field in Bethel County at the Woodstock Music & Art Festival. Billed as 3 days of Peace & Music, before I left my Father called it “the largest organised communist gathering in the US”, like it was an insult.
Me and 3 friends (Mikey, Bobby & Sean) made it. At $18 a ticket we found a way in through a hole in the fence (admittedly the hole wasn’t there before we opened it). Last night Joan Baez freaked me out, I was still tripping on the brown acid when her Swing Low, Sweet Chariot threatened to land on my shoulders. I managed to catch 5 hours and sleep it off. But today has been a slog. There was a downpour leaving mud in my beard. So I've asked Bobby to wake me when The Who play.
Sunday August 17th. 3:30am
Day Three, Woodstock
The Who haven’t been on yet. But my semi-conscious sleep was interrupted 5 minutes ago. A loud Soul group called Sly & The Family Stone hit the stage.
The lead guy behind the organ with nice sideburns (I guess that’s Sly), started shouting “HEY! HEY! HEY! HEY! HEY!” and soon the dude on bass with bigger hair than an eclipse joins in. The count in, the monstrous beat (*Track 1 - M’Lady) woke us all (everyone except my dozey-ass alarm clock Bobby). This is not your average Motown pop soul stuff, the groove is aggressive with chicken scratch guitar playing, a horn section with a white long-hair on sax and a black chick blowin' trumpet player. Unlike the percussive call and response jams that James Brown hits us with this music radiates harmony. Felt in every sense from a band made up of men, women, black skin, brown skin, white skin, pink skin, blue eyes, brown eyes, green eyes & couple o' red eyes. Say it loud – were brownypink and proud. Sly Stone has white cowboy tassels flowing from his shirt sleeves, when his arms are outstretched he looks like an eagle (and no, im not tripping now). The song ends with an impromptu sounding harmony attack, each voice intertwining on a funk rhythm, making strange syllable noises (“cha cha choo choo chagoo”) - it works. Then it finishes, there’s a pause and the crowd is hooked, but there’s silence from the stage. Sly talks to the audience for the first time…
“See there’s a problem here, is that we have some equipment…”
“C’MON!!” shouts an impatient fucker in the front.
“Wait a minute man,” Sly addresses him and continues “we have some equipment that is not working properly. So what we can do is either hurry up and play to avoid waking you up or wait until this shit works properly.” Rose Stone, his sister and vocalist starts into the mic “Check, check, check.”
“That’s cool.” Sly's ready, his organ and brother Freddie Stone's wah wah guitar introduce the trumpet player, Cynthia Robinson who hollers the song title “SING A SIMPLE SONG!” as the whole band slip straight back into the heavy slop. The hits flow into each other as if they’re one continuously rising crescendo You Can Make It If You Try, into the uplifting anthem Everday People onto the relentless groove of Dance To The Music/Music Lover. Breaking down to just drummer Greg Errico each instrument falls in when the next player introduces themselves – Bassist (guitar and vocals) Larry Graham sings “Music for the human race, i'm gonna add some funky bass” his fuzz bass vibrates like a throbbing shockwave through the skull and bones. Everybody is up now, even Bobby. I’m not one for dancing in public, I prefer the comfort of solitude to get down (because of a resemblance to Joe Cocker in full flow) but here I am in a field, not concerned, moving. The band break the music down to a light simmering groove. Again, Sly steps to the mic…
“What we would like to do is sing a song together …”
He has a rasp to his voice, like he mixes nicotine with brandy.
“Now you see what usually happens is you get a group of people who might sing but for some unknown reasons that are not unknown anymore they won’t do it …”
Yep, not me. There was a reason I used to mumble the national anthem in home room. But Sly continues...
“Most of us need approval, most of us need to get a approval from our neighbours before we can let it all hang down …uhuh ya dig?”
I dig, Sly I dig but I’ll let everyone else sing. It might be pitch black but where's my sunglasses?
“We would like to sing a song called Higher and if we can get everybody to sing along we would appreciate it,” the funk is gurgling in the background, “everybody’s grooving and carryin’ on ….”
Sly sings in a Ray Charles like growl “Wanna take you higher!”
“HIGHER!” 80,000 people reply.
Sly’s not satisfied with the turn out “Just sing Higher and throw the peace sign up it’ll do you no harm…" He goes again. "Wanna take you higher!”
“HIGHER!” 100,000 strong.
“Still again some people feel they shouldn’t, because there are situations where you need approval to get in on something that could be sooo good”
“Wanna take you higher!”
Now i’m in. Me and 199,999 others yell at the top of our lungs. Together, our voices sound incredible – I’ve never been to a church like this, an electric church. If it was like this every Sunday I’d be the first to go. Still Sly ain't satisfied …
“If you throw the peace sign up and say Higher and get everybody to do it, there’s a whole lot of people here and a whole of people might not want to do it because they can somehow get around it and feel there are enough people to make up for it and on and on. Etcetera, etcetera … RAAAA …..Wanna take you higher!”
“HIGHER!” 250,000 including Mike and a redhaired chick he was doing Yoga with earlier.
“Way up on the hill…,” Sly wants everybody “Wanna take you higher!”
“HIGHER!” 300,000 Bobby & Sean are in. the music gets faster…
“Wanna take you higher! …HIGHER!”
350,000. It's galloping now.
Then everyone – every fucker on this field in call and response –
“HIGHER!”, “Higher!“ “HIGHER!”, “Higher!“ “HIGHER!” …
“YEEEEAAAAHHHH – YEAH YEH” Sly screams in appreciation.
Waves of goosebumps rise up the spine, virtually leaking tears. I’ve never felt this before.
Sly and the band lead us through 2 encores. Including a full Slop masterpiece called either I Wanna Take You Higher (an extension of the chant) or Boom-Lakka-Lakka – it’s horns and rock guitars living together in one nasty groove, who’d have imagined that horns AND heavy guitar? Who indeed … which reminds me, who were the other band?
What a trip. The musical kind. Sly & The Family Stone are gonna save the world. I believe that.