Celebrate the Music of Sly and the Family Stone at Bay Street Theater

Sly and the Family Stone, Photo: Courtesy Bay Street Theater
Sly and the Family Stone, Photo: Courtesy Bay Street Theater

Get on up and dance to the funky music! The Sag Harbor American Music Festival is paying tribute to Sly and the Family Stone with a special concert on Thursday, September 27 at Bay Street Theater. A group of local musicians will join together to recreate all of Sly’s biggest hits, from “Dance to the Music” to “Family Affair.” The concert is a fundraiser for the Music Festival, with tickets for $30 available at sagharbormusic.org.

Sly and the Family Stone occupy an interesting space in popular culture. With their irresistible dance grooves and with their string of cheerful late ’60s hits like “Everyday People,” “Hot Fun in the Summertime” and “Thank You (Falletinme Be Mice Elf Agin),” Sly and the Family Stone’s music might just conjure up memories of candy-colored bell-bottom pants and fuzzy sound from a ’70s dashboard radio.

But among musicians, rock historians and serious listeners, Sly and the Family Stone command deep respect—while the band’s front man, songwriter, arranger and producer, Sly Stone, is considered a genius and a pioneer. Sly is revered for his mid-’60s melding of soul and funk, two primarily black styles of popular music, with hard rock and acid rock, which was mostly associated with white bands. The result was a highly energized hybrid that quickly took over the airwaves and was widely imitated. As noted rock critic Joel Selvin has written, “There are two types of black music: black music before Sly Stone and black music after Sly Stone.”

The whole thing is a dream come true for the concert’s music director Dan Koontz. “I remember when I first heard Sly and the Family Stone, it was like a missing piece of the puzzle had been filled in,” says Koontz. “They showed that music doesn’t have to be ‘serious’ in order to be profound. The fun and joyous abandon of their music communicates freedom and inclusiveness more directly than any words could.” Koontz’s plan is to capture the Family Stone’s frenetic energy by basing the evening’s performance on how the band sounded live. “Their Woodstock set is just mind-blowing,” he says.

In fact, it was in their live performances that the band’s innovations came across most clearly. “Everything was faster and heavier,” says Koontz. “I love their studio recordings, but their live sets make their records sound pretty tame. So we’re going with the heavier approach.” After all, it was Sly and the Family Stone’s electrifying performance at Woodstock in 1969, portions of which were featured in the Woodstock film, that really immortalized the band.

In addition to Koontz, who will be providing the requisite Hammond organ sounds to the celebration, the evening will feature the voices of Lee Lawler of Mama Lee Rose and Friends and Marvin Joshua of the HooDoo Loungers, Michael Schiano on guitar, Joe Lauro on bass and Dave Giacone on drums, rounded out with Christian Crawford on trumpet and Eric Kaye on saxophone.

According to the Sag Harbor American Music Festival’s co-founder Kelly C. Dodds, the September 27 Sly and the Family Stone celebration represents a new facet in this jewel of an event. “Kerry Farrell (another co-founder) and I had been playing with the idea of launching a ‘Living Legends’ series of concerts that celebrate significant American musicians,” says Dodds. “At first we planned to do it as a separate event later in the year, but decided it would have a greater impact as the opening night of the Festival. Sly and the Family Stone was an obvious choice to lead off with—we hope everyone has fun with it!”

And what could be a better venue for a show like this than Bay Street Theater in the heart of Sag Harbor? “There’s plenty of dance floor there,” notes Koontz. “This is going to be a non-stop party celebrating one of the greatest bands of all time.”

Celebrate the music of Sly and the Family Stone with some of the East End’s top musicians on Thursday, September 27 at 8 p.m. at Bay Street Theater. sagharbormusic.org

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