We played at the Psyforia Festival yesterday and what a fun time we had! The event was held at the American Legion in Cambridge, outdoors, right next to the Charles River. I should mention that it was pretty hot yesterday. I never saw a thermometer, but I’m pretty good at guessing these things and I would estimate we were in the low to mid nineties (that’s Fahrenheit, by the way). That river started looking pretty good after a few minutes performing in direct sunlight, but not one for swimming in city rivers, we stayed ashore, played our funk music to a festival crowd and had a whale of a time.
We were invited to the event by our close friend and original Jive Sucka! Ammon EP, who is a terrific dj, an emerging producer and unbelievable hooper. That’s with a hula hoop for those of you unfamiliar with the fad. (I call it a fad not to be derogatory, but because when I was taught the word ‘fad’ in elementary school, the hula hoop was the example that we were given. In fact, whenever I think of the word, an image of plastic tubular ring, often in bright shades of orange, pink and green, comes to mind.) So, listen, I’m serious: Ammon is unbelievable with a hoop. The whole phenomenon is so much more developed than I previously realized. In fact, there were quite a few people hooping at the event and they were all pretty much amazing.
And there was food (thanks Heidi!) and more music and a great crowd. There were friends and family. Not to rub it in, but I really don’t know how you missed it. (Did I mention we performed?)
Speaking of which…
Some of you have been asking about a song that we play, an early sixties style ballad about hair. Well, it’s called “Your Hair” and here we are performing it. It’s on our first record, :Album, in a completely different treatment. Samuel has been playing a mean sax solo on this tune since we started performing this particular version. It’s pretty much right in his wheelhouse and I’ll be darned if hasn’t hit it out of the park at every show. In fact, it might be my favorite moment of our show right now. It certainly was at Psyforia, so Sam: I applaud you. When can I get that autograph finally?
So, not having had enough festival for one day, we retreated to an undisclosed location somewhere in Massachusetts. (The same undisclosed location from which we phoned in an interview with Charlie Gaylord of 98.9 WCLZ in Portland. That interview will be airing on August 15th at 6pm, for those interested.) And at this undisclosed location, we watched the director’s cut of Woodstock. Wow. No matter how many times you see the film, it’s pretty inspiring. From Richie Havens’ opening chords to Jimi Hendrix’s closing ones, there is an undeniable sense of energy to this event. The moment that gives me the longest lasting chills is (of course) the Sly & The Family Stone performance. Talk about wow. Between his speech (“Most of us need to get approval from our neighbors before we can let it all hang down, you see. And what is happening here is we’re gonna try to do a sing along. Now, a lot of people don’t like to do it, because they feel that it might be old fashioned. But you must dig that it is not a fashion in the first place. It’s a feeling, and if it was good in the past, it’s still good.”), Freddie and Larry’s dancing and the knowledge that this people were roused from slumber in the wee hours to shout “higher!” with the band, I find the whole thing awe-ing.
A few years ago, we were lucky enough to discover (via Daddy Wrall’s persistent searching) a video called “Graham Funk Bass Attack,” a bass instructional video by the one and only Larry Graham, featuring Gregg Errico from Sly & The Family Stone and Robert “Butch” Sam from Graham Central Station. In this video, there exist some very memorable performances as well as some discussion between the guys. At one point Larry turns to Gregg and asks him about his time with Sly. The conversation goes something like this (forgive my family obligation to exaggeration):
“Hey Gregg. We played a lot of memorable shows with Sly, but there must have been one that really stands out for you. What would that be”
“Well, there were so many. I guess one that I remember was [names a San Francisco venue that may or may not have been one of the first that the Family Stone played.]”
“That great and all, but wasn’t there one in particular that really stands out?”
“Well, there were so many…”
“Think, Gregg. One that was really special. There were half a million people there? The town’s name starts with a W…”
“Wood… Wood… Woodstock? Woodstock!”
“That’s the one. Now wasn’t that just the best show?”
[Nodding.] “Of course. Woodstock was amazing…”
So, leading questions aside, (and let’s be honest, Larry could get any of us to say just about whatever he wanted. He’s got that chaRAZma) I can see why Mr. Graham would highlight this show. It just has something about it. It’s the event by which other festivals are measured and modeled. The event that shames them all. It created a new kind of hope (even if that hope was largely dashed at Altamont five months later.)
It was certainly imperfect, but there was some line-blurring at Woodstock. The trend towards dividing music into genres, that has, in m opinion, overstayed its welcome, hadn’t taken the business over quite yet. At Woodstock, the rock and soul branches of the r&b tree were close enough to their roots to remember each other, and with that in mind, we can still see how similar this music thing is at the trunk. There was no need to distill and purify such specific styles of music. Sly & The Family Stone are fantastic examples of this, but also look at Richie Havens and Joe Cocker: they each appear to be one thing, but sound like another. Jimi Hendrix and Pete Townshend have more in common than not according to the footage I’ve seen. This the kind of line-blurring I’m talking about; sure, the lines weren’t quite there yet, but they didn’t need to. And don’t think I’m asking that we turn all of music of today into one homogenous mess. Quite the opposite, in fact. I’d just like to see it side by side, supporting each other.
I am a bit unaware of the outdoor multi-day festivals of now. I’ve been to day long affairs, but never have I participated in anything like the temporary city at Yasgur’s farm. Until I’m on stage at one, may never be, but I can’t help but to see these events as great opportunities. Most of the time, I find it sad to see the music industry in such a decline, because music has such a potential to uplift. Maybe a little shaking up needs to happen, though, to get people back to making something positive with it. If these festivals are an example of that something, then sign me up.
Let’s blur the lines a little. Let’s drop out of the School of Too Cool. Let’s worry less about whether something is in fashion and focus more on what Sly said: “if it was good in the past, it’s still good.” Let’s put rock and soul and hip-hop and everything back in the pot, make it real and honest and have a little fun.
And Happy Birthday Ammon.