We refused to leave. We were stoned, sweaty and euphoric, with hearts beating so fast that any doctor would’ve recommended we be taken directly to cardiac care. Except there was nothing wrong with us — other than we had just witnessed Sly and the Family Stone incinerate the Fillmore East.
It was a hot June night in 1969 and Sly hadn’t yet discovered hard drugs or self-destructive ways. Like the band’s classic song, he just wanted to take us higher. He just wanted to unlock our souls and blow our heads off — which, over the course of nearly two hours, he had just done. I was 13 years old and completely on fire.
The late show was supposed to start soon (bands back then played two shows a night), but nobody in the audience would leave. I repeat: nobody.
It was my first time at the Fillmore and I was there with my four best friends, just a bunch of kids from the suburbs trying to play it cool in the big city. The Fillmore was a funky old theater, which originally produced Yiddish plays until Bill Graham took over in 1967, and turned it into the premiere rock palace on the East Coast. Aside from its eclectic acts, it featured the Joshua Light Show, which made the place seem like science class on LSD. Strange, swirling amoebic-like images danced behind the performers and there was enough marijuana smoke to sedate all of Mexico and Jamaica. If heaven was like this, you were no longer afraid to die.
When Sly and the Family Stone paraded out on stage at precisely 9 o’clock, you could feel the whole theater vibrate with excitement. We let loose with a roar that sounded and felt almost primal. We were going out of our minds, and the band hadn’t played a lick of music.
They quickly lit into “You Can Make It If You Try,” one of Sly’s funky odes to unrepentant optimism, and the room went supernova. You had to hear them. Hell, you had to see them. Sly, in his iconic white vest, knit pimp hat and rabbit-fur boots. His sister, Rose, on keyboards in an outfit that looked like hammered gold. Black women, white dudes — there was no band quite like them.
Sly clapped his hands and did the hambone against his tight white pants. Brother Freddie played bluesy licks. Larry Graham popped his bass. Everybody was on point and we were all on our feet from the very first note. I remember hugging total strangers. We were all brothers and sisters that night. We were high. Our freakin’ parents weren’t there. We didn't want the night to end.
The band played every song you know and love: “Everyday People,” “Dance to the Music,” “Sing a Simple Song.” They were rock. They were soul. They were pop. Euphoria ran rampant. Vietnam? Racial problems? They didn’t exist that night.
At about 11 o’clock, after an encore of “Hot Fun in the Summertime,” the group finally took their bows and walked offstage. But we refused to leave. I mean, no ushers, no cops, nobody could make us split. The threatening stage announcements that another show was about to start meant nothing to us. We wanted to die dancing. Get funked to death. Not a single soul would depart.
After a few minutes of this standoff, Sly and the band came back out and proceeded to jump off the stage, strutting and clapping and grooving down the aisle as they headed for the exits. The party was going to continue outside, and like obedient kids obeying the Pied Piper — clapping, bopping, laughing — we followed them right out on to 6th Street.
Then — like magic — they were gone. They had somehow snuck back inside the Fillmore for the second show. We’d been had.
It was the perfect ending to a perfect show.