WOODSTOCK 1969

Concert-goers sit on the roof of a Volkswagen bus at the Woodstock Music and Arts Fair at Bethel, N.Y., in mid-August 1969. The three-day concert attracted hundreds of thousands of people, and became a landmark cultural event of the late ‘60s.

The members of Sly & the Family Stone collectively shrugged their shoulders when they got an invitation to play Woodstock.

Though festivals were a great way to play to thousands of people, they could be grueling, said Greg Errico, the band’s drummer.

“Production always left a lot to be desired. There were the elements. You could get electrocuted on stage or it could be hot and dusty,” recalled Errico in a phone interview from his home in the Bay Area. “It wasn’t fun.”

At the urging of the band’s manager, Sly & the Family Stone agreed to play what it thought was going to be a mid-sized festival. It was soon apparent that Woodstock was a different sort of beast.

“We were on the road and started hearing news that all these roads were getting clogged; the highway system was collapsing. That was the first indication that this was worse than we thought or something special was happening,” Errico said.

Traffic was so clogged that the band flew in on a helicopter.

“I remember coming cover the hill, and you just knew this was intense. I didn’t know what I was looking at first. I’d never seen half a million people. It was amazing, and smoke was hovering over it. You felt ‘Wow. This is going to be fun,’” Errico said.

Entering the summer of ‘69, Sly & the Family Stone was one of the hottest acts in the country, riding the wave of its album, “Stand,” which included the title song, “Everyday People” and “I Want to Take You Higher,” all of which would become essential songs of the 1960s.

The band followed Janis Joplin at 3 a.m. as Woodstock entered its third day. Errico and his band mates knew the heat, rain and congestion had left the crowd exhausted.

“We huddled and looked at each other and said, ‘Let’s do our thing and do it the hardest we can.’ By about the second or third song, people were coming out of their tents and sleeping bags and bobbing their heads,” Errico said. “It was off the hook. You could feel it.”

The band’s 10-minute performance of “I Want to Take You Higher” was transcendent, and the entire set was considered one of the best of Woodstock.

Errico, who would quit the band in 1971, later played with acts ranging from Santana to David Soul to funk singer Betty Davis. Now 70, he remains in contact with members of Sly & the Family Stone, including its enigmatic and reclusive lead singer and visionary, Sly Stone.

Errico will be leading Greg Errico’s Music of Sly & the Family Stone at WE 2019 at Saloon Studios in West Jefferson on Aug. 10.

“A lot people are gone, but a few of us are still around,” he said. “I’m just going to go there and have fun.”

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lodonnell@wsjournal.com 336-727-7420 @lisaodonnellWSJ

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