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The Night Sly Stone Led the Fillmore East Audience Into the Streets: Book Excerpt

Frank Mastropolo

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Sly Stone at Fillmore East, May 10, 1968©Frank Mastropolo

Sly and the Family Stone appeared at New York's Fillmore East on three weekends in 1968 and 1969, appearing with bands that include the Jimi Hendrix Experience and Eric Burdon & the Animals.

One night Sly Stone, with guitarist Freddie Stone and bassist Larry Graham in tow, marched off the stage and led the audience out of the fire exits and into the rainy East Village streets. In this excerpt from the book Fillmore East: The Venue That Changed Rock Music Forever, lighting tech Allan Arkush declares, "Sly & the Family Stone was a band that was not welcome at Fillmore East."

Family Stone drummer Greg Errico, who remained on stage with the horn section and kept the rhythm cooking, explains that Sly Stone's performance was hardly unexpected.

Greg Errico: I remember one of those series of shows, I was late. And I remember getting out of the cab, I'm on the side street there where the side door is to the stage. And they were waiting for me.

The band is on stage. And Sly's playing some chords and improvising. I don't know if he was talking about that I hadn't shown up yet or what, but I could remember flying out of the cab door, through the open backstage door, and they're just trying to hold the moment in anticipation of me coming. And I just landed on the seat and we hit the downbeat and went. No discussion about anything.

Allan Arkush: Sly & the Family Stone was a band that was not welcome at Fillmore East. Not the first show; that one wasn't so bad. But when he became a headliner, he was always, always late. And when I say late, I mean forty-five minutes to an hour. And we did two shows a night, which meant that kids were standing outside waiting for an hour to get into the later show.

One night when he was playing, it was pouring rain and he was late and he kept everyone outside in the rain until midnight. And the late show is supposed to start 11:30 and he was still on the stage at 11:45. And I remember the stage manager got his attention, he said, "Look, Sly, there's people outside in the rain, could you kind of wrap it up?"

And Sly got on the mic and he said, "The Man is trying to shut me down." And he goes, "Let's take it to the streets!" And he marched out the doors.

It was just a bug that he had. It was just the moment. It wasn't like, here, you guys, somewhere in the middle of the set we're going to march outside and take everybody out. They just did it. You feel it at the moment and you do it. Because you can, I guess. And that's all it was.

If there was a mistake, something happens, something went wrong, the band would just immediately respond and turn it into something. So a lot of times there were really cool things that happened but the thing that spawned it might have been a mistake. Or something went wrong. Whatever. And that's how it went.

So when he got up and started to leave the stage, maybe Freddie and Larry looked at each other and they go "All right" and they were just there. Like this was what was supposed to happen. Which wasn't necessarily the case.

We used to have fun with just what would happen and what you did with it. That's what made the band so much fun and interesting.

Mastropolo is the author of Fillmore East: The Venue That Changed Rock Music Forever and New York Groove: An Inside Look at the Stars, Shows, and Songs That Make NYC Rock.

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Frank Mastropolo is the author of Fillmore East: The Venue That Changed Rock Music Forever, one of Best Classic Bands' Best Music Books of 2021; New York Groove: An Inside Look at the Stars, Shows, and Songs That Make NYC Rock; the What's Your Rock IQ? Trivia Quiz Book series; Ghost Signs: Clues to Downtown New York's Past, winner of the 2021 Independent Publishers Book Award; and Ghost Signs 2: Clues to Uptown New York's Past. Mastropolo is a journalist, photographer, and former ABC News 20/20 producer, winner of the Alfred I. DuPont–Columbia University silver baton. His photography is featured in the Bill Graham Rock & Roll Revolution exhibition.

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