There’s A Riot Goin’ On
It’s an anniversary of sorts. This day, 43 years ago, Sly and the Family Stone was scheduled to play at the old Grant Park Bandshell, just north of the Field Museum on Chicago’s Lake Shore Drive. Tens of thousands of people showed up for the free show, many of them, no doubt, veterans of the street violence that had beset the city over the previous couple of years.
Sly And The Family Stone
In April 1968, there’d been the Martin Luther King riots and, later that month, an unprovoked police attack upon peaceful anti-war protesters in the Loop. Toss in the Democratic National Convention in August, the shooting war between the local Black Panthers and the cops throughout the spring and summer of ’69, and the Days of Rage in October, and you’ve got some battle hardened folks who likely were present that day on Chicago’s lakefront. That is, both uniformed and not.
S&TFS had disappointed their Chicago fans three times already in 1970, repeatedly cancelling shows at the last minute. More specifically, Sly Stone had let ticket holders down. See, Sly had fallen in love with cocaine and PCP, going so far as to carry around a violin case stuffed with the illegal drugs. He’d come under the influence of certain members of the LA Black Panthers who told him he should make more revolutionary-oriented music and to get rid of the white members of his group. Sly also hired a mobster and his drug dealer to be his bodyguards. He became paranoid, convinced that his bandmates were conspiring against him.
All in all, Sly’s life was going to hell and, natch, his productivity suffered.
[MG Note, April, 2018: A reader points out that Kahn and Rufus (or Ask Rufus) was not the opening act (see comments). Unfortunately, I can’t find my original source although I recall it being a dependable one. For the sake of good journalism, let’s ignore the Kahn/Rufus part of this story unless someone else out there can cite a good source for it.]
But all might be forgiven that July afternoon in 1970 because Sly et al would be playing for free. The lead-off act was the West Side funk band Ask Rufus, who’d been playing recently with a dynamic new singer named Chaka Khan. She’d eventually become a member of the group and go on to make gold and platinum reords and win Grammy awards.
The Young Chaka Khan
Even as Khan and Ask Rufus were playing, the crowd (estimates range from 40-75,000 people) pushed forward, threatening to overtake the stage. Tempers became short, the cops on hand got antsy, the late afternoon sun grew hotter, and — wouldn’t you know it? — Sly and the Family Stone was late. Many in the crowd wondered if the band would blow them off yet a fourth time.
Next thing anybody knew, a riot broke out. The police unleashed their dogs and unholstered their service revolvers. Chicago Sun-Times columnist Tom Fitzpatrick wrote the fighting was worse than that during the ’68 Convention. According to Khan, the helicopter carrying Sly and his band neared the bandshell and when Sly saw the mayhem, he directed the pilot to turn back.
The Wrath After Khan
Other reports have it that the Chicago police stopped the car carrying the band as they were heading to the Bandshell, leading to their late arrival.
BTW: Topflight newspaperman Dave Hoekstra has a neat little piece about the riot and Chaka Khan in today’s Sun-Times.
Anyway, the Bandshell riot seemed to be one of the mournful codas of the Sixties. along with the Kent State and Jackson State killings, the Manson Family, and Altamont. All the dreams and dynamism were swept away in orgies of drugs and violence.
I wanted so much to be part of the counterculture back then but I was a tad young for it. I wanted to protest the war, work for social justice, push for civil rights, and hang with all the cool hippies.
Maybe I was lucky.
Vandal In Chief
So, somebody splashed green paint on the statue of Lincoln at his eponymous Memorial. Many people think it was actually nail polish. And, it seems, everybody has an opinion as to whodunit.
Photo By Scott Applewhite/AP
You know how this works. Depending on what side of the fence you stand, you know in your heart it was someone on the other side who did it.
I so very much want the perpetrator(s) to be Right Wingers, Me Party-ists, or fans of Ted Nugent. Better yet, George Zimmerman.
The other side, of course, wants the vandal(s) to be my people. Some already are saying that because the paint-or-polish is green, it’s got to be those crazy eco-maniacs. You know, tree-huggers and owl-lovers.
So I went to The Blaze, the interwebs home of the likes of Glenn Beck and other yipping hyenas, to see what the zeitgeist is on that side of the sanity demarcation line. And — whaddya know? — they’ve got the villain sussed!
Well, of course, the person to blame for this outrage is none other than that noted Gay Commie Abortionist from Kenya.
Now you know.
A Family Affair
I was part of the three years before the summer of commerce (called vaguely, “love”) in San Francisco scene as a musician, often opening for the biggest names of that 1965-68 era. Sly’s musical influence was far underestimated…except amongst musicians in the psychedelic set in the bay area ..He forced a lot of the groups to rethink “tight” drums and bass. Dance To The Music had been on air for a week or so..At Fillmore, people were immediately on their feet despite having never heard the tunes before. Everyone except we who loved sly’s first album, his am radio dj’ing and knew his production work. But the sadness was deep, we had lost four world class American leaders via bullets, Lost Otis Redding, Sam Cooke, lost the presidency to criminals, battled an out-of-control FBI and corrupted CIA..it was war abroad and at home.
some of the information in the article “there’s a riot goin’ on” is not accurate. chaka khan and ask rufus did not play at the grant park concert that turned into a riot. in fact, the opening act was a group called fat water. i know this because i was the guitar player in fat water. my name is g.e. stinson and i also played in ask rufus briefly. the bill was, fat water, the flying burrito brothers and sly and the family stone. fat water was the only band that played. after 4 songs, the audience was out of control and the promoter told us that we could split if we wanted to. so we did. shortly afterward the riot began.
Thanks for this, G.E. It’s been so long ago that I don’t remember where I got the story about Kahn & Rufus (or Ask Rufus) being the opening act, although I did base it on a reputable source. So I just did a google search, using a variety of keyword combos and, lo and behold, I can’t find anything to back up the assertion. It’s possible that my original source was found to be in error and has been withdrawn. Therefore, I’m going to step away from it, as you’ll see above.