A Celebration of All Things Sly Comes to Sag Harbor

Dan Koontz performing early Beatles hits at the Bay Street Theater. Michael Heller photo.

Dan Koontz was 13 or 14 years old the very first time he heard the funk.

The Indiana native was living in New Jersey in the early 1980s when he somehow procured an original live LP from the Woodstock music festival that featured a snippet of songs performed by Sly and the Family Stone.

Dan Koontz. heller photo.

Though Sylvester Stewart and his entourage performed eight songs that day, sandwiched between sets by Janis Joplin and The Who, Koontz recalls the LP only including about 15 minutes of their performance from day two of the famous music festival.

But it was enough to make him a lifelong fan.

“For whatever reason, that just felt like a missing piece of the puzzle for me,” Koontz said, recalling the first time he listened to the vinyl record. “I just felt like, wow—this was the music I’ve been waiting to hear my whole life.”

Born four months after Woodstock, the Sag Harbor musician often lamented how he was never afforded the opportunity to perform some of the psychedelic and soulful tunes made famous by Sly and company, including “Everyday People,” “Hot Fun in the Summertime” and, of course, “Dance to the Music.”

That will finally change on Thursday, September 27, when Koontz and his hand-picked posse will kick off the eighth season of the Sag Harbor American Music Festival by performing the songs made famous by Sly and the Family Stone as part of a special concert celebration. The show starts at 8 p.m. at the Bay Street Theater in Sag Harbor and tickets are $30 each.

One of the appealing — and challenging — aspects of performing Sly and the Family Stone is finding musicians who are not shy about taking on lead vocals, and then be willing to step aside as others assume the spotlight.

“One of the things that makes Sly really distinctive is that the lead vocal is very much shared around,” said Koontz, who plays the keyboard and guitar but will be lending his pipes to the special performance as well. “In fact, one of the signature things about Sly, and especially his early music, was that there was no one lead singer.”

After some contemplation, he realized he had the ideal individual—someone possessing enough soul, charisma and talent to perform many of the songs: Lee Lawler of Mamalee Rose and Friends fame.

The grandmother explained that her husband, Jimmy, was friends with Stewart, the legend behind Sly and the Family Stone, and that they loved listening to his music. Like Koontz, she also lamented the fact, albeit briefly, that she was never afforded the opportunity to sing some of the songs made famous by Sly and the Family Stone.

She’s wasted little time preparing for the upcoming show.

“I’ve been going around the house singing, ‘Hi, hi, hi, hi there them summer days, those summer days,’ whenever I want to,” said Lawler, who sang the catchy chorus of “Hot Fun in the Summertime,” during a recent interview.

“We’ve been loving the music all through the years, so now we’re here getting the chance to play it and remember some of the songs … some of these songs I’ve forgotten.”

Joining them on the stage and assisting with vocals will be Marvin Joshua and Michael Schiano, the latter of whom will also be playing guitar. Rounding things out will be Joseph Lauro on bass, David Giacone on drums, and a pair of horn players: Eric Kay (saxophone) and Christian Crawford (trumpet).

Lawler says she’s looking forward to singing songs that almost everyone knows, like “Everyday People,” though some of those singing along might not necessarily realize that they were originally written and performed by Sly and the Family Stone. “How many people have redone ‘Everyday People?’” she asked rhetorically. “And maybe some of the younger folk don’t know that that comes from Sly. That’s going to change.”

Though the playlist was not yet finalized, Koontz said the plan is to perform around 15 or 16 songs, including “I Want To Take You Higher,” “Family Affair,” “Sing a Simple Song” and “Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)”—(say that real fast to get the message).

What’s unusual about Sly’s legacy, according to Koontz, is that while many musicians appreciate the band’s creativity and uniqueness—they were one of the first racially and gender-integrated bands of their time—few have attempted to duplicate their sound, which skillfully interweaves soul and funk.

He ventured that some could have been intimidated by how Stewart would switch things up during live concerts, performing with an intensity that they didn’t think they could match.

“The band played everything faster and harder and with more intensity live,” said Koontz, noting that his crew recently practiced at the Christ Episcopal Church in Sag Harbor, where he’s the church musician. “So, really our effort has been trying the channel that energy for how we’re going to play the songs.”

That intimidation should not be viewed as a lack of appreciation for the trendsetting tunes made famous by Sly and the Family Stone, according to Koontz.

“People do appreciate it—I’m a little puzzled as to why more bands don’t include Sly and the Family Stone in their set lists but they really don’t,” he said. “This show is going to be addressing that in one big dose.”

He also has some advice for those attending the celebration of all things Sly:

“They should expect to dance the whole night as there isn’t going to be any slow music here. Maybe one or two songs that are a little bit more laid back, but there’s going to be a lot of up-tempo, high-energy party music, so they’re going to want to get in shape.”

Tickets to the special concert celebration of Sly and the Family Stone at Bay Street Theater, 1 Bay Street in Sag Harbor, are $30 each and can be ordered from https://www.eventbrite.com/e/a-celebration-of-sly-the-family-stone-tickets-47688061275.