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The Weekly Blague

70s Flashback: The Night Stephen Stills Was Booed Off the Stage

The earliest video of Stephen Stills I could find is from his show at the Capitol Theatre in Passaic, NJ, March 23, 1979, five years after the concert I saw at Carnegie Hall.


I continue to excavate the detritus of the 1970s as I assemble a book about an underground newspaper at City College in the days of open admissions and free tuition. The other day I came across a music review I wrote, published in the February 13, 1974, issue of Observation Post. In the span of a month I'd seen Bob Dylan and The Band at Madison Square Garden, Joni Mitchell at Radio City, and Stephen Stills at Carnegie Hall.


Stills is the one I discussed in-depth. A blizzard paralyzed New York the night of the show, February 8. Only a sparse crowd showed up. I thought it would make for an intimate evening. But, I wrote, it was the kind of concert "that can make you never want to go to a concert again." Stills alienated himself from the audience. I said he acted like "a prick."


He opened strong with a rousing "Love the One You're With" but after three songs walked offstage and took his band with him. Twenty minutes later he returned alone to apologize. "If you're wondering why I'm acting so uptight," he said, "it's because the organ went out in the middle of the set. I've seen a lot of bands fall apart over a lot less. If you think I'm making excuses, I'm not."


I thought he was making excuses.


He launched into a solo acoustic set but got tripped up on the lyrics for "4 + 20" and "Blackbird." When he played a new song that wasn't greeted with enthusiastic applause, he said, "I like that song. I'm sorry if I bored you."


The band, recovered from their organ issues, came back and rocked out on songs like "Bluebird," the Buffalo Springfield classic. Stills and company were on the verge of redeeming themselves. But just when it seemed the crowd had forgotten what happened at the beginning, he waved goodbye and everybody walked offstage. The mandatory encore, "a half-hearted '49 Bye-Byes,'" was met with a standing ovation in an attempt to coax a few more songs out of him. But the "cheers turned to boos" when the audience realized Stills wasn't coming back. The show was over.


I spent 14 bucks on two orchestra seats (a lot of money at that time) and had fun tearing his performance apart. But on the basis of Déjà Vu alone, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young remain one of my favorite bands of all time.


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