Thursday, March 24, 2011

I was researching the famous "Watkins Glen" Concert, following my conversation with Bob... and figured I'd share the results.

The Summer Jam at Watkins Glen was a 1973 rock festival which once received the Guinness Book of World Records entry for "Largest audience at a pop festival."                                 
An estimated 600,000 rock fans came to the Watkins Glen Grand Prix Raceway outside of Watkins Glen, New York on July 28, 1973, to see The Allman Brothers Band, The Band, and the Grateful Dead perform.


The concert was produced by Shelly Finkel and Jim Koplik, two promoters who previously organized a successful Grateful Dead concert at Roosevelt Stadium, Jersey City, New Jersey, in 1972. Similar to the 1969 Woodstock Festival, an enormous traffic jam created chaos for those who attempted to make it to the concert site. Long and narrow country roads forced fans to abandon their vehicles and walk 5–8 miles on that hot summer day. A young woman, 8–9 months pregnant, travelled on foot as well. Once in the concert area, she went into labor. Ambulances struggled to reach her until after her baby was born.

150,000 tickets were sold for $10 each, but for all the other people it was a free concert. The crowd was so huge that a large part of the audience was not able to see the stage; however, twelve huge sound amplifiers, installed courtesy of legendary promoter Bill Graham, allowed the audience to at least hear.

Although the concert was scheduled to start on July 28, thousands of music fans were already at the concert site on the 27th. Robbie Robertson of the Band requested to do a soundcheck, but was perplexed that so many people were sitting in front of the stage. Bill Graham allowed the soundcheck with the crowd of people in front, and the Band ran through a few numbers to the delight of the audience. The Allman Brothers Band did their soundcheck next, playing "One Way Out" and "Ramblin' Man". The Grateful Dead's legendary soundcheck turned into a two set marathon, featuring their familiar tunes such as "Sugaree", "Tennessee Jed" and "Wharf Rat". They also performed a unique jam that was eventually included on their retrospective CD box set So Many Roads (1965-1995).

On July 28, the day of the concert, 600,000 music fans had arrived in Watkins Glen. The Grateful Dead performed first, playing two long sets. They opened with "Bertha" and played many hits such as "Box Of Rain", "Jack Straw", "Playing in the Band", "China Cat Sunflower" and "Eyes of the World".

The Band followed the Dead with one two-hour set. However, their set was cut in half by a drenching thunderstorm, in a scene again reminiscent of Woodstock, people were covered with mud. During the storm, keyboardist Garth Hudson performed his signature organ improvisation "The Genetic Method;" when the rain finally let up, the full Band joined Hudson on stage, and segued into their signature song "Chest Fever," in a manner similar to how the songs were presented on the Band's live album Rock of Ages.

Finally, the Allman Brothers Band performed for three hours. Their performance included songs from their soon-to-be-released album Brothers and Sisters, along with their standards "In Memory of Elizabeth Reed", "Statesboro Blues", "Les Brers in A Minor" and "Whipping Post".

Following the Allmans' second set, there was an hour encore jam featuring musicians from all three bands. The jam featured spirited renditions of "Not Fade Away", "Mountain Jam", and "Johnny B. Goode".

“ Many historians claimed that the Watkins Glen event was the largest gathering of people in the history of the United States. In essence, that meant that on July 28, one out of every 350 people living in America at the time was listening to the sounds of rock at the New York state racetrack. Considering that most of those who attended the event hailed from the Northeast, and that the average age of those present was approximately seventeen to twenty-four, close to one out of every three young people from Boston to New York was at the festival. 

12 comments:

LynyrdSkynyrdBand said...

A Watkins Glen Retrospective - Summer Jam remembered
on Wednesday, July 30, 2003 - 08:09
Star-Gazette, Elmira


The recipe was fairly simple for the largest concert gathering in history. All it took was three top rock bands, a large piece of land and the hint that it could be another Woodstock.

"It was amazing. Here are real live hippies and people from all over the place, Texas and California, in Watkins Glen!"

"Travelers began abandoning their cars on the highway and started walking to the site".

"The abandoned cars stretched for miles, on Route 14 from Watkins Glen south to Route 17, and east to Nichols and beyond".

"The gates eventually came down from the crush of people headed into the site".

"I bought a ticket - like a fool," says Bob Bement of Lowman, who was 16 in `73. "But when we got there, the gates were already trashed."

"We went up four days early and stayed for four days later," Bement says. "We didn't think it would be that big."

"An old-time friend of mine has a cover of the New York Post, with a headline saying `600,000'," Page says. "I realized it was crowded, but I didn't think there was that many people there. I didn't know `til afterwards."

"The memory of Woodstock, held four summers earlier in upstate New York, was a big factor".

"These kids aren't here for the music," Village Police Chief A.T. Elsworth said before the concert. "They don't care what it's really like. They're determined to make this another Woodstock."

"Summer Jam was another chance at being part of an event for a generation, especially for those who missed the legendary three-day festival in 1969. The Vietnam War was still going on in 1973, the `60s counterculture was still hanging on, a nomadic group up for anything, especially another Woodstock".

"I was 16 in `69, I'd heard about Woodstock but it was too far to go at the time," Page says. "I was married only one month at the time (in 1973); my wife, she couldn't go because she had to work, so I went with her sister and her sister's friend."

"So me and a girlfriend got dropped off by her boyfriend, and we hiked all the way up the hill," she says. "I think I had a six pack of beer in my backpack, which was quite stupid".

"Beer (especially cold beer) and wine were cleaned out of all area stores by Friday, the day before the show. Also in the Woodstock spirit, there was a haze of marijuana smoke over the Watkins Glen crowd, amid all the peace, love, mud and nudity".

"We pitched a tent and for some reason we had to know what time it is," Decker says. "So we asked this guy and he said, `I'm not into time, man...' "

Two days before the concert, people were camping on adjacent properties uninvited and many were walking around freely in the altogether. Skinny-dippers were reported around the area, in Montour Falls at the pond above Chequagua Falls and elsewhere".

"There were several sightings of "uninhibited romancing" among the make-love-not-war concertgoers, both on and off the concert site".

"I saw guys laying on motorcycles drinking wine, girls running naked through the crowd toward the bandstand, throwing glitter ... I couldn't believe it," Page says.

LynyrdSkynyrdBand said...

Everybody was "messed up," Bement says. "Nobody cared about anything but having fun. You could get reefer on one hill, hash on another, opium over there. But not much beer."

"Food was available on the site from 14 concession stands, but concertgoers had to endure long lines (even worse were the lines for portable toilets, which were overflowing by the time the music started)".

"I worked the festival, I was the one who sold the hot dogs, and we sold 17,000 pounds in a heartbeat. I got there on Friday morning, and it was Monday evening before we got off the hill," says Howard Lapple of Elmira.

Lapple, 70 and supervisor of the Town of Elmira, says that hot dogs were just about the only food offered at the concert. "They didn't know what they were getting into at the time."

Bement had an aunt in Montour Falls. "The stores were empty - every shelf, everything was gone. There was only one road in and out, but we hitched a ride out and raided her house and came back. I think I ate about twice in eight days."

"Unlike today's concert venue restrictions, fans could bring anything in with them at this show, including campers, stoves, food and beverages and whatever else they needed".

"I think we just had a cooler full of sandwiches, and I remember selling a bunch of beer at a buck a can," Page says. "We came prepared. We were mainly drinking anything we could get our hands on at the time."

Bement remembers watermelons going for $5, and a would-be entrepreneur who drove in a truck of water. "He was trying to sell it, but people were just stealing it."

"I didn't see any trouble. No fights even," Bement says. "And there only seemed to be about three cops there."

"The trampled site became 95 acres of mud underfoot. Once darkness fell, campfires flickered across the concert field. (Rolling Stone reported one roadie saying, "It looks like something from the Civil War.")

"There were about 50 arrests, including charges against five people for the theft and slaughter of a local farmer's pig. They intended to barbecue it".

But "they were easy to get along with, and no rowdyism," he adds. "You'd see a trash can, piled eight feet high and a 10-foot circumference around it, and people were walking over to it and dropping their stuff. You don't see that now."

LynyrdSkynyrdBand said...

"We had giant blisters and a lot of stories when we got back."

LET'S ROCK!!! LOLOL
Ahh... the good ol' days... where have they gone?

bobby said...

Lynyrd, You are freaking AWESOME !

LynyrdSkynyrdBand said...

Thanks Bob.

I wish I had left the first photo full size. It gave some great perspective.

If you click on the top photo, it blows-up.
The stage is way, way back, to the right of the triple-speaker, and to the left of the tent.
It has a funny-looking over-hang roof.
If you find the stage, it really gives some perspective how huge this event was.
The stage almost looks inconsequential... compared to the enormity of the foreground.

Always-Is-Always said...

cool post lynyrd thanks. there were more people there than woodstock.

LynyrdSkynyrdBand said...

Thanks "Always".
I really can't take the credit...
This topic was inspired by a conversation I had with Bob, on a previous thread.
In fairness, it's Bob's contribution... not mine.

One can't help but compare "Woodstock" and "Watkins Glen" in their mind, after researching this concert.
They were both in Upstate New York... only 4 years apart.
Since Watkins Glen actually had significantly larger attendance, one has to wonder, why Woodstock got a lot more press.

I searched for answers along these questions and found a cool article, which addressed those very questions:

Excerpted from "Aquarius Rising: The Concert Festival Years" by Robert
Santelli (New York: Delta Books, 1980)

See Below...

LynyrdSkynyrdBand said...

Santelli writes:

Aside from the stupendous attendance figures, the musical and social significance of the event was minimal compared to, say, Woodstock or even
Altamont.

Unlike Woodstock, where the lineup consisted of close to thirty acts, Watkins Glen's billing was
comprised of only three supergroups.
The Allman Brothers, the Band, and the Grateful Dead.

Each of the three groups at Watkins Glen played unusually long sets.
The Grateful Dead performed for five hours, the Allman Brothers for four, and the
Band for three, including a thirty-minute break due to a thunderstorm.
Woodstock had a continuous change of musical formats and styles. Each time a new act
stepped out in front of the massive crowd, a revitalization occurred, creating a
renewal of faith in the event and in the power of music. Energy was forced to flow.

At Watkins Glen tedium challenged the viewers' interest in the music and the proceedings onstage.
Long, winding solos were frequent.
The heat, the lack of comfort, and the crowded conditions dulled otherwise stirring moments.
Many of the 600,000 could barely see the stage, let
alone the musicians.
And most important, festival-goers had only one day to soak
up the rock-festival aura.

Woodstock also had two sets of LPs and a movie to carry on its significance.
No such enduring properties came out of Watkins Glen.
Although the Grateful Dead
and the Allman Brothers Band had their own sound people record their sets, the Dead would not give their consent to a Watkins Glen album.
Their participation was crucial, since they represented over one third of the music and time
performed onstage.
CBS shot some footage of the event, but the Dead refused to
allow it or any other film to be released commercially.
Their unyielding position on the matter stemmed all the way back to Monterey, when the band had
refused to participate in D.A. Pennebaker's film of the event, "Monterey Pop."
The Dead had always demanded full editorial control of their music and live performances.
Whenever they were denied such power, they simply declined to be
part of the project.

Watkins Glen did not register with the political portion of the youth culture as had some festivals in the past.
To have 600,000 young people at one time in one place would have been the ultimate dream for any sixties radical.
But that was just it -- the sixties were over. The Vietnam War was over; the peace agreement
had been signed in January of that year. Not that there was a lack of issues.

Watkins Glen could easily have been an immensely powerful response to Nixon and
the Watergate scandal.
But the youth of the nation had grown tired of being politically active.
Many had tasted the partial delight of seeing some peace in
Southeast Asia and felt it was enough.
The word most commonly associated with the Watkins Glen festival, according to those reporters who covered the event,
was "party."
For some young people Watkins Glen was an opportunity to experience
a rock festival in abbreviated fashion, and they relished every minute of it.

All this added up to the fact that the protests, the placards, the defiance, and the true revolutionary zeal of the young had actually subsided.
Enter the "me"decade.
The 1970s had finally arrived.

But Watkins Glen did point out that rock music was alive and well, and that
there still remained within the youth culture a seemingly unquenchable desire to
attend rock festivals.
Young people still marveled at the power of such gatherings.
Young people *wanted* to be there, had to be there.

LynyrdSkynyrdBand said...

In the end... I'm sure it would depend who you asked, as to which concert was "better".
I attended neither... so, I can only dream.

At 600,000 strong however, it's impossible to dismiss the Watkins Glen event, as anything other than historic.
It's actually amazing, there isn't more press coverage to be found, on this enormous event... positive or negative.

Hope everyone enjoyed the thread... and thanks again Bob!
I really enjoyed researching this most wild concert!

Peace... Lynyrd

Mary said...

Wow - I have never even heard of this...I have heard of their racetrack but never their festival.

bobby said...

All the credit must remain with Lynyrd & that is what makes him the master blogger, I mention Watkins Gleen & he produces a master peice about it. Thanks again Lynyrd such great info.

p.s. I have the Family book and am ready for the book club.

katie8753 said...

Hi guys. Great post Lynyrd. I don't know much about this, so I'll just sit this one out.