It was just going to be a one day jam session. It turned out to be bigger than W…
Written by megarock on July 28, 2018
It was just going to be a one day jam session. It turned out to be bigger than Woodstock.
On July 28, 1973, “The Summer Jam” was held at the Watkin-Glen racetrack in upstate New York. The ‘Jam’ would feature the Allman Brothers Band, the Grateful Dead and The Band. It received the Guinness Book of World Records entry for “Largest audience at a pop festival.” An estimated 600,000 rock fans came out for the day.
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. 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. 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”.
Although there were no reports of violence at Watkins Glen, the day was marred by the death of Willard Smith, 35, a skydiver from Syracuse, New York. Smith dived from an airplane carrying flares. One of the flares ignited his body suit, and he was engulfed in flames. Smith’s body was eventually found in the woods near the concert site.
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.
In 2013, a maintenance crew from Watkins Glen International found abandoned cars from the event in the woods on track property.
We would think that because of the number of people who attended, at least one of two of them are reading this.
Any memories of the “Jam” 45 years ago today?