[VIDEO] The Summer Of ’73 – 600,000 People Descend On Watkins Glen
Earlier this spring, I finally made the trip to Bethel, New York to visit the site of the 1969 Woodstock Music and Art Fair, along with the museum at the Bethel Woods complex. I had been meaning to visit for a long time, and I'm glad I got off my butt and made the trip under an easy 2-hour drive.
There is another major music event that happened just 4 years later, that I am more familiar with, but you rarely ever hear about it. That event was held at the Watkins Glen, New York Grand Prix Race Track, which is now the home of an annual NASCAR race in the summer along with other race events.
The event was named Summer Jam. It was conceived by music promoters Jim Koplik, Shelly Finkel, and Bill Graham. The festival was on just one day, July 23rd, 1973. The artists hired to perform were The Grateful Dead, The Band, and The Allman Brothers Band.
The maximum number of attendees was to be around 150,000 according to the website Live For The Music. Well, due to the fact that Watkins Glen is close to so many major cities and it was well promoted around the country with three popular rock bands, it was bound to sell out.
What no one expected, and to the horror of the Watkins Glen community, in the days leading up to the concert, it was following in the footsteps of Woodstock, except, this show had about 200,000 more attendees. Around 600,000 people descended on the track. For many years, Summer Jam held the record for the largest music festival in terms of attendance.
Each band played for about three hours and then did a jam session at the end to cap the day. Even the sound checks the day before was attended by a large crowd and lasted much longer than a normal sound check, according to the Live For The Music website.
The concert was held a month after my high school graduation, but unfortunately, I did not attend the show, even though I lived only 10 miles from the Watkins Glen race track. My father did attend since he was working as a deputy with the Schuyler County Sheriff's Department at the concert.
He described the event to us as a once-in-a-lifetime experience and mentioned that it was packed with so many people, that making any arrests if needed, would be tough to do since it was almost impossible to move people in and out. Any serious emergencies would require helicopter support.
I remember that the Watkins Glen community ended up banning anything like this concert from ever happening again. A couple of days after the show, my dad and I toured the race track, and all that was left was a sea of trash. I can only imagine what interesting things the cleanup crews found during the cleanup.
Summer Jam never gained the notoriety that Woodstock did. The Live For The Music website mentions part of the reason was the timing. The 60s were over, the Vietnam War had ended, and so went protesting. Also, the concert was not allowed to be filmed, so there's nothing on the video to experience similar to the Woodstock concert.
There's a lot to learn about the Watkins Glen Summer Jam '73. And the Live For The Music website does a great job with the entire timeline along with song set listing from the bands and pictures of the event. Take a look and relive what once was the largest attended concert in the world, just an hour west of Binghamton - Watkins Glen Summer Jam.
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